Director: William Malone
Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, Bridgette Wilson, Peter Gallagher, Chris Kattan
Screenplay: Dick Beebe
93 mins. Rated R for horror violence and gore, sexual images and language.
I heard that House on Haunted Hill is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and I absolutely had to rewatch this film. The last time I interacted with this property was when I watched the sequel, Return to House on Haunted Hill, many years ago, so this was a perfect opportunity to revisit this 90s horror film.
Stephen Price (Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech, Final Portrait) is throwing his wife a hell of a birthday party by inviting some guests to the Vannacutt Psychiatric Institute for the Criminally Insane, a now-closed former asylum where the patients revolted and murdered most of the staff sixty years earlier. The invites have gone out, and guests have started to arrive. There’s only one problem. All of the guests who arrive are people that neither Stephen nor his wife Evelyn (Famke Janssen, X-Men: The Last Stand, Asher) had invited. Stephen and Evelyn each suspect each other of a murder plot, but Stephen’s not going to let his plan go south, and he offers each of the guests a million dollars for staying the night in the house. Evelyn has plans of her own for the night, but the House on Haunted Hill has plans for all of them tonight.
Let me preface everything I’m about to say here. This is not a good movie. In fact, it’s a bad movie. Like many of Dark Castle’s films from the late 90s/early 00s, House on Haunted Hill is super-cheesy and super-silly and super-dumb. There’s a whole lot of bad surrounding this film including an upping-the-ante from the original film’s over-the-top premise. The Stephen-Evelyn dynamic is so excessive throughout. House on Haunted Hill is batshit.
It’s also so-bad-it’s-good in a lot of ways. It’s a bad movie that is so much fun to watch for some of its elements. Let’s talk about the bad stuff that surprisingly works. I love Stephen and Evelyn upon a rewatch. Seeing them both suspect each other of murder while also plotting the very same thing is a lot of fun. I believe that Geoffrey Rush knows exactly what kind of movie he’s in and he plays to it well. This is the strength of getting an actor like Rush to do horror. He gets the movie.
Chris Kattan (A Night at the Roxbury, TV’s Bunnicula) also kills it as Pritchard, the guy that is an exposition-machine/comic-relief for the film. He mixes his unhinged performance into the exposition and comedy and it’s just so crazy. He is perfectly cast in this film and becomes an equal to Rush’s Stephen Price.
I also like the idea of an all-consuming evil inhabiting the house is really cool. Some of the CG near the end of the film hasn’t aged well enough to work, but as a plot element, it’s still very fun. Many of the effects in the film still look pretty cool, especially how Dr. Vannacutt’s ghost doing that shaky-shaky effect, but the darkness effect is pretty bad.
So what doesn’t work in the film? Most of the remaining cast. Outside of Rush, Kattan, and Peter Gallagher (American Beauty, TV’s Grace and Frankie), no one in the film really know what film they’re in. We spend just as much time as possible with many of the other party guests, and the scenes they appear in go absolutely nowhere.
House on Haunted Hill is a movie that works despite all the bad things in the movie. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a good movie, but it’s bad works pretty well if you see it from a certain point of view. I would suggest it as a solid 90s B-horror film.
-Kyle A. Goethe
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