House On Haunted Hill (1999) – William Malone

I’m not sure how this title, a remake of the classic 1959 William Castle film ended up in the zombie chapter of DK Canada’s Monsters in the Movies book, as having just sat through this one, I don’t recall any zombies, or living dead.

The concept itself is fun enough, an amusement park mogul, Stephen Price (Geoffrey Rush – with his best Vincent Price mustache) who is keen to always frighten and titillate his audience, whether it’s with a new coaster, or scare tactic has organized a birthday party for his wife, Evelyn (Famke Janssen) at the site of a horrifying slaughter, a closed down insane asylum… the house on Haunted Hill.

Some one/thing changes the guest list, and a group of strangers join the dangerous party, Eddie (Taye Diggs), Sara (Ali Larter), Blackburn (Peter Gallagher), Melissa (Bridgette Wilson) and the property’s keeper, Pritchett (Chris Kattan).

All the typical tropes are played out, separation of the characters, predictable jump scares, and desired moments that don’t happen.

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It seems there are ghosts haunting the facility, and they are eager to take out their wrath on the visitors, but there is also something darker lurking in the asylum… and it may find its way out, and seek its own vengeance.

This was one of the first films of Dark Castle Entertainment, named for William Castle, and it wanted to invigorate the horror genre by remaking classic horrors from the 50s and 60s. And while the film is flashy, and has a fairly solid cast, Ali Larter has always been a favorite, there isn’t much in the way of characterization beyond the cardboard, and the story isn’t as well-written as it could be, the surprise twists aren’t really a surprise, and all the beats are fairly predictable.

It could have been something amazing because who doesn’t love a horror movie set in an insane asylum? Add a fairly strong cast who are more than capable, and you should have something that wowed and scared.

But the story falters, and the effects of the… darkness… are a cool idea, but poorly executed. The shots, camerawork, and everything, including the edges of production value, are nowhere near as solid as they could be. And amazingly, how can you cast both Lisa Loeb and James Marsters in the film, and don’t include them for the main body of the film, but just as set-up? Or cast Jeffrey Combs and give him no real dialogue?

I watched the film from beginning to end, and didn’t see a single zombie or living dead creature, so perhaps this film would have been better suited for the next chapter, on ghosts.

Still, it was a nice break from the zombie films as I close in on the end of the chapter. If bloody and macabre is your thing, pick up a copy of DK Books’ Monsters in the Movies and find something to watch tonight!

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