By Ron Wells | November 1, 1999

Hey, at least it’s not “The Haunting”. What life wasn’t stomped out of that remake by the script was smothered by excessive CGI and art direction. At least with this remake, the filmmakers actually remembered to have some fun.
In this massive revision of the original William Castle film, Steven (Geoffrey Rush) and Evelyn Price (Famke Janssen) are not the most happily married couple. Evelyn’s birthday is coming up, though, and she’s decided to have her party in the reputedly haunted Vannacutt Psychiatric Institute for the Criminally Insane in Los Angeles. During a patient revolt in the 1930’s, nearly everyone died, including Dr. Vannacutt, who had a propensity for conducting brutal experiments on the inmates.
Steven, as the proprietor of a couple of major amusement parks, has a reputation for messing with people’s heads, but the Mrs. is no slouch, either. Both see the party as an opportunity to do away with the other. The House has a few ideas (and a guest list) of its own.
Director Robert Zemeckis and producer Joel Silver have previously displayed a yen for the cheesy horror flicks of their youth by creating the EC Comics-flavored “Tales From the Crypt” for HBO. Now they’ve created the “Dark Castle” imprint under Warner Bros. to expand the palettes, a bit. Co-writer/director William Malone, mostly a TV veteran, has stated that he was going for more of a Nine Inch Nails vibe for this update than the now tired “Crypt”-schtick. If you’ve ever seen Director Peter Christopherson’s long-form NIN video “Closure”, you know he means. There’s a great deal of general creepiness, but the enterprise is undercut by a weak script, weak characters, and a too simple plot.
If you can’t figure out the survivors in the first five minutes of the party, you haven’t seen enough horror films. Still, it’s nice the see some genuine gore and shock on a rare occasion since the horror boom of the early ’80’s went belly up and the MPAA got a bug up their collective a*s about on-screen carnage. “House on Haunted Hill” won’t change your life, and you probably won’t remember it after a week, but it’s a pleasant enough way to kill a couple of hours. …and hey, at least it’s not “The Haunting”.

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