The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
Send this page to Twitter!  

THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


House on Haunted Hill

Audiences who saw 1999's House on Haunted Hill theatrically may not have been sure whether it was a movie or a game. In a fascinating piece of marketing, ticket-buyers were given a scratch-off game piece, offering them the chance to win $100,000. There's no such gimmick associated with Scream Factory's new Collector's Edition Blu-ray, but you do get a fun movie, along with some compelling supplementary material.

This is a remake of the old William Castle horror film -- the one where an inflatable skeleton on an invisible wire would fly over the audience's heads at a specified point during the story.

Geoffrey Rush plays Stephen Price, an innovative amusement park magnate who loves finding ways to scare people. After enjoying the triumph of opening a new roller-coaster, he plans a birthday party for his wife (Famke Jannsen). The two hate each other, so he opts to have the party in an abandoned old mental institution where, she presumes, he intends to kill her. A group of guests are invited: a movie executive (Ali Larter), a washed-up actress (Bridgette Wilson), a disgraced athlete (Taye Diggs), a doctor (Peter Gallagher who --with his poofy hair, nerd glasses, and halting dialogue -- appears to be playing Jeff Goldblum), and the young man (Chris Kattan) who inherited the institution from his father.

Price offers them all a reward. Anyone who lives through the night will receive $1,000,000. The house, of course, is filled with ghosts and monsters who begin attacking the partygoers one by one. Most of them are very demonic-looking beings, prone to eerily shaking their bodies the way a mixer shakes a can of paint. As the Kattan character explains, the place is "alive" and soon everyone is locked inside -- doors closed, windows sealed.

House on Haunted Hill establishes a suitably creepy ambiance. The institution is dark, it's wet, and it's dirty. There are catacombs throughout the basement, containing sharp corners that might potentially conceal something deadly. The plot is little more than a series of scenes in which people encounter demons of various kinds in this setting while trying to find a way out, and failing in spectacularly gruesome ways.

Despite that, it kind of works, provided you don't over-analyze it. Although stuck in one-dimensional roles, the cast members perform energetically. Many of the visuals, especially the shaking creatures, are legitimately eerie. Best of all, the movie is effectively tongue-in-cheek, approaching the material with some of the same morbid humor that made HBO's Tales From the Crypt so entertaining.

Even if it's not a classic, House on Haunted Hill still provides a reasonably good time.

Blu-ray Features:

Scream Factory has put together an impressive Collector's Edition Blu-ray of House on Haunted Hill. The disc contains a new 2K scan from the original film elements. It looks terrific.

The bonus features include a lengthy interview with director William Malone, who also provides a full-length audio commentary. Among other things, he talks about his admiration for the original film, which starred Vincent Price, as well as his approach to updating the story. Composer Don Davis also gets a segment, in which he explains how he used the music to evoke specific reactions from the audience. In a third interview, Visual Effects Supervisor Robert Skotak discusses the design of the house and the process of creating nightmarish visuals. These segments total about 65 minutes in length.

Also here are never-before-seen storyboards, concept art and behind-the-scenes photos, plus two vintage featurettes, "A Tale of Two Houses" and "Behind the Visual FX," twelve minutes of deleted scenes that give more time to actress Debi Mazur, and a promotional section (the original trailer, TV spots, posters/stills, etc.).

All in all, this is another exemplary Scream Factory release.

House on Haunted Hill is rated R for horror violence and gore, sexual images and language. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.

Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.