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House On Haunted Hill Review

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Rich and 'eccentric' amusement park owner Stephen H Price (Rush) offers six contestants the chance to win a million dollars each, provided they can survive a night in what was once an asylum for the insane. Thinking it's easy money, there's no shortage of applicants, but it's not long before those chosen are regretting their 'good fortune'.

★★★★★

In this remake of William Castle's 1958 frightener, inflation has turned Vincent Price's ten grand into a cool million: the prize - profferred by barking billionaire Steven Price (Rush) - for lasting one night in the HOHH. Only in this game, there's no phoning a friend (because all the lines have been cut) and 50/50 amounts to significantly better survival odds than any of the cast can expect.

Castle's original was a campy shlock-horror, packing as many chuckles as chills, and likewise, the tone here is set by an opening title's sequence of elongated and initially comical screams, which grow more disturbing as they gather volume. Such an unsettling combo extends into early scene-setting, as theme park owner Price puts the visiting news crew through a heart-stopping roller coaster experience and subsequently lifts the lid on his dysfunctional, love-hate relationship with lascivious wife Evelyn (Janssen). And alongside Janssen's dark, red-lipped turn-on, there's enough clean-cut sex appeal amongst the other party guests to suggest that things may go hump, as well as bump, in the night. Diggs is all pumping heroic muscle, Gallagher takes the suave, doctorly approach, while Ali Larter pitches blonde glamour alongside the even more tawdry Bridgette Wilson.

However, the film gradually but steadily loses its edge. The Vannacutt Psychiatric Institute for the Criminally Insane is a superbly designed monolithic montrosity, but once inside, producers Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis seem too keen to up the ante further, for having wrought a twisted, deeply unpleasant mood, the movie finds itself back on a formulaic track of shocks and scare-fest staples. The finale, in fact, boils dangerously close to that of Jan de Bont's The Haunting, and as anyone in Hollywood's horror fraternity will tell you, affinity with that disaster area is something to really be afraid of.

Frequently effective and played with suitably off-kilter spirit, if only this had retained the courage of its early convictions, we could be looking at an exceptional blood-curdler.