House On Haunted Hill (1999)

Directed By: William Malone
Written By: Robb White
  Dick Beebe
Starring: Geoffrey Rush
  Fanke Janssen
  Taye Diggs
  Ali Larter
House On Haunted Hill

It’s a shame, really. On paper, this film has an interesting concept. Famous and eccentric bajillionaire amusement park tycoon Stephen Price (har-de-har-har) invites a handful of strangers to spend the night in an abandoned insane asylum, with the incentive of a million dollars if they can survive until daybreak. He hands them loaded guns and tells them to run free. Unbeknownst to them, however, Price has rigged the house to make the ‘contestants’ just that little bit more jumpy (because, clearly, being told to stay in an abandoned insane asylum isn’t unnerving enough). However, it appears the asylum has other ideas and things start going wrong…

Being a remake of William Castle’s 1959 low budget film of the same name, it’s naturally going to have a certain tackiness to it. However, with a little work, this film had the potential to transcend its B-movie roots. It could have been able to both pay homage to the array of cheesy haunted house tropes whilst teasing out a deeper rooted paranoia; the latter much in the same way that John Carpenter’s classic The Thing did.
Sadly, however, this doesn’t happen. With the exception of one example of some dodgy masonry, all the scares in the asylum are clearly of the supernatural kind and thus everything seems somewhat superficial.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. Alright, William Malone’s House on Haunted Hill is never going to be on anyone’s top 10 horror movies list, but it’s actually quite a fun film to watch. Opening with an impressively creepy credit sequence, the scares, whilst very obvious, are pulled off well with some pretty disturbing – albeit somewhat derivative – imagery and some nicely set-up jumpy sections.

The actors all take a very game stab at the script, which unfortunately wavers between the witty and the cringeworthy; Geoffrey Rush and Famke Janssen’s squabbling especially. That said, though, Rush makes an excellent Vincent Price-ian showman, hamming it up in a suitably eerie way. And who can dislike SNL-graduate Chris Kattan as the cowardly, neurotic inheritor to the asylum?

Alas however, the film all falls apart in the final quarter when horror’s age-old enemy rears its ugly head. After setting up some rather impressively disquieting scenes, the film resorts to using CGI to provide the final scare and, of course, it all ends rather anticlimactically. Although trying to represent an evil that has been growing and festering for decades upon decades, it sadly ends up looking rather more like a slightly pissed off Rorschach test.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just because I’m a sentimental bastard, but House On Haunted Hill is one of the first horror films I remember staying up late to watch, and so it will always have a special place in my heart. I know it’s not great, but if you’re in the mood to microwave some popcorn and watch a trashy horror movie, then you can‘t go far wrong. It’s cringey, riddled with plot holes, and a little nonsensical…but on the bright side, it’s cringey, riddled with plot holes and a little nonsensical. And of course, who could resist Jeffrey Combs as the maniacal surgeon, Dr. Vannacutt?

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

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