It’s a well-worn trope in pop-culture invite a group of people to a supposedly haunted place if they survive the night, they get an award. With the reassurance that “there are no such things as ghosts” doing little to soothe them in the middle of the night. 1999 saw this classic sense of panic brought back, as the definitive style of William Castle is given a 21st-century upgrade by Dark Castle Entertainment in the remake to the 50s original House on Haunted Hill.
Theme park tycoon Steven Price and his wife seemingly invite five strangers to an abandoned mansion. The place has had an interesting history involving a sadistic mental hospital, that ended after a violent uprising by the patients. If they can spend the night, they get an award of $1 million, if they leave before the night, that money is split with the “survivors”. The Price duo has some theme park styled aces up their sleeves. But as the house has more than just booby traps, as the dark secrets buried in the old foundations are revealed with murderous results, they each must assess if their lives are really worth it?
As the cast helps keep the film’s slasher/survivability stakes going, props should go to the sassy and charismatic Geoffrey Rush. He as impressive as the mysterious Price, particularly with his moustache, he’s like if John DeLance played James Woods playing Vincent Price, his performance filled with snide quips are a campy wonder to behold. The other ‘contestants’ are a collection of film producers, Baseball athletes, TV personalities etc. It’s impressive to see these characters with their own secrets and suspicions as they each turn on one another. Along with Leading lady, Ari Larter, a year before the events of Final Destination and is almost unrecognisable here.
The film delightfully dances around its history with William Castle, the famed showman, both diegetically and non-diegetically with twisted tales, and creepy special effects, that rise to a full crescendo towards the finale of the film. The house’s sordid history as a brutal mental instruction leaves some of the old equipment as playthings for the ghosts to utilise. Even one of those old-fashioned zoetrope spinning devices sending victims to their nightmares.
Disturbing effects and a cornucopia of camp make strong bedfellows here, as they have this delightful effect of creeping you out while keeping you engrossed. House on Haunting Hill is lurid in its pulpy details and pulpy thrills, both of the C.G.I. and practical kind. A real token to the wonder and horror that William Castle built his name on. With shocking secretes and some spectacular scares, The House on Haunting Hill is a fine way to spend an evening.
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