Tuesday, August 2, 2011

#361. House on Haunted Hill (1999)


Directed By: William Malone

Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs



Tag line: "It's going to be a long night"

Trivia:  The rollercoaster in the beginning of the movie is The Incredible Hulk at Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida







Though I'm a huge fan of the original 1958 William Castle / Vincent Price film, I was actually looking forward to the 1999 remake of House on Haunted Hill, if for no other reason that to see how the filmmakers would take what was essentially a 50-year-old low-budget classic, and turn it into a modern horror movie with state-of-the-art special effects. And while the resulting film doesn't quite replace the original as my favorite version of the story, there's plenty here to make this House on Haunted Hill an entertaining watch. 

When his wife, Evelyn (Famke Janssen), requests that her yearly birthday party be held at the long-abandoned Vannacutt Psychiatric Institute For The Criminally Insane, millionaire Stephen Price (Geoffrey Rush) is only too happy to comply. A master showman, Price sees this party as the perfect opportunity to get back at his conniving spouse, who's tried, on more than one occasion, to bump him off so that she could inherit his vast fortune. Shredding his wife's initial guest list, Price draws up one of his own, only to have it mysteriously replaced with yet another list of invitees, the source of which is unknown. Among those attending are former baseball star, Eddie Baker (Taye Diggs), Dr. Donald Blackburn (Peter Gallagher) and Sara Wolfe (Ali Larter), who claims to be an executive with a million-dollar firm. The night of the party, the institute's current owner, Watson Pritchett (Chris Kattan), shuffles the guests inside, then immediately demands payment from Price. Obviously, Pritchett wants out of this building as quickly as possible, and it isn't long before we find out why. The site of a deadly fire over 65 years earlier, which claimed the lives of many patients and administrators, the Vannacutt institute is today a very haunted place, and the ghosts who reside there on a full-time basis don't particularly like the living. 

The first two scenes in House on Haunted Hill put me in the perfect frame of mind for what was to follow. Starting with a flashback to 1931, which shows the events that led up to the institute's deadly fire, the action then shifts to an amusement park owned by the extravagant Price, where he's about to unveil his newest roller coaster. I was really impressed with the style and energy of both these sequences, and settled in for what was promising to be an entertaining 90 minutes. The good times continued once the “party” got underway at the institute, where the constant bickering of the attendees was occasionally interrupted by a handful of truly chilling scenes. The cast is mostly exceptional, with Taye Diggs doing a fine job as the sole voice of reason, and Famke Janssen at her bitchy best, playing the gold-digging wife who isn't afraid to get a little blood on her hands. My favorite character, though, was undoubtedly Stephen Price, an homage to both the star (along with sharing a name, Rush looks almost identical to Vincent Price) and director (this Price is a master showman) of the original. 

Not everything works in this remake. Some of the initial scares in the institute are far too ordinary to be effective (breaking glass, falling beams, etc), and I prefer the more laid-back gloom and doom of Elisha Cook Jr.'s Watson Pritchett to Kattan's maniacal interpretation of the character. Also, if you're at all familiar with the first film, the two major twists towards the end won't be much of a surprise (many other elements from the original were changed...why not alter these as well?). That said, the positives do outweigh the negatives, and if it's a fun horror movie you're after, then House on Haunted Hill will be just what you're looking for.







16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Doctor Shock didn't you already review this on the podcast?

I will miss your "Chills of Yesteryear" pix and some of the others like "Zombie Mortuary" "Indie Assault" "Slash & Bash"

Good luck to you and all others. S.N.

Anonymous said...

Sad to see you leave. I really loved being "in the Jungle"

Anonymous said...

Adios HJ you will be missed - Rivera

Dave B. said...

Thanks for the comments!

S.N.: I did make the original HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL one of my Chills of Yesteryear picks on Planet Macabre. This review is for the 1999 remake. With all the remakes and 'reimaginings' going on nowadays, there will more than likely be a lot of films I'll cover that share a title!

So glad you enjoyed my recommendation segment, and thanks for listening! Your support, and the support of all the fans, meant a great deal to all of us. Best of luck to you as well.

@Anonymous: I agree, it is sad. Thanks for the kind words, and for listening.

Rivera: Thanks so much for listening to Horror Jungle, and all the best to you in the future.

Anonymous said...

See you on the flipside jungle-hosts it was an amazing podcast while it lasted. From the seasoned pros to the newbies, it was a great mix of horror critics.
Stanley

Dave B. said...

Stanley: Thanks for stopping by, and for the very nice compliment regarding Horror Jungle. We're so glad you enjoyed it, and thanks so much for supporting the show.

Take care, and best of luck to you!

Anonymous said...

A little Stevie Wonder jingle for you:

"I just called (typed) to say I love you, and I mean it from the bottom of my heart."

My horror girlfriends will miss you.

Sandy, Brit, Caroline, Justine, Ariel (me)

Dave B. said...

Ariel: Thanks so much! We really do appreciate that, and please know we'll miss the fans just as much as they'll miss us.

Thanks for stopping by, and please also thank Sandy, Brit, Caroline and Justine for listening, and supporting the show. It means a lot to all of us!

Take care, and have a great day.

Anonymous said...

browsed to horror jungle a week earlier to keep updated on you's and i get hit with this whopper of stopping news.
-- the jungle was the king of horror podcasts.
-- loved the new release reviews.
-- dvd and blu-ray segments were excellent.
-- liked many of the new faces.
-- netflix suggestion was great.
i think i could go on and on and i wish it didn't have to come to an end. it's a bummer.

Dave B. said...

Hello, and thanks for the comment!

We definitely appreciate the list of positives, and are glad you got so much out of the show. It is a sad piece of news: us hosts had as much fun with the podcast as it seems the fans did!

Thanks so much for providing some feedback, and for listening.

Anonymous said...

I will miss this professional horror podcast; the best out there for horror ratings.

The sub-genre's covered was awe inspiring; something for every horror fan in existence.

Marty; Quebec

Dave B. said...

Marty: We appreciate you stopping by, and thank you for your kind words regarding the podcast. They mean a lot to all of us.

Thanks again for sharing them, and for supporting the show. All the best to you!

Anonymous said...

WTF Shock r u telling me u 7 cant put ure heads together and continue on with the podcast until Billchete time allows itself better. I would bet a $1000 he will return when his load lightens. Had an eerie feeling wit the radioshow announcement sumthing like this would happen. Come the fuck on u 7 keep it going 4 now. Shawn.

Dave B. said...

Shawn: Thanks for stopping by!

This same issue came up back on Monday, when the announcement was 1st made. I addressed it in another post, but will copy that response here as well (my apologies to anyone who read this already):

"My sincerest thanks, and deepest admiration, go out to Billchete. If you remember, back towards the end of Planet Macabre, Bill announced that he was going to be taking a break from podcasting (due to his commitment to the radio show, though because of his contractual obligations, he couldn't state the reasons why at the time).

When Epic Horror folded, Bill took the news very hard. His main concern was the fans of Planet Macabre, who would suddenly be left with nothing. Dreading this more than anything, Billchete came up with an idea, and Horror Jungle was born.

Of course, the time it took to prepare, record and edit the show was extensive. Some weeks, as many as 50 hours were needed to make things flow smoothly. With his other commitments outside of Horror Jungle, it simply became too much.

As for the other hosts, KC will be continuing with his podcast (which has been in existence since well before Horror Jungle) and Midnight Corey has expressed an interest in re-starting his old podcast. The remainder of the hosts will undoubtedly pop up from time to time on other horror shows (KC has cordially invited us all to his podcast), as we've found that we really enjoy it.

Unfortunately, continuing Horror Jungle raises two issues. One, of course, is the time that's required to continue the podcast. Billchete is an experienced podcaster, editor, webmaster and the like, and it still took him an incredible amount of time each week to put the show together. With everyone having full-time careers outside of the show, it's time that many of us (some of whom don't have anywhere near the experience Billchete has) simply don't have. The second issue is just as much of a challenge: the equipment! Billchete's recording equipment is state-of-the-art, which is why the show sounds so great. While I can't speak for everyone, my 'equipment' doesn't extend beyond the headset I use when we're recording!"

I certainly understand your reaction, and appreciate where you're coming from. It's sad that the show won't be continuing, but Billchete's shoes are tough to fill!

Thanks for stopping by, and for listening.

Anonymous said...

I will miss the pod - Come back real soon please

Dave B. said...

Thanks for the comment. We're glad you enjoyed the show, and we thank you for supporting us. Have a a good day!