On Halloween in 1999, my father and I headed to our old Regal Cinemas that was transformed into a church. This was the first year of viewing a new horror film on Halloween every year. This was a couple of weeks after we viewed the remake of The Haunting (1963). Both films were good film choices, but ultimately House on Haunted Hill won for our Halloween viewing. This is not to say the remake of The Haunting is awful, but House on Haunted Hill has always been my favorite of the two films.
What most might not know is that House on Haunted Hill is also a remake of the 1959 Vincent Price classic of the same name. The original feature has caused a bit of a debate as to if the house is truly haunted or not over the years. The remake does not handle the feature in a way. The debate in the original feature stems from how most would consider the effects used in 1959 to be cheap and ineffective so that some consider that they were also set ups by Frederick (Price) and/or his fourth wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart). Some also believe they were merely hallucinations Nora (Carolyn Craig) suffered.
One of the other beliefs of the original feature is that the house turned those who had animosity against each other so that they would commit the murders instead of so-called “ghosts” within the house. While the remake does not go down either path, they choose to navigate the film in a way that captures audiences attention for the duration of the film.
The basic plot of the remake is similar to the original venture. Stephen Price (Geoffrey Rush), is an eccentric millionaire with a rather unique relationship with his wife, Evelyn Stockard-Price (Famke Janssen). Agreeing to throw her a birthday party that she will never forget, Price throws out his wife’s guest list and opts for a guest list of his own. Little does he know about some powers at be that decides that neither of them will be getting what they desire that evening.
The night of the party, Price offers $1,000,000 to each person who can successfully stay the night in the so-called haunted house with a uniquely murderous past. Many of the people there have a determination about them the house is not haunted and the story was made up so they would leave without their money. As the night goes on, however, they discover there might be more to the story than meets the eye. In the original feature, the main difference is the prize was $10,000. Either way I would be happy about the prize money. Who would complain about either in this economy?
The film might not raise a ton of questions, but it does make one wonder what they would do if they were in the same situation. Should or would one risk their life for money? Would one act like the various characters within the film who just believe such rumors were to sway them away from the money? Who knows what one would truly do in such a situation, but I would hope that person would survive the night for the ultimate prize.
In this amazing update to a classic, the acting is superb. I have to gush about the one and only Geoffrey Rush. Let me start by saying that it truly freaked me out how much he actually looks like Vincent Price in this update. Upon beginning to watch the feature, I blinked a couple of times and looked around to see if anyone else was seeing what I happened to be viewing. When I watch the film, I’m still amazed how Rush captures Vincent Price the way he does still amazes me.
Taye Diggs character, Eddie Baker, is also one of my favorites within the film. Various lines his character states will make one laugh and that’s never a bad thing. I feel the same about the brief appearances by Chris Katan’s character, Watson Pritchett. His character is nothing more than much need comedic relief as well as the man willing to give everyone the house’s history. As all viewers know in all horror films there needs to be that one guy who manages to know everything to know that no one is willing to believe.
Peter Gallagher gives his usual performance and the addition of Jeffery Combs sporadically spread throughout the film is genius. Bridgette Wilson has always been a favorite of mine and most of the time I feel she is beyond underrated. She plays Miss Marr within the film and one can tell she goes back and forth with wanting to believe and wishing she could ignore what she she has seen. Famke Janssen is brilliant as as Evelyn Price. She has the perfect combination of compassion and bitchiness that makes her performance pitch perfect.
Last but not least, I must talk about Ali Larter. Audiences know that her character, Sara Wolfe is not what she seems to be, but she makes viewers yearn to know exactly what is going on with her character the entire film. The truth is everyone in the film gives perfect portrayals, even those that seem like they do not mean anything at all. I say this because of the scene where Price takes a reporter and her cameraman a hellacious ride.
Overall, House on Haunted Hill is one of my absolute favorite horror films. The film remains as creepy as the film is fun as when I originally saw it in theaters almost twenty years ago. This is one of the reasons it remains one of my favorite haunted house features and remakes. The film ranks up there with the remake of Thirteen Ghosts (2001). House on Haunted Hill is full of special effects and lots of gore. The blood is not used sparingly when applied within this film. This is especially true in a particular scene with Miss Ali Larter.
The film gives one some anxiety that stays with them will after the feature is over. I actually jumped when someone approached me at the theater who had seen the same film. So just remember, to look over their shoulder or around the corner to make sure they’re alone in the house for a few hours or so. Besides, no one wants to run into Dr. Vannacutt.