William Castle’s “House on Haunted Hill” was a pretty great horror movie that inevitably became a pretty good remake in 1999. When Sam Raimi founded Dark Castle films, his love for William Castle was worn on his sleeve, right down to theatrics of the remake. “House on Haunted Hill” from 1999 does a good job of delivering something new and unique to the premise of the original film, putting twists in the premise, and offering some contemporary thrills that more than make up for the film’s massive short comings, overall. It’s a great Halloween treat; I can at least say that for it.
Steven Price is a brilliant engineer and amusement park mogul who delights in terrifying his guests with excellent special effects and gimmicks. After leasing a mansion that doubled as an insane asylum, for the sake of a themed birthday party, Steve invites a group of people to his house and invites them to survive the night. If they do, they’ll be rewarded a million dollars, but if they bow out before day light, they forfeit the money. Knowing many of the guests need the money, they’re all put in tight positions, especially as a former curator of the grounds insist the manor is haunted by the ghosts of former patients who violently murdered the staff in revolt. As the group is unwillingly locked in the mansion overnight, something is awakened and the fight for survival ensues.
“House on Haunted Hill” is mostly style over substance and I appreciate it that it tries for something completely different. The original film had suspense in miles, but it was also all about gimmicks and fun, and the remake aspires for that most times. To compensate for any real spooks, there are some solid gore effects and stellar set pieces. This includes a giant vat of blood, and the epic Saturation Chamber scene, where Price is subjected to visions of the mansion’s demons in the vein of a zoetrope. William Malone does a great job injecting a ton of style and sleek cinematography in to a film that is very much of the nineties, right down to the Marilyn Manson music. Malone gathers an impressive ensemble cast to boot, including Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, and Peter Graves respectively.
The stand out performances though are Geoffrey Rush and Jeffrey Combs, both of whom seem to have a great time being as spectacularly devious and creepy as humanly possible. Combs role is mostly a walk on, but as the mansion’s resident ghost who leads the legion of demons, he’s absolutely menacing and gets a lot out of a performance reliant mainly on facial expressions. Rush is also great pulling off a memorable Vincent Price impression, lending the film a nice touch of Vincent Price, right down his sharp humor. “House on Haunted Hill” fails mainly in being an actually scary film. For a movie about ghosts and mental patients, it mainly peaks in the disturbing prologue, and fizzles out long before we see the mansion ever again. That said 1999’s “House on Haunted Hill” is a solid time killer, with some memorable moments and slick visuals.
Featured in the release from Shout! there’s an informative and fun audio commentary with director William Malone, a new thirty seven minute interview with William Malone who offers insights in to making the film, and shares some fun stories about the production. There’s a new ten minute interview with composer Don Davis, and a new nineteen minute interview with visual effects supervisor Robert Skotak. There are two brand new image galleries, a conceptual art and storyboard gallery, courtesy of digital effects producer Paul Taglianetti, and additional movie stills and a poster gallery.
The vintage “A Tale of Two Houses” is a featurette from the original release comparing the original film to the remake, there’s a vintage behind the scenes look at the film’s effects with director Malone including looks at the Glass Ceiling, The Saturation Chamber, The Vat of blood, and The Exploding Floor. Finally there are four deleted scenes all with intros and outros by director Malone, the film’s original theatrical trailer, and two vintage TV Spots.