1999’s remake of William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill began a series of remakes of mid to late 1950’s horror films. This one keeps the core idea. An eccentric rich man and his estranged wife throw a party, offering a million dollars to whomever lives through the night.
Stephen Price is an amusement park owner with a rather disturbed relationship with his devious wife Evelyn. She wants a party thrown in the restored Vannacutt Psychiatric Institute for the Criminally Insane. Years ago it was run by Dr. Vannacutt who performed ghoulish and cruel experiments. One night his patients revolted, violently killing the Dr and his staff. The Doctor’s last act was to set of a mechanism that locked down the entire facility and set it ablaze, killing all but five employees.
After dumping his wife’s party guest list for his own, Price does not notice the list changes yet again. When the guests arrive, both Stephen and Evelyn are shocked as they do not recognize them. Everyone is greeted by Pritchett, the nervous caretaker who tells everyone just how many people have died there. He wants his money and plans to leave. He refuses to stay in the asylum overnight. But he gets trapped with the confused guests: movie executive Sara, athlete Eddie, disgraced reporter Melissa and the Doctor Blackburn. Everyone has secrets and deceptions. When the planned horror get overtaken by the ghosts and demons of the fortress it becomes a battle for survival.
Geoffrey Rush does a great job as the Vincent Price inspired role of Price and his poisonous banter with with Famke Janssen’s Evelyn is every bit as biting as in the original film. This part is almost purely lifted from the original film, especially the dialog.
The changes from the original allow for surprises and while the heavy use of digital effects are somewhat dated, they do some creative things. The dark spirit that represents the house is made of human bodies intertwining to create a unique shape. Jeffrey Combs has no lines, but his diabolical doctor is effectively chilling.
The addition of the asylum backstory allows for a creepy vibe, as well as the updated addition of how the guests were selected. Chris Kattan is the primary comic relief, and I found his Pritchett to have a bit more vibrant of a personality than in the original.
The remake also manages to give the audience information a bit better than the original, relying on in story moments rather than talking heads. The film also opens with the asylum revolt, turning into an unsolved mysteries type of show (hosted by Peter Graves!) story about the devastation, which is very well done.
Overall, House On Haunted Hill is a pretty effective remake, both fun and exciting.