Halloween Guilty Pleasure – House on Haunted Hill (1999)

House on Haunted Hill 1999You’re supposed to watch Horror movies during the Halloween season and horror movies are the ultimate guilty pleasure.  They’re weird, mostly cheap to make, and every human being has a sick or twisted idea they can turn into a horror story.   Most horror eras come at the tweener and teen years because when your hormones kick in it turns on some kind of “sick fuck” mechanism that makes you want to see teenagers being slashed and beheaded.   My era was the affectionately term “slasher movie” era.   I didn’t know I was supporting future visionaries like John Carpenter or Wes Craven.   I only knew that if I wanted to be a part of the conversation I had better have seen Halloween or Sleep Away Camp or – God help me – Terror Train.  (Jaime Lee Curtis actually started as the “final girl” in that one.   The reality of horror movies is more of them are just bad.   Some are so weird you question the reason why you did not sneak a bottle of something really strong to add to your jumbo Pepsi, others are gross to the point of stupidity.    The Gross to the point of stupidity is what keeps me from being a horror geek.  It’s  like the n-word, no matter how many times people try to make an excuse for it I find it pointless and a sign of not knowing what you’re doing.  If you have to rely on torture porn or the most horrible ways of killing possible, you didn’t really have a story.

There are some movies that get this weird love that I personally don’t understand.  Evil Dead springs to mind on this one.  It relied on extremely stupid people, the dialogue makes porn look like an Oscar contender, the effects were what I’d describe as “bad claymation”  and  it was almost the first movie I walked out on.  Yet everyone talks about that movie as if Sam Rami found the Excalibur soaking in the Holy Grail or something.   Army of Darkness I got, but that isn’t a horror movie no matter how connected to Evil Dead it was.   But I do not get the constant nostalgic fawning over Evil Dead by movie geeks.   If it was made exactly the same way today it would be released straight to torrent.

Then there’s the movies I don’t understand why people hate.   I mean the “murder groups of teen movies” were fine because every director was somehow “groundbreaking.”    But then there’s movies that get no love at all, like House on Haunted Hill and it’s objectively no better or worse than 90% of the horror movies that proceeded it.

House on Haunted Hill

Jeffrey Rush and Vincent PriceAnyone who knows just a little bit about movies knows there’s a difference between the 1959 House on Haunted Hill and the 1999 House on Haunted House on Haunted Hill Ali LarterHill.   I means besides the difference in special effects and tone.   The 1959 movie had one thing going for it, Vincent muthafucking Price.   I won’t get into my fanboy love for the horror actor that was Vincent Price and make this post three times as long but I’ll save a post specifically about Mr. Price for another time.   Suffice it to say that while both versions of House on Haunted Hill were not very good movies, watching Vincent Price be Vincent Price is worth the price of admission alone.   The 1959 move would have feel apart. . .okay, feel apart more. . .if it wasn’t for Vincent Price.

The 1999 House on Haunted Hill gets my guilty pleasure love because it’s just weird.   It starts weird, stays weird and in the last part of the third act goes batshit crazy weird.   The premise of both movies is pretty much the same, a group of people get invited to spend the night in a legendary haunted house and get a pile of money if they survive until sun-up.   In 1959 the prize was $10,000 each, in 1999 that got adjusted for inflation and the rewards became $1 Million each.   Chris Kattan got a lot of hate for playing the overly nervous Watson Pritchett whose the final owner of the house who insists it’s haunted and will kill everyone inside.   Jeffrey Rush plays Steven Price, successful amusement park owner and he is channeling Vincent Price in a “go hard or go home” performance that should have gotten a scene chewing award just for that alone.  Price is married to Famke Janssen and they have a classic movie “rich married couple who hate each other.”  This was really no different from Vincent Price and Carol Ohmart in the older version.   So a bunch of perfect strangers come to the house and get locked in for the night.   Then people start hallucinating and dying – not always in that order.   In both versions there’s a cat & mouse hate thing between the wife and husband with the poor schmucks invited to the party caught in the middle.   Then husband and wife make their big play for whatever they are supposed to accomplish and the house becomes a nightmare of black ooze chasing the survivors around to suck the life from them.  Yeah, hat literally happens.  In the old movie the wife makes her play, and the husband gets the best of her, and it ends there after a few ghost siting and Carolyn Craig doing her best scream queen throughout.  Oh, and in both movies everyone is given a gun even though it’s never explained.   And in both movies the surviving heirs (both names Pritchard) spends the bulk of the movie telling everyone that the house is full of ghosts and alive and is going to kill everyone before sun-up.   In the 1959 movie Pritchard stays willingly while in the update he wants out as fast as possible but gets stuck inside with everyone else.

Spooky House

One of the things I like about the 1999 House on Haunted Hill is that it’s set in an old asylum.   The older version was more like a two story colonial.   The 1999 movie begins with a functioning asylum where the doctors are obviously butchering the patients in one way or another.  Then all hell breaks lose and patients attack the doctors.   Haunted houses are fun and all but a haunted asylums are perfect for any horror movie on the go.   The opening was predictable because we’ve seen the “horrible asylum and patients go nuts” thing more than a few times over the decades.   But it does set the weird tone the move takes for the first two parts but does not even come close to giving a hint about the final part of the third act.

Movie Gone Wild

House on Haunted Hill - The DarknessWhen I say the last part of the movie went nuts, I mean nuts.   In both versions the rich couple (in the 1959 it was the Lorens and in the 1999 movie it was the prices) obviously fell out of love with each other, Annabelle Price is an obvious gold digger who cheats a lot and hopes her husband and a plane crash become close buds real soon, while the husband seems to be constantly toying with her desire to see him dead.   In both movies the wife fakes her own death to set up the other female lead into shooting her husband and in both movies the husband fakes his death and confronts the wife.  In the old version he kills her and the movie pretty much ends there.  In the new version while Jeffrey Rush chews the crap out of the scene with a big speech and before he can kill her he throws her through a door where the walls are covered with weird morphing shadow the immediately goes for Mrs. Price and devours her.   Then it becomes one of what I think of as a mummy chase.  The black goo/think moves but so fast.  There’s really no reason for it to move but so fast as it seems to be able to crack, move or blow up any part of the house it wants to.   But it moves slow enough to run from.  Or maybe it was toying with what was left of the cast.   Price bites it, Chris Kattan bites it, Ali Larter and Taye Diggs escapes out a window and the black smoke or goo think goes back to where it came from.   I’d say it came out of no where but this is supposed to be a horror/ghost story so saying the whole black smoke goo thing defied logic is cheap criticism.  Anyway Chris Kattan’s character foreshadowed it in the beginning with a throw away line.    This bug-nuts crazy ending is, for me, the saving grace of the whole film.

The combination of Jeffrey Rush channeling Vincent Price, Famke Janseen just before she played her bad version of Jean Gray and that final part that just made the movie completely bonkers is why this is one of my favorite guilty pleasures.   And while the special effects are a little dated there were so nice jump scares using effective imagery with a mix of digital and stop motion making this movie stand out a bit more from the rest.   If you are looking for a nice filler to add to any Halloween all night horror fest, you can’t go wrong with House on Haunted Hill.






I'm from Brooklyn New York and this is my opinion on everything.