House On Haunted Hill (1999)
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Warner Brothers (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1. English Subtitles. 89 minutes
The Movie
Director: William Malone
Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Ali Larter, Taye Diggs, Bridgette Wilson, Peter Gallagher, Chris Kattan, Jeffrey Combs, Max Perlich, Lisa Loeb, James Marsters
Screenplay: Dick Beebe
Tagline: "Six strangers have the chance to make $1,000,000 EACH. All they have to do is make it through the night alive"
Country: USA
I must admit that after seeing the trailer for House On Haunted Hill at the cinema, it had me pretty pumped up to see it, especially after the boring The Haunting was released earlier in 1999. Being a remake did not necessarily help it's chances of being good mind you, but the hope of seeing more blood and gore and some genuine scares attracted me to the movie. Another factor that intrigued was that the film was being produced by Dark Castle, a production house created by amongst other people, Robert Zemeckis, Joel Silver & Gilbert Adler, who were the executive producers of the awesome horror anthology show, Tales From The Crypt. Dark Castle being named after William Castle, famous for using hokey pranks to "heighten" the thrill factor. Dark Castle also intended to remake Castle's movies, starting with House, recently re-creating Thirteen Ghosts, with Macabre still in the pipeline.

The House on Haunted Hill was a mental asylum that was set on fire by it's patients after killing the doctors and nurses that were conducting strange surgical experiments on them. After seeing a report on TV about the notorious house, Evelyn Price (Famke Janssen) decides that she would like her birthday party to be conducted there. So, her husband Stephen Price (Geoffrey Rush) rents the spook house for a night and invites five strangers, who have never met Price before, and offers them $1 million dollars to each who spends and survives the night. Included in this group is a ex-baseball player (Taye Diggs), a doctor (Peter Gallagher), a washed-up game show host looking to find stardom once again (Bridgette Wilson), a young business-woman (Ali Larter) and the owner of the property (Chris Kattan), who seems to be the only person who knows that staying another minute in the house is literally murder. Price, being an amusement park mogul, had rigged the house for scares throughout the night, aided by one of his employees (Max Perlich), but soon enough the house shuts it's doors, confining it's guests with Price finding his co-conspirator missing his face. They realize from Wilson Pritchett (Kattan) that the former head doctor of the asylum (Jeffrey Combs) is still at work - only this time as a spirit, and will be looking forward to killing them all before dawn. Unlike the original Haunted Hill, where the house mystique was all a unique set-up for a murder pact, this House delves more into the supernatural elements of the actual asylum. And this gives way to extraneous rooms and basements, bloodstained walls and eerie saturation chambers, and ghosts who are still doing their work in the afterlife.

Director William Malone knows his way around the genre workings, but seems to have settled on the 1990's blueprint. Se7en-style opening credits, groups of characters getting knocked off one by one, and Marilyn Manson tunes on the soundtrack are visible in the film. Malone also must be a fan of Aphex Twin music videos, as nods are clearly evident. The first half of the film, devoted to introducing the characters, the house and the suspense, is done well and makes the film seem interesting and leading to a satisfying conclusion, which unfortunately, is not to be. The second half has to live up to the scares it promises, but it doesn't eventuate. The gore is minimal, and blood is scarcely here or there. Dick Smith's special effects are really effective though, with different creatures looking very cool.

Geoffrey Rush seems to enjoy playing an eccentric character, and does a better job at an American accent than Jack Thompson (Don't believe me? Listen to him in Broken Arrow!) Famke Janssen is very ordinary and looks to be in this film for a pay-check. Of the others, only Chris Kattan makes any kind of impression, and seems to be better when his acting is toned-down from his hysterics in other movies and Saturday Night Live. Jeffrey Combs is sorely under-used, but is a cooler flick for having him make an appearance. Singer Lisa Loeb and Buffy The Vampire Slayer's James Marsters make cameos near the beginning.
For a recent movie, this transfer is nice. For a movie that delves itself in dark and grey corridors and rooms frequently, colours that are seen are vibrant, such as the early amusement park scenes, and the coloured glass ceiling in the house. Red is also pretty prominent in the film, like Rush's scarf around his neck, and Ali Larter's red shirt. It's hard to fault the presentation from Warner Brothers on this one as there are no artefacts in sight.
The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is fantastic, with dialogue for the most part clear and sound effects loud and reactive. It does pretty well for the claustrophobic nature of the house once the guests are trapped that every noise made in the house is amplified.
Extra Features
The audio commentary by Director William Malone is informative, with Malone sharing many anecdotes from pointing out scenes he may have changed in hindsight, to his inspirations, such as H.P Lovecraft, to his cast, which includes the lady who played Gozer in Ghostbusters as one of the nurses! Also included are trailers for both the 1959 & the great 1999 versions, the original looking like a Dutch-style cheese festival. Something called " The Chamber", which is pretty redundant is there, and isn't worth your time. There are some short notes on original director William Castle, a featurette entitled "Behind The Screams", which details some of the special effects in the movie, "Two Houses", a featurette which details the changes between the original and the remake, and some deleted scenes that actually remove parts of the initial movie! It seems that Region 4 misses nothing from the Region 1 release.
The Verdict
Mark House On Haunted Hill under the "had potential" category - The film is glossy, performances are good, but there are just no real scares or suspense involved. In my opinion, better than The Haunting, which many people confused House On Haunted Hill with. The DVD is fine though, and worth a rental if you are curious.
Movie Score
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