Halloween Top 13: The Remake- #12: House on Haunted Hill (1999)

Hello and welcome back everyone, while yesterday’s film came from the dark depths of Michael Bay’s horror remake machine Platinum Dunes, today’s offering sprang forth from another production company, Dark Castle Productions, and a couple of other big time Hollywood names, Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis. Formed in 1999 with the expressed idea of remaking William Castle’s classic shockers, Dark Castle’s first offering was today’s entry on the countdown, House on Haunted Hill. First off, I want to say that the 1959 film starring Vincent Price and directed by William Castle will always stand as one of the classics of horror cinema. So the fact that this remake could overcome that kind of mark against it and end up on this list is a testament to the production. If that doesn’t convince you how I feel about this flick, then let me say this, Chris Kattan is in it and I still like it, and better still, I think he's good in it.

Anyone who is familiar with the 1959 film will be happy to see that the same basic structure of the film is firmly in place. A group of revelers is invited to spend the night in a haunted house, in this case an asylum where hundreds of people were killed. In 40 years, prices had gone up considerably for such a feat. In '59  $10,000 might do, forty years later these folks are in it to the tune of a cool million if they make it through the night. The host is once again an eccentric millionaire, this time Stephen Price (Geoffrey Rush) who made his money off terrifyingly twisted amusement park rides, and the party is for his wife Evelyn (Famke Janssen) who he appears to despise. He had chosen a group of guests who would all be desperate for the money, but the people who arrived, while they might share that same trait, are not the people Price claims to have invited.Once the asylum’s ancient security system gets tripped trapping them all all inside until the morning, the bodies start piling up. As some of the guest fall prey to a darkness in the house connected to diabolical experiments, but some of the dead faced a more earthbound foe.

Just in case you don’t want light spoilers of an eleven year old film, I’m going to go ahead and warn you to skip down to the next paragraph. To properly discuss what I like about the film, I have to talk about the last half. As deaths start flying, and the reveals start to happen, House on Haunted Hill continues to swing back and forth between the horrors of Man and the evils of the supernatural world. It’s almost as if the living and the dead are competing to see who can be the bigger bastard. I love that the filmmakers chose to bring in that dynamic which was so much a part of the original film. At first glance, before I watched House on Haunted Hill, I didn’t have much hope for it. It looked like a straight up supernatural film that landed Geoffrey Rush because he had always desperately wanted to wear a pencil thin moustache. While I can’t say for certain that the latter isn’t true, House on Haunted Hill wisely didn’t put all their eggs in one basket. Mixing portions of a ghost movie with a crime thriller and a gore film, they came up with what I consider a successful mix that combines the three genres while paying homage to Castle’s original film.

Welcome back all you folks who were scared off by the spoilers in the last paragraph. In case you wondered, the rest of us were not just talking about you. I was talking about director William Malone. They don’t make them much more interesting than this guy. He got his start in the horror biz at age 19 working at the legendary Don Post studios where he would design The infamous William Shatner mask that we all know as Michael Myers. He made his first feature film, Scared to Death, in 1981, but many Klaus Kinski fans might recognize his name from the film Creature. He then moved into serialized TV getting jobs directing Freddy’s Nightmares and Tales from the Crypt. It was probably the second of those two jobs that brought him to the attention of Tales executive producer Robert Zemeckis who asked Malone to direct House on Haunted Hill. Malone and cinematographer Rick Bota (Barb Wire, The Glimmer Man, Tales from the Crypt (TV)) did a good job tempering down the music video style editing, sweeping cross section camera zooms, and jerky camera moves that were so popular around that time. There is still some of that going on, but Bota and Malone create an genuine atmosphere, an element so often forgotten or overlooked in modern horror.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk some about the cast of this film because so many of the stars went on to much bigger things. Ali Larter, later a star of NBC’s Heroes, and Taye Diggs, famous for reasons I’m not sure of, star as two of the “contestants” brought to the house. Diggs is as serviceable as anything I have seen him in, but Ms. Larter got much, much better between this film and developing superpowers. Also making appearances are Fanke Janssen, who would go on to play Jean Grey in X-Men, Peter Gallagher,  a veteran actor who somehow ended up on both  The O.C. and Californication, James Marsters of Buffy fame, and Lisa Loeb, who, as I have been told, misses you. That still leaves me with three actors I have to talk about a little more in depth.

First off, he has a barely there role, but if you squint during scenes of the evil spectral doctor, it is none other the genre film stalwart Jeffery Combs. Any film is better for having him in it. (Even Castle Freak) Next up is Chris Kattan. I mentioned him earlier, and I often just hate everything about him. However, his nervous, high strung, sadly comic character here was fully realized, and for a moment, and only a moment, I forgot all about Mr. Peepers. The last actor is the most important. Like Vincent Price in the original House on Haunted Hill, Geoffrey Rush’s character may not be the main focus of events, but they all revolve around him. It was also very refreshing to see that he had obviously gotten the memo, play it big, camp it up, have a little fun before we start dragging people into vats of blood and cutting their heads off. Rush is having a blast, and I think that carries this film far past many of its foibles.

What Dark Castle wisely attempted to do was not try an obliterate the memory of William Castle’s film, but instead they amped up the double crosses, the vicious murders, and the freaky ghosts bringing the skeleton of the film along with them. Since the skeleton was such a major portion of Castle’s film, it only seems appropriate. Well that about wraps it up for today, but I still have eleven more goodies coming for you soon. So keep them comments coming and keep checking back as I keep counting down. Oh, and you folks keep reading so you can find out who my special guest if for today!

Bugg Rating 

Today’s guest, Chance Shirley,  made one of my favorite films of all time, Hide and Creep, if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s better than anything that’s going to be on this list for a while so you should check it out! Chance is a great dude, and this is his third year in a row participating in the Halloween Top 13. I’ve only got one other three time contributor this year (either people are slack or scared to think of remakes), and it makes me very happy to introduce my first one. Take it away Chance….

“Hey, man. Just wanted to drop my two cents on you regarding your Halloween remake series on your website. Is there a greater horror movie, remake or otherwise, than John Carpenter's THE THING? I don't think so. I also think Zack Snyder's DAWN OF THE DEAD is pretty watchable. Not nearly as good as the original, though.”

Those are both great picks Chance. I wonder if either of them will appear on the countdown. I don’t wonder very hard, but I do wonder. Ok, I bet they both do, but I shan’t tell you in what place. For that kind of information, you’re going to have to stay tuned to the countdown, and stay tuned to The Lair for any news on Chance. I know his second film, Interplanetary, is gearing up for a DVD release in 2011. Iin the meantime, you Netflix Instant Watchers check out Hide and Creep and come on back here tomorrow for more remake goodness.

(And if you don’t have your list in to the Halloween Top 13, I’m still looking for two more victims, ummm, participants, to take part. Click here for details.)



  1. I definitely enjoyed this remake a lot more than I thought I would. Nice write up.

  2. This was good but it didn`t have the magic, charm, soothing qualitys or re-watchability factor of the 1959 original.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...