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The House on Haunted Hill

Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen
Director: William Malone
Genre: Horror
Year: 1999
Rating: 3 / 5

It is a very rare occasion indeed when I find myself watching a horror film that is truly timeless. In my lifetime, I have seen only one such film, and that is The Exorcist. As far as I can tell, no horror film can hold a candle to it, no matter the criteria. That being said, I do not watch horror films with the expectation of finding the next Exorcist. I merely look for films that are entertaining, that do not demean the average viewer, and offer a few chills. With those not-so-lofty expectations in mind, I am happy to say that William Malone's 1999 remake, The House on Haunted Hill, is a rather enjoyable horror film. It may not live up to the considerable potential it seems to hint at, but the special effects are above-par and there are some bone-chilling sequences.

Amusement park mogul Steven Price (Geoffrey Rush) will do whatever it takes to scare people, sometimes going above and beyond what would be considered sane. For his wife Evelyn's (Famke Janssen) birthday, he decides to throw a little party at the local haunted house. It seems that the house in question, formerly a mental institution, was the scene of a terrible fire in the thirties, and people have been wary of it ever since. Steven gathers together four strangers, promising them each one million dollars if they can survive the night. While some look forward to the challenge, others hesitate, at least until all the doors and windows are suddenly sealed, preventing anyone's immediate escape.

Once the patrons realize that they are trapped in the house, they begin exploring its depths. Some, such as eager star-to-be Melissa Marr (Bridgette Wilson), hope to find thrills and danger. Others, such as ex-jock Eddie (Taye Diggs) and would-be-executive Sarah (Ali Larter), hope to find a way out. As guests start disappearing, leaving grisly trails behind them, the remaining persons begin to wonder if someone is out to get them or if the house, as suggested by owner Watson Pritchett (Chris Kattan), really is alive. Whatever the case, these terrified guests slowly begin to realize that the odds of them ever collecting their winnings are dwindling with each passing hour.

The House on Haunted Hill is a remake of a black-and-white classic, and thus, owes much to the original. The acting here is average at best, though that comes as a welcome surprise for this veteran of B-grade horror films. Geoffrey Rush and Taye Diggs deliver the two most enjoyable characters - Rush's thrill-crazy Steven and Diggs' reluctant hero Eddie. What set this film apart for me was some chilling sequences involving the former residents of the house. It has been some time since I actually found myself clawing into my theatre seat, but certain frightening moments had me doing just that. The movie does leave a great deal unexplained, as if it wants the viewer to be guessing as to the true nature of the evil until the film's conclusion. This results in a few loose plot threads, but, with respect to horror films, this is to be expected. All in all, not a bad film to look into on a cold, dark night.

Geoffrey Rush..........Steven Price
Famke Janssen..........Evelyn Price
Taye Diggs..........Eddie
Ali Larter..........Sarah
Peter Gallagher..........Dr. Blackburn
Chris Kattan..........Watson Pritchett

Certification: Rated R for violence and language.
Running Time: 115 minutes.

Additional Info: Internet Movie Database
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