09 July 2015

"HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959)" (Chilling 20 Movies Pack, #9) + 1999 Remake + 2007 Sequel

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL

German Title:
Das Haus auf dem Geisterhügel / Die 7 Särge des Dr. Horror

USA, 1959
Director: William Castle

6/10








It's (almost) a mystery to me why "House on Haunted Hill" always gets called a "true horror classic", at least over in America. Here in Europe, it has never been that popular and was actually rather little-known until the remake came out. It may have something to do with its famous promotional gimmick "Emergo", a plastic skeleton with red-lighted eyes, attached to wire floated over the cinema audiences in the final moments of the movie - a gimmick that seems to be so much better than the actual movie.

Filmmaker William Castle was obsessed with gimmicks and from 1958 to 1975, he promoted nearly all of his films with silly stuff like the "Percepto" vibro-seats or the "Illusion-O" handheld cellophane ghost-viewer (read all about it here!). It must have been a fun time experiencing all these horror-gimmick-events (movies like "Matinee" or "Popcorn" pay wonderful homage to Castle's gimmicks). Unfortunately, without the gimmicks, Castle's films just aren't that good.


Don't get me wrong: I actually enjoyed "House on Haunted Hill". Enjoyed, not loved. It's a fun flick, following five people who got invited by a millionaire who offers each of them $10.000 if they manage to to survive the night in a large, creepy and probably haunted house. It's campy and silly and compared to many other ghost-house films of that time, like "The Haunting" or "The Innocents", it's un-scary and un-frightening, at times rather dull and boring, at times corny and silly - and to top it all, it's completely and utterly outdated. It's almost like watching one of these ridiculous educational films of the 40s and 50s.

There's tons and tons of gaping plot holes, and the "scares" are all stupid and implausible, but I was able to enjoy most of them (even though none of them made any sense): the severed heads, the eerie hand, the falling chandelier, various ghostly apparitions, blood dripping from the ceiling, the infamous skeleton-rises-out-of-an-vad-full-of-acid-in-the-cellar-under-a-trap-door scene and - best of all - the bizarre attack of the caretaker's wife, probably the movie's only scene that never fails to give me a mini heart attack.


The cast is simply top-notch. There's the great Vincent Price who is as impressive and mesmerizing as always, supersexy blonde bombshell Carol Ohmart, the somehow equally sexy Julie Mitchum, nice guy Richard Long and "shriek-queen" Carolyn Craig. Love the wonderfully spooky score by regular Castle-composer Von Dexter ("13 Ghosts") and highly amusing quotes like:
"Don't stay up thinking of ways to get rid of me. It makes wrinkles." / "Don't let the ghosts and the ghouls disturb you, love." - "Darling, the only ghoul in the house is you!" / "Do you remember the fun we had when you poisoned me?" - "Something you ate, the doctor said." - "Yeah, Arsenic on the rocks..."

A classic? No, not a classic, but a slightly diverting end-of-50s romp. No more and no less.

Wiki ~ Imdb





HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL
(Remake)

German Title:
Haunted Hill - Evil Loves To Party

USA, 1999
Director: William Malone

7/10








One of the rare occassions where the remake is better than the original (at least IMHO), though I'd say this is actually more of a re-imagining than an average remake: "House of Haunted Hill", one of only six features in 30+ years by the somehow super-strange horror-filmmaker William Malone ("Scared to Death", "Creature") whose career never really took off.


"House on Haunted Hill" is not only Malone's best film to date, it's also his most successful one, topping the box office in October 1999 with a record-breaking Halloween-weekend opening of about $16 million. This could have been the begin of a fruitful filmmaking career - but in 2002, Malone completely botched it with the horrendous box office bomb "Feardotcom" which eventually killed off his career before it even started. Too bad. I would have liked to see more of him.

The movie itself is fun from start to finish. It may not be that original, but it's highly inventive and full of really cool ideas. Love the fact how it perfectly manages to pay tribute to the original, as well as to stand on its own, telling its very own story. William Castle's quirky old-fashionedness was replaced with a fresh and modern kick-ass-ness, maybe a tad too polished, but nonetheless super-entertaining.


The story got expanded and upgraded. The millionaire is now an eccentric and ultra-rich amusement park mogul and the house is now an abanoned mental asylum, which is not just haunted, but actually... um, alive! Thanks to these upgrades, we get to see one of the absolute coolest movie openings of the 90s: a brutal loony bin massacre and the insane "Terror Incognita" rollercoaster. Ok, the guests aren't as amusing as in the original, they're basically just your average 90s slasher-film fodder. However, Geoffrey Rush's (Oscar for "Shine") portrayal of the millonaire is simply amazing. He pulls of a terrific performance, delivering a much more interesting character than Vincent Price's (even though Rush lacks the charm of Price). Also great: Dutch hottie Famke Janssen
as the millionaire's wife.

Apart from some shoddy-looking CGI effects, we get lots of stunning visuals of deformed creatures and degenerate maniacs, fantastically designed rooms, cellars, corridors and ceilings inside that freaky asylum, a few slightly unsettling hallucinatory dream sequences, and a few fab kills (pencil through throat, beheading, face hollowed out...). The cinematography is gorgeous (Rick Bota, "Hellraiser 6-8"), the score is well-composed and thoroughly powerful (Don Davis, "The Matrix") and it's always great to hear Marilyn Manson's "Sweet Dreams" cover. Also: cool cameos by the great-as-always Jeffrey Combs and, for whatever reason, Lisa Loeb!


Compared to most other remakes of that time ("The Haunting", "13 Ghosts"), this one turned out to be really great. Not perfect, but entertaining as hell.

Wiki ~ Imdb



RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL

Working Title:
House on Haunted Hill 2

German Title:
Haunted Hill - Die Rückkehr in das Haus des Schreckens

USA, 2007
Director: Víctor García

4/10





How to successfully wreck your film career when you're a jinx - like Víctor García. He started working in the film business as a special effects technician for Guillermo del Toro and Brian Yuzna. In 2004, he released his amazing debut short "El Ciclo" which made a huge impact on the horror scene and received several awards. He soon got attached to two potential horror hits: the Gold-Circle-produced horror-thriller "Smoke" and the Dominique-Swain-vehicle "Slaughter". For whatever reason, both films went into development hell and eventually didn't got produced.


Subsequenty, he became the go-to guy when it comes to meh made-for-TV stuff like "Arctic Predator", and unneccesary direct-to-video sequels, like "Mirrors 2" (lame), "Hellraiser: Revelations" (ugh) and this one: "Return to House on Haunted Hill", not as bad as the previously mentioned flicks, but still pretty pointless and rather superfluous.

Contrary to my expectations, the story isn't just a rehash, but actually a rather decent continuation of its predecessor. Unfortunately, García's direction is rather lame and unexciting, there's hardly any tension or atmosphere, and nearly all of the uber-clichéd characters are either annoying or completely obnoxious. Most of the time, it plods along in a trite, dull and tedious way. There are no surprises, no unexpected plot twists. Everything is predictable and foreseeable, and the climax is frustratingly weak.


Fortunately, there's lots of ace ladies in here: mega-hottie Cerina Vincent ("Cabin Fever") and Amanda Righetti ("Friday the 13th"), as well as Oksana Borbat and Xeniya Fesenko who deliver a fabulous lesbian ghost scene that seems to be inspired by the bathroom scene in "The Shining". There's also some REALLY insane gore (brain removal, face skinning, dismemberment, head crushed by falling refrigerator), some more fine nudity, more Jeffrey Combs, a creepy nurse + the scene where we get to see the 'organic basement', proof that the house is indeed alive - hilarious!

However, apart from all the gore and nudity, "Return to House of Haunted Hill" is rather forgettable. A third installment had been planned, but was cancelled after poor DVD sales. Good.

Wiki ~ Imdb

10 comments:

  1. The original was and is a very classic and entertaining film, the remakes suck the big one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I prefer the remake over the original. Period.

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  2. The William Castle (released with the 3-D "Emergo" effect ... theater "Gimmick" ... ) and the wonderful performance by the late Mr. Price...
    The newer one had its "good" points... and we enjoyed the "darkness" thing that comes after them near the end...

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    Replies
    1. I think if I've seen Castle's movies back then with all the hilariouly awesome gimmicks, I would have loved them too...

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  3. Did Not know about the William Malone (of "Scared to Death") did this one ... that makes us Like it even more....
    ... back in 82' was able to get one of the first dozen of the "SynGenOr" mask (licensed through Don Post Studios) pulled from the molds used for the movie... sadly it "decomposed years back... was an Awesome mask though...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have a very soft spot for both "Scared to Death" and its semi-sequel "Syngenor". Would love to own one of these SynGenOr-masks... *sigh*

      Delete
  4. I adore the 50s original. This could have a lot to do with the wonderful Vincent Price, mind you. I haven't seen either of the others.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, Price is as great as always, so I'm not surprised that you adore it ;)

      Delete
  5. I love the first movie - Vincent Price's presence elevates it to classic status for me - though you're right - the movie makes absolutely no sense. I liked the remake okay - did enjoy Rush - especially his Vincent Price like appearance. And I wish you could experience Return with the interactive mode - where you make decisions along the way that completely change how the movie ends.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One day I will buy a BluRay Player and a copy of Return and then I will finally experience this hilarious "Final Destination 3"-like feature. I promise! :)

      Delete

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