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‘House on Haunted Hill’ (1999) is Problematic but Fun


Written by Lois Kennedy

Directed by: William Malone

Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, Bridgette Wilson, Peter Gallagher, Chris Kattan, Jeffrey Combs, James Marsters

Wealthy trophy wife Evelyn Price is for some reason having a birthday party in an abandoned mental hospital/house. Too bad the place is now haunted: long story short, the patients (who had every right to be miffed at their caregivers, since they tended to do things like cut them open for no reason without anesthesia) got loose one 1930s day and killed all but five staff members, who escaped before evil Dr. Vannacutt threw the lock-down switch, trapping himself and the patients to die in a fire. The angry spirits have enough ghostly clout to erase Evelyn’s party guest list and instead invite relatives of the five escapees for a (pretty belated) revenge. Hence, the partygoers are Evelyn, her husband Steven, Melissa, a washed-up television star, Jennifer, vice president of a movie production company, and Eddie, a former pro baseball player, plus caretaker Pritchett and Dr. Blackburn. Steven offers the money-hungry folks a million dollars if they can survive the night. But the house has plans of its own.

Like William Malone’s other film Feardotcom, the direction is terrific, and the sets are to die for, but it’s riddled with plot holes. Ghosts (of people who died long before computers, no less) really got into Steven’s computer, deleted the guest list, and then sent out new invitations? The five descendants who attended had no other relatives the ghosts cared to kill—no parents, siblings, cousins? Steven and Evelyn are both relatives of the staff members—was their marriage a coincidence or did the ghosts hook them up? In addition, there are a lot of terrible lines like “Sure is a funky old house, ain’t it?” which is used not once, but twice. Also, many of the characters are clichés, like Melissa, who totes a camera and spouts lines like, “that’s enter-fucking-tainment.” Then there’s “Puff Eddie,” as Evelyn calls him, who’s handy with a gun and makes such wonderfully intelligent statements as, “Goddamn, this place is scary, yo,” and “Look at this. Huh?”

However, the movie is not entirely brainless fluff. Something I find interesting is how the characters’ drive to get money becomes ultimately destructive to them. As Eddie says, “What good is a million dollars if you’re dead?” Also, their identities are wrapped up in their jobs; they introduce themselves by names and occupations. It’s neat that Steven Price was named after Vincent Price, and that the name is also symbolic—as in, everyone has theirs. Also fascinating is the house itself. The evil presence alternates from the ghosts to the sentient house; does the house draw evil people to it, or does it corrupt good people? In other words, was Dr. Vannacutt and his staff already inhuman, or did the house make them that way?

A nifty aspect of the film is that creepy thing his ghosts do–they jiggle around really quickly, looking almost like stop-motion.

house on haunted hill 2

Someone’s been watching Jacob’s Ladder

Thus the movie has its eerie moments. Sound is used cleverly, in that there are a lot of weird unidentifiable noises. The closed captioning on my T.V. made watching an amusing experience as it tried to convey them: “Fabric flapping,” “Animals,” “Distant shriek,” “Aaaaaaah!” and “Whoosh!” Unlike Feardotcom, which gets stupider every time I watch it, this one stays the same amount of stupid—a tolerable amount. It has a lot of nostalgia for me, and it’s like an old friend. Check it out if you like a movie with lots of guts—splattered on the wall.

Rating: 4/5

About GhoulieJoe (169 Articles)
I wuvs the horror movies and like to write snarky reviews about them. I also included some pretentious as hell microfiction (don't worry, it's at the bottom).

1 Comment on ‘House on Haunted Hill’ (1999) is Problematic but Fun

  1. Great and funny review. I enjoyed this movie, but was also disturbed by the plot holes and lack of likable heros. I watched this last weekend as part of a marathon with Ghost Rider 2 and Brokeback Mountain and found it highly entertaining.

    Liked by 1 person

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