Friday, 15 June 2012

The House on Haunted Hill (1999)

"The House on Haunted Hill" (1999, William Malone, Warner Bros., Dark Castle Entertainment) is the modern remake of the 1959 classic by William Castle which starred Vincent Price.
Everyone who is anyone knows the basic plot to this classic haunted house horror: 5 people who don't know one another are randomly invited to the birthday party of Evelyn Price (Famke Janssen) and her 'loving' husband Stephen Price (Geoffrey Rush) in an old, disused insane asylum where in the 1930s many patients were murdered and mutilated by Dr. Vannacutt (Jeffrey Combs). The challenge is to survive the night and the final guest standing will receive a $1 million reward.
The house is leased to the Prices (who are named as a nod to the great Vincent Price) by Watson Pritchett (Chris Kattan), a great-great-relation of someone or other, and now owner of the 'house'. Pritchett is twitchy; he wants his money and he wants out. Having lost many family and friends to the house, he knows what's going to happen.

The five guests enter. Evelyn, in a rage at her guestlist being rewritten, goes to her room. And Price entertains the party for a while. Some spooky stuff happens, Pritchett gets drunk and then the full blown terror begins as the house locks down and makes its claim on the visitors.
I love this film for many reasons. Let me list them:
  • James Marsters (Spike from 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer') cameos as a camera-man in Price's horror theme park... yum
  • Price has a horror theme park!
  • The music score in this film is fabulous!
  • Geoffrey Rush does a killer Vincent Price impression, and I just loved the tension between Stephen and Evelyn; especially the bedroom scene which was a great homage to the original film
  • The ghosts are scary
  • The characters are somewhat believable; I even decided to like a few of them, never something I do in horror films as they tend to die off...
  • The twists in the plot are well placed. Some are not even obvious
  • It's gorey!
  • It keeps a lot of the original themes but updates them without tredding on Castle's toes (Evelyn's backstabbing and then Stephen's payback for instance)
But one impressive change to the original, is that the ghosts are actually real! In the 1959 version we discover that the house is in fact not really haunted, and that Frederick Loren (he was not called Stephen Price in the original) has elaborately set up the whole thing. While Price has indeed set up some of the happenings in the film, he loses control quickly when he discovers the house is truly haunted.
The only major error, in my view, is the giant smoke/goo/ghost/dead folk ball of evil that forms at the end to get our last two survivors. It's just too much. Spooky happenings, bloody corpses and psychotic surgeons were enough! Why did they need to emalgamate them all into one big blob?

Although I do love the ending! How the hell do they get down? I don't know, but it's a good finished-yet-unfinished end.

Also, who knew pencils could grow and were also so dangerous?! Well, unless you've seen 'Evil Dead'.... ;)

[Picture: Warner Bros.]