House On Haunted Hill 1999 Review

What would you do for 1 million dollars? (And don’t say it in a Doctor Evil voice; don’t think I can’t hear you at the back). Would you maybe be willing to spend a night in an abandoned asylum jam packed with severely pissed off ghosts and a big black blob of concentrated evil that looks like a Rorschach Test made of terrible CGI naked ladies in a ill thought out remake of a 1958 classic? You would? Well then welcome to the House on Haunted Hill my friend, enjoy your stay. Beware of folk making terrible decisions on an average of about 3 per 10 minutes, a man who spends most of the running time shouting at a house, about 4 different unsurprising plot twists and one single shining light of pure awesomeness. Spoilers to Follow.

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Who’s Genius Idea Was It To Stick Geoffrey Rush At The Back Of The Poster?

We start at a superhero’s lair imbedded into a cliff face – no wait it’s a lunatic asylum. One of those awful 1930s ones where patients are treated like animals and subject to horrific experiments, doctors don’t use anaesthetic, nurses don’t wear bras and the patients are insane but not so insane that they can’t band together to form a mob and riot, killing everyone in the place, and burning it to the ground. This was the ‘Vannacutt Psychiatric Institute for the Criminally Insane’, a pretty hideous place by all accounts, and definitely the kind of place you’d want to fix up and rent for parties instead of leaving to decay into dust, right? One person who thinks that such a place would be perfect for a shindig is Evelyn Stockard-Price (played by Famke Janssen), a spoilt, almost certainly psychopathic madam who on learning of the place immediately rings her husband to demand her birthday party be held there. Remember the single light of pure awesome I mentioned? Luckily we don’t have to wait long to meet him, it is Evelyn’s husband, Stephen Price (played by Geoffrey Rush); a P.T Barnumesque figure who runs funfairs and designs terrifying rides for them. He shows a reporter and camera man around one of his amusement parks; freaking them out in a malfunctioning lift that is actually a ride and one a rollercoaster where the car goes flying off the tracks. The man is a veritable health and safety nightmare. And he is fucking wicked, by far the best character and actor in the entire film. I’m not spoiling anything if I state right now that the film would be utterly unbearable if it weren’t for Rush’s performance. I’m also going to out this out right now, there’s something oddly attractive about him…what? Guess I have a thing for suave, slightly unhinged guys who channel Vincent Price and know how to rock a cravat like a boss. Now obviously, like the professional I am, I will not let this bizarre fact cloud the rest of the review, but yeah, Geoffrey Rush gets a free pass for the whole film. A deserved one though, so it’s all good (Stop looking at me like that. Everyone’s allowed a weird crush and…look, just shut up).

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I Told You She Was Crazy. Look, She’s Bathing In Cotton Wool.

Erm, anyway, back to the plot; Evelyn demands he arrange the party at the former asylum, telling him the guest list is on his desk. Because he’s so deliciously duplicitous he shreds her list and writes his own, but when he leaves his office, the computer deletes his guest list and writes one of its own, and then the fax machine deletes that and writes one of its own…not really, but it’s no more stupid than a ghost inside the computer (and believe me, when you hear the whole explanation, you’ll think it’s even more stupid than you already do, if that is in fact possible).

To the sounds of the scariest thing to come out of the late 1999s (if you were a parent living in Middle America at the time), Marilyn Manson, the chosen group make their way to the house. The invitations promise thrills, terror, humiliation (why this would be an incentive to go to a party I’m not entirely sure) and possibly murder, plus 1 million dollars to any who can stay the entire night. And a limo each? Obviously carbon footprints hadn’t been invited in 1999. At the gates to the house they are met by the owner of the house, a twitchy, nervous man named Pritchett (played by Chris Kattan), who shepherds them up the imposing faced of Hill House, a place that definitely came from the Gotham City School of design. When the guests enter there is no sign of the Prices, just a table laid out in the centre of the entrance lobby and a freaky Picasso type glass mural on the ceiling depicting I don’t know, crazy folk or something, which according to Pritchett, has always been there. So it survived the rioting and fire then?

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Ok, I’ll Level With You. I’m Going To Bombard This Review Of Pictures Of Geoffrey Rush. So In The Interests Of Equality, Here’s One For The Gentlemen To Keep You Going.

So far we haven’t been given even the hint of a name about our guests but seeing as the first nugget of information we do get from one of them is a former TV presenter with a frankly bizarre video camera permanently attached to her hand who want to either catch some ghostly activity on camera to get her job back, or alternatively, fuck someone to get her job back, I’m, not holding out much hope for the rest of the group. Evelyn makes her appearance with all the bashful charm of Cruella DeVil and violently questions who the group is, before any of them can answer, the glass mural implodes and showers down on them. One of them, played by Taye Diggs since we don’t know his name yet, saves Evelyn, she is singularly ungrateful. Stephen Price (he’s so dreamy *sigh*) shows up and after some catty back and forth mostly revolving around penises, he and Evelyn retire to chat. Evelyn and Stephen’s relationship is worrying passive-aggressive. She’s a bitch, he’s a prick (but a hot one. Ok, I’ll stop that now, some of you seem to be turning green), they hate each other and apparently have never heard of this little thing called a divorce. They both deny having anything to do with the group of strangers that are now downstairs waiting for them, although both are convinced the other is responsible. Evelyn plans to leave as soon as possible, while Stephen has one of his rollercoaster lackeys installed in the basement, watching the group on video cameras and controlling all the little ‘tricks’ Stephen has planned.

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Yes Please. (Look, You Can All Just Do One. He’s Hot. End Of Conversation).

Pritchett just wants to take his money for the rental of the property for the night and leave, Stephen toys with him, offering him the chance to stay the night to get the 1 million. He refuses. As Stephen explains the rules of the evening (they must spend the whole night in the house, if any of them bail before the night is over, their money will be split between the remaining guests), Stephen admits he doesn’t know who any of them are and we finally get to learn the names of the guests; Eddie (played by Taye Diggs), Donald (Played by everyone’s favourite TV Dad, Sandy Cohen, aka Peter Gallagher), Jennifer (played by Ali Larter) and Melissa (Played by Bridgett Wilson). As Pritchett goes to leave a klaxon sounds and metal plates slam down and bar all the doors and windows, preventing any of them from leaving. Pritchett does not take this well, smashing in the glass of a window uncovered and trying to escape, cutting up his hand in the process. This is lockdown, a relic from the 1930s that seals the building. It is how everyone burnt to death back then, the mad doctor Vannacutt flipped the switch, trapping everyone. Pritchett (aka Mr Exposition) tells them only five people survived, all staff members of the doctor (five survivors, five guests, I wonder where this is going?). The lockdown mechanism wasn’t disabled when it was being fixed up, as Pritchett’s Dad didn’t get around to it (personally it would have been at the very top of my list), as the house burnt down (again, apparently) first.

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“Why Won’t They Believe My Totally Legit Story About The House Being Alive? Also, Why Aren’t I Has Hot As Geoffrey Rush? Life Is Just So Unfair”.

Pritchett says the house is alive and they will all die. Oddly, no one rushes to believe him. The phones don’t work due to either the metal plates of lockdown or the ghosts, depending on who you listen to. A janitor will be coming to unlock the place the next morning (How precisely will he be unlocking it?). Jennifer, smelling a rat, thinks it’s a ruse to trick them out of the money – great ruse that; they can’t leave, which is how they get the money, so how would stopping them from leaving scam them out of getting the money exactly? – Evelyn agrees, thinking it’s all Stephen’s doing, which he denies. Eddie thinks if they can get down to the basement they might be able to reverse the lockdown. Pritchett isn’t keen, the place is a maze down there and not let’s forget the ‘alive’ house, and also that the basement is always the most evil infested place in a haunted house, ever. In order to protect themselves against, er, an inanimate building, Evelyn gets Stephen to reveal his ‘party favour’s; guns. Round my way a party favour was called a party bag and was usually sweets and maybe a yo-yo. They sure do things differently across the pond. Anyway, Stephen says the guns are clipped or something. Eddie takes a gun and he, Pritchett and Jennifer go to investigate the basement.

There seems to be a forgotten Damien Hirst exhibition in the basement, with mutilated corpses suspended in giant glass boxes. Stephen goes to question his co-conspirator rollercoaster lackey, but he had nothing to do with the lockdown, and as long as he has plenty of sandwiches to munch on he doesn’t seem to care much. Stephen joins the others in the basement, and they set out to explore the basement. They wander past a partially bricked up wall, containing the souls of the damned I guess. It’s an oozy wall of blood or something. They also stop off at the electroshock room and end up in the saturation chamber, the function of which was to scare the inmates of the asylum back to normal, or some other stupid train of thought that wouldn’t sound out of place in at the institution in Don’t Look in the Basement.

Price and Pritchett (what a great name for a pair of detectives. Price is the sexy one, obvs) wander off from the group (bright boys), leaving Jennifer and Eddie the chance to get up close and personal when she somehow manages to re-wire the place, while he fondles her arse. Luckily she finds such traits charming. It also turns out she isn’t really Jennifer, but Sara, Jennifer’s assistant, who came in her place hoping to win the money. Eddie doesn’t actually hear any of this confession as he stopped to stare gormlessly at a room while she continues on through the basement. This group suck at being a group. Sara spots a lone figure and thinking it’s Eddie, follows it. It seems to be Eddie, and he’s been possessed or something. She wanders through grimy room after grimy room and it’s all a bit dull, all the rooms look the same. She eventually finds Eddie about to step into an enormous vat of blood, he does and she reaches in after him. Real Eddie shows up, but something is still grabbing her from inside the vat, she manages to pull free with no help from Eddie. Thanks Eddie.

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Why So Serious Taye? This Is A Rare Instance Of The Black Guy Surviving The Horror Film.

They make their way to the lobby, arriving back at the same time as Pritchett and Stephen, who claims they couldn’t find the master switch for the lock down. Pritchett scoffs at Sara’s experience in the basement, saying that’s nothing compared to the big evil that resides in the place that will inevitably get them. And he wonders why no one is taking him seriously? Evelyn is still being a bitch. Stephen says they should all stick together, but uh-oh, Melissa’s wandered off like an idiot. Melissa has also gone to the basement, recording all the while. As she points the camera into an empty room through the camera she witnesses the mad doctor Vannacutt (by the way, he’s being played by Re-Animator legend Jeffrey Combs) cutting into some poor unfortunate strapped to a hospital bed, while being recorded on a very old school video camera by one of the nurses. So Melissa is recording a nurse recording a horrible thing. How meta (Please note, I still don’t really know what ‘meta’ means). They all slowly turn to look at Melissa, who when she lowers the camera, can only see an empty room. Then there’s loads of fast edits of scary things that flash by so quickly you can’t really absorb them, and then a scream that brings the others running. They find her camera in a pool of blood, and a trail of blood going up the wall a la Freddy Kruger killing Tina. According to the increasingly unstable Pritchett this means she has gone ‘into the house’. Back in the lobby, Sara manages to get Melissa’s camera to work, but all it shows them is a hand covered in blood that then gets dragged away, which isn’t very informative really.

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“They Still Give Out £250 For Video Clips On ‘You’ve Been Framed’ Right?”

Evelyn is actually a psychopath as after accusing her husband a bit more she tries to shoot Stephen (who I am totally siding with here, and would be even if I didn’t find him oddly hot) and then announces she is going to bed. Stephen claims he loaded the guns with blanks, so none of them are in any real danger, the others don’t find this comforting at all strangely. Stephen goes to talk to his lackey but finds he has had his entire face scooped out like a big bloody melon (you can tell this is meant to be scary as there is a loud music sting here), on the cameras he had installed he sees a ghost doctor (Vannacutt I presume) moving jerkily along holding a knife.

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Wow. I Thought The Thing About Mixing Pop Rocks And Soda Was Just An Urban Legend.

Montage time! There’s always time for a montage to some terrible music, no matter how much peril one is in. Eddie and Sara try to escape using a pitchfork to wedge the windows open, Pritchett looks for more booze (right there with you buddy), Donald tries to find Melissa, Stephen rushes about looking for the ghost doctor. Then suddenly lights come on.  Earlier Pritchett mentioned that the doctors used to use electroshock therapy to help power the house, and lo and below, when everyone gathers in the basement, Evelyn is being fried. After endless amounts of fannying around they eventually manage to turn it off, too late for dear Evelyn however. Incensed, Stephen accuses one of the others of killing her. He and Sara both draw their guns, but Eddie overpowers Stephen and they lock him in the saturation chamber.  Donald agrees to stay to keep an eye on him

Donald is a prick and taunts Stephen through the small glass window, turns the chamber on and leaves (What would Sandy Cohen say?). They sure knew how to build this shit in the 1930s, everything still works as good as new. The chamber works like one of those olds Victorian toys and soon sends Price into some sort of weird flashback/mental breakdown, as he is strapped to a gurney and then trapped in a water chamber. The editing is so zippy it’s hard to follow. But he’s clearly having a horrible time of it. There are plenty of naked chicks though, so you know, glass half full and all that. He should have just closed his eyes, then he wouldn’t have seen any of the freaky stuff and wouldn’t have been sent batshit crazy. After all the chamber itself doesn’t move, just an inner wall.

Sara and Eddie have found the good doctor’s office. They find a photo featuring all his staff, the survivors. Why did they survive anyway? If they were that sadistic you would have thought they would have been top of the ‘the kill horribly’ list. Sara realises how the guest list was formed – the names (fucking d’uh) – all the guests were related to the staff of the hospital (including Stephen and Evelyn), except her I would assume as she went in her boss’ place. Pritchett turns up and goes on and on again about how the house did it. Apparently the evil energy in the house can travel through the internet and it summoned them all…and I just dropped about 10 IQ points typing that because it sounds so fucking stupid. However, Donald’s name (or his ancestor) isn’t on the list. He finds the body of Evelyn and gropes her then injects her to wake her up. T’was a ruse all along; Donald and Evelyn are having an affair and they planned to frame Stephen for her murder, the idea being she was going to have a ‘miraculous’ recovery after Stephen was arrested, or they are going to kill Stephen or I don’t know, it was a such a incomprehensible plan I kind of tuned out. Evelyn decides they need another body to really point all the fingers of suspicion at Stephen and kills Donald.

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No Doubt Seth Cohen Would Have Some Witty Quip About This.

Evelyn goes to the chamber and releases the now insensible Stephen. Sara, Eddie and Pritchett have formed some sort of brilliant escape plan involving a pipe. They go to try and find Donald to tell him about their excellent plan and find lots of blood and Evelyn’s body gone. They go to the chamber and find Donald’s head and body, now two separate entities. Evelyn’s plan worked I guess, they think Price is the murderer, but all that proves is that Eddie, Sara and Pritchett are moronic for falling for the plot that Evelyn cooked up, not that the plan was any good. Sara hears the disembodied voice of Melissa and follows it, finding only the bloody and confused Stephen. He appeals to her for help, she shoots him. Nice going Sara, way to kill the best character in the film. Eddie and Pritchett turn up, and they leave the basement again. I’m getting proper sick of this fucking basement like, the place is huge and all we’ve seen is the lobby and the dingy basement. Evelyn appears, taunts Stephen about loving his money, but – praise the lord there’s now hope for the film again –  he’s still alive as well, having been wearing a bullet proof vest the whole time. He also throws off the insanity he was suffering a few minutes ago remarkably quickly. He and Evelyn scrap; he knew all about Donald via the surveillance he carried out on his wife, and knew they were going to try and kill him tonight.  He throws her around a bit, and she ends up going through the wall where the evil lives, thus releasing it. (Although if were so all powerful I don’t see how a poxy wall kept it trapped for all these years) Evelyn gets attacked by some lead filings, which turn into a…wall of despair made to look like the giant vagina of Georgia O’Keeffe’s nightmares. She gets absorbed into it and then both melts and turns to stone at the same time. Impressive. Stephen finds the atomically dismembered Melissa. The terrible CGI smog of doom attacks him, and he flees.

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Hotness Update: Still Hot.

The others, meanwhile, are trying to utilise the pipe where the pitchfork failed, and open the window. Stephen bangs on the door of the basement, desperate to be let out. Pritchett goes to open it. Somehow the evil bypasses Price, who falls/jumps (depending on how much of an utter bastard he is. Me? I don’t really care, he’s still aces) into an alcove, and Pritchett gets absorbed into the evil. Stephen tells Sara and Eddie to get to the attic and manages to get the pulley working for the lockdown using dumb luck. The house is destroying itself around the Sara and Eddie. We are all treated to use Geoffrey Rush baring his chest time (No sarcasm there by the way, just attractiveness). Sara and Eddie make it to the attic, but in of escaping rapidly Sara just stares dumbly at the approaching evil and Stephen sacrifices himself to save her. I hate her even more now. Eddie manages to get Sara out the window but the pulley gives before he can haul himself through. The ghosts entreat Eddie to join him. His pure genius plan to stop them is to scream out that he was adopted in a unintentionally hilarious moment, as the evil is only going after descendants of the survivors of the fire in the 1930s. ‘I didn’t have anything to do with it!’ he mewls. Well yes, but neither did any of the other people who died tonight really, it was their relatives. The ghost of Pritchett appears, somehow separate from the other entity and pulls the pulley, allowing Eddie to escape. Thwarted, the evil just leaves. What a rubbish evil.

The sun has risen, Sara and Eddie are alive, stranded hundreds of feet above the sea, but alive. And somehow all the $1 million checks are also fine? So they get ALL the money. For fucks sake. They laugh, because everything is, like, totes amaze now. Eddie even quips; ‘That was a badass party’. ‘How do we get down from here?’ asks Sara. I don’t care, you are both reprehensible people who killed Geoffrey Rush twice. I hope you rot up there.

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Seriously. What The Genuine Fuck Is This?

So yeah, the scariest thing on display here was definitely my yearning for Geoffrey Rush (I regret nothing). The late 1999s/early 2000s saw a mini spate of remakes of classic haunted house films from the 1950s and 1960s; this, The Haunting and 13 Ghosts (or, if you really must Thir13en Ghosts) were all made in the space of a few years. Often it was only the bare bones of the plots of the original that remained and the new stories were dressed up with gore and truly abysmal CGI. Yes I know it’s easy to look back on the films these days and say that, but you know what? I really don’t with films such as Nightmare On Elm Street, Evil Dead and The Thing, the practical effects are just too good, and so is, importantly, the story. But I’ve droned on so much about remakes I’ve started to drone on about me droning on about remakes, so let’s skip all of that. Geoffrey Rush, as mentioned, fucking excellent. It was a nice touch to name his character Stephen Price in homage to horror icon Vincent Price, who appeared in the original. And his dress and manner throughout the film also suggest a certain amount of tribute to the great man. Famke Jannsen is also a lot of fun as Evelyn. Everyone else? Boring, especially in comparison to the over the top antics of the Prices. Chris Kattan as Pritchett gets some decent lines and a puts in a good performance but a repetitive one, going on about the eeeeevil house all the time got old pretty quick. The fact that there were five guests and five survivors that were their descendants was way too obvious, and the great evil, when we finally saw it, just looked daft. Some of the designs of the ghosts are pretty nifty, and Stephen’s Price’s experience in the chamber is fairly unsettling (An awful lot of too fast editing though, which I dislike). The film spent too much time in the basement, where there were too many rooms that looked the same. The place was huge, and it would have been nice to explore some of the rest of it. But, thanks to some great performances and a zippy running time, the film didn’t drag. It’s definitely worth a watch, for Geoffrey Rush’s performance alone (Hands off though, he’s mine).

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One More For The Road…

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Ok, Two. Two For The Road.

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9 thoughts on “House On Haunted Hill 1999 Review

  1. Well put: Though I liked the movie, you are the first to put my opinion in order. Geoffrey Rush is something of a stage talent everywhere and dialogue with wife funny as hell; the comparison to ole Vincent makes think of clone, if not “bargain basement vaudevillian” like Neil Gaiman’s Cain presented. Great take on movie, thanks.

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