House on Haunted Hill Review (1999)


My History With the Film:
House on Haunted Hill was one of the first DVDs that I purchased back in the summer of 2000. I knew nothing about the movie when purchasing the DVD and only bought it because it was loaded with special features. It also had cool cover art.

I went home and decided to check the movie out and I was blown away. I wasn’t expecting a film with such a stellar cast, cool special effects, a nice vibe, and fantastic music. I loved the setting and the plot, and it really blew me away.

In the early 2000’s, I must have watched House on Haunted Hill at least once every three months or so. But I’ve seen it maybe once in the past ten years. When Scream Factory announced a blu-ray release, it quickly became my most anticipated release and when I ran into some Amazon credit, I bought a copy in June 2019 and gave it a watch with my fiancée.

What The Film Is About (Non-Spoiler):
Five strangers are invited to a birthday party at an abandoned asylum that is supposedly haunted.

What I Liked About It:
-The music! I never realized how much I loved the music until this most recent watch. In fact, I’ve been listening to the score almost non-stop the last few days. It’s haunting, riveting, and interesting. It’s very different from what you usually hear in horror films and really makes the film stand out.

-The cast is diverse and wonderful. I’m a huge fan of Ali Larter, Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, and Bridgette Wilson. Then you add the incredible talents of Peter Gallagher, the shocking effectiveness of Chris Kattan in a serious role, and Taye Diggs holding his own, and you have a fantastic cast to be trapped inside a building with for ninety-minutes. Geoffrey Rush was obviously have a lot of fun in his role, and was fresh off an Oscar win just three years prior and was up for another Oscar in 2000 right after House on Haunted Hill was released.

-The design of the house was by far my favorite part of the film. It has a very haunting and original design to it. It features a strange stain glassed ceiling, an untouched basement, a magnificent staircase, and enough dirt and grime to make you feel uncomfortable.

-The editing is something else that stood out on this most recent re-watch. The film does a masterful job of keeping a good pace and some of the most effective moments are when flashes of horror imagery comes and goes. You truly feel like the house is haunted by the souls of the mentally ill.

-The twitching and jerking of the ghosts was really unique at the time (maybe only having been seen in Jacob’s Ladder) and was effective in making me feel uncomfortable.

What I Didn’t Like About It:
-The CGI at the very end does not hold up. It’s better than a lot of CGI from the era that tried to be too realistic, but it definitely takes you out of the movie some with how rough it looks. With that being said, in 2000, I distinctly recall being impressed with how great the CGI was.

-The last couple of minutes are a little too convenient and it comes off a weak. I almost feel like there was some studio interference to come up with the ending that they did.

Additional Notes:

-The fluttering in the Saturation Chamber was accomplished by using a saw blade in front of the camera and not CGI.


-Dark Castle, the production company that released House of Haunted Hill, was named after William Castle, director of the original House on Haunted Hill, 13 Ghosts, and The Tingler. He is best known for offering all sorts of marketing gimmicks with his movies such as seats that shocked you, skeletons that would fly over the audience, and even parking ambulances out front of the theater. When Dark Castle formed, they intended to do a gimmick for each movie they released, but ultimately only did one for House on Haunted Hill. Movie goers were given scratch off tickets where they could win money like the characters in the film.

-Director William Malone got the idea to set the movie in a former insane asylum while filming an episode of Tales from the Crypt. He noticed that crew members were running scared out of the basement, not wanting to film there.

-The faceless creature that Stephen Price encounters in the saturation chamber was originally designed for Ghost Story by Dick Smith but never appeared in that film.

-The rollercoaster used in the beginning of the film was The Incredible Hulk at Universal Studios in Orlando.

-The only character featured in both the original and the 1999 version of House on Haunted Hill was the owner of the house, Watson Pritchet.

-::SPOILER – INFORMATION ON ORIGINAL SHOOTING ENDING:: The original shooting script had an alternate ending where Steven Price had died from the Darkness atop the staircase instead of Pritchett and Eddie dies saving Sara from the Darkness instead of Price. When Pritchett and Sara make it outside, they are eventually found by the cleaning crew. There is a news segment of the TV series “Terrifying but True” about the events of the House on Haunted Hill where Sara is taken to an ambulance to have her injured feet tended to and Pritchett is interviewed by the police while paramedics take out various body bags filled with Melissa Marr’s severed body parts. ::END SPOILER::

Rating:

Overall, House on Haunted Hill stills holds up well for me. I find it creepy at times and the characters are diverse enough to be interesting. The movie keeps you guessing almost till the end and I like that it never gives up on offering twists and turns. The performances within the film are all quite good and the special effects and imagery (outside of the last ten minutes) are truly the stuff nightmares are made of.

I rate House on Haunted Hill a four out of five and say it’s a high priority rental.

 

 

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