“I lied. The house is alive. We’re all going to die.”
So does the house make the hill haunted? Or is it the hill that makes the house haunted? Wording aside, House on Haunted Hill starts in a house (more like an asylum) on a hill in the year 1931. A mad doctor performs some brutal experiments on his inhabitants within it, and it isn’t long until the inmates refuse to take it anymore and attack the entire staff. The asylum is set ablaze, but no one escapes, and over the years the place is known as “The House on Haunted Hill.”
Fast forward to 1999, and the house still exists. It is a place Evelyn Price (Famke Janssen) decides to have a birthday bash at, to which her multi-millionaire husband Steven Price (Geoffrey Rush) acquiesces. She has a guest list, but Steven wants to do this his way, and he invites who he wants, angering Evelyn as the two’s marriage is barely hanging by a thread.
Turns out that no one gets who they wanted to appear, as complete strangers (Taye Diggs, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, Peter Gallagher, Ali Larter, Chris Kattan) appear instead. Rolling with it, Steven decides to offer one million each to those who survive the night. You know how this goes.
Re-read those names who appear in this: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Bridgette WIlson-Sampras, Ali Larter, Chris Kattan. In 1999, this was probably considered a semi all-star casts of sorts. Now, many, many years later, it may not be fair to say that every one of these actors’ careers is completely nonexistent (aside from Geoffrey Rush), but they’re not exactly getting frequent work either. What I am trying to allude to is that much like its cast now, House on Haunted Hill has seen better days. What worked or was considered passable then doesn’t fly as much now.
Good movies can eventually be dated in certain areas when watching them years later. If it is good though, it will remain so, just with a little more age on it. The first thing noticed about HoHH is just how scary bad the effects are. The usage of effects aren’t that prevalent in the first half, and this plays to the benefit of the film.
Surely it may have been more scarier upon the time of its release, but there are a few scenes that managed to creep me out, all with no special effects deployed. When the film starts to “reveal” itself is when all potential scares are lost, due to the production being so horrid. The thing is, it isn’t like the CGI was praised back in the day for this. In fact, it was derided heavily then as well. Whether then or now, it is seriously some of most pathetic stuff I have personally ever witnessed.
This House on Haunted Hill is a remake of a version in 1959, which is generally regarded as a cult classic. Can’t speak much on it from a personal view, but I imagine it is a better time than this. Much can’t be expected here from a storyline perspective, and it becomes clear early on that much can’t be expected from those playing the characters trapped in the house. It’s not that the performances are completely bad, but it does look like all have phoned it in for the paycheck.
Taye Diggs and Ali Larter do have some chemistry, and for a fleeting moment the movie even appears to give their characters intrigue, maybe setting things up for something down the line. Alas, it is just a tease that goes nowhere, unlike HoHH‘s twist, which comes out of nowhere. Again, I have never seen the original, but how this twist almost materializes out of thin air feels more like a contrivance as opposed to good writing.
The two most “memorable” characters are those played by Geoffrey Rush & Chris Kattan. Not so much because they are good, moreso because they are more over the top than the others. The movie relies on them to supply laughs in the early going, but almost all of it comes off as forced. At least the cast of characters themselves aren’t completely annoying. They are ultimately just there to take some space.
Surely there have been worse horrors, but House on Haunted Hill circa 1999 isn’t of the “so bad it’s good variety”, it is just bland and simply bad, especially the longer it goes on. It is possible that in 1999 this could have been considered a middling scary flick, now there isn’t much here to hold onto that status. Being promised a million to watch this would be the only way I’d view this again.
Photo credits go to horrornews.net, classichorror.com, houseonhauntedhill.wikia.com, and film.com
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