On October 29th, 1999, House on Haunted Hill was released to the masses. An updated version of the 1959 classic staring Vincent Price, this film still retains its creepy-factor a decade after its release.
The 1999 version of House on Haunted Hill is more of an updated version of the original classic rather than a remake. There are a huge number of similarities between the films, the most obvious being Geoffry Rush looking almost EXACTLY like Vincent Price as well as a scene involving little floating coffins. Updated technology and a change in the culture in the 40 years since the original was released allowed House on Haunted Hill to be a fantastic horror movie.
While not scream inducing, this film still has its moments. The famous scene with the camcorder still chills to this day, and even though it has been done to death, the rapid motion of creatures popularized by Jacob’s Ladder still raises the hair on your neck. The gore effects are well done (except the opening “surgery” and the “stabbing with a pencil” scenes, both of which look like a plastic sheet being ripped apart), and the set design is moody and dark. Unfortunately, the DVD suffers from similar problems as other films released on DVD back in 1999 (when the format was still in its infancy). There are many scenes where digital artifacts rear their ugly head, and many scenes are either washed out or have bleeding colours (heh.) I think some of these issues are exacerbated by the difficulty in filming a movie that has the sort of mood and lighting as House on Haunted Hill. It’s not quite dark, but not quite well lit; it’s somewhere gloomy in between the two, almost like a smoke filled bar. The sound design, however, is fantastic. A surround sound setup is highly recommended for the full impact.
Surprisingly, I find this movie to be even more fun now than I did when it was first released. There is just the right amount and type of humour in this movie, with Chris Kattan’s character getting most of the laughs. I’ll admit though, it’s strange going back and seeing Famke Janssen play such a cold, evil person after watching her as Jean Grey in the X-Men movies. Except for a few REAL cheesy lines in the ending scenes, the acting and the script still holds up fairly well, even for a horror movie.
The CGI used for the “floating” shadow towards the end of the film still looks awesome. Every time I see it, I’m amazed that such a flowing, complicated animation is consistent between scenes and looks like it is somewhat “there”, as opposed to computer generated. There is far more detail in that thing than you remember…I highly recommend watching this film on as big a screen you can find and pausing it when the shadow has its close-up.
Even a decade later, the 1999 version of House on Haunted Hill is still one of my favourite horror movies. It has the perfect balance of violence, scares, comedy, and acting. Do yourself a favour and see both the 1999 AND the 1959 versions. They are both great films to watch, and while they may chill your spine, they won’t give you nightmares.