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HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1999)
Genre: Horror, Thriller.
Directed by: William Malone. Written by: Robb White (story) and Dick Beebe (screenplay).
Tagline: Where there's a party there's a death.
"House on a Haunted Hill" is the remake of the cult classic horror film about a group of guests mysteriously invited to Evelyn Price's party, whereby her millionaire husband will play host and benefactor to the guests by offering a million dollar paycheck for every live body precluding the night's ghastly ceremony. But when the mansion decides to play a few tricks on the guests, deaths and much blood ensue, leaving the surviving body count waning throughout the night.
The film begins with the appropriately haunting background of the Vannacutt mansion. Known for its use as a top psyche ward, Doctor Vannacutt would use the creepy building as a place of experimentation. In exchange for refuge, the criminally convicted felons that are the permanent inhabitants of the building, become victim to Vannacutt's overboard and insanely unconventional methods of scientific experimentation. Slicing and dicing whomever he pleases, Vannacutt mercilessly abuses the victims' human rights, that is until they rebel and light the place on fire in 1931.
Flash forward to 1999 where, nearly seventy years later, rumor has it that the ghosts of Vannacutt and his crew still remain in the house, haunting and practicing their ghoulish methods. Freak show theme park owner Stephen H. Price's (Geoffrey Rush) haughty trophy wife has a twisted sense of humor and an uncanny liking for blood and gore. Thus it is quickly settled that she will have her annual birthday bash set at the Vannacutt mansion this year. Intending to wine, dine, and creep out her guests, Evelyn (Famke Janssen) faxes her husband a two-page guest list for the upcoming affair. But one soon sees that the Price's relationship is anything but stable, and the volatile Price shreds her list and composes another. Intending to send it off first thing in the morning, Price doesn't notice that the computer has autonomously destroyed his list as well, and manifested its own list of four victims (guests) chosen to attend the ceremony.
Arriving at the mansion in fanfare style, the four guests, Melissa Marr (Bridgette Wilson), Sara Wolfe (Ali Larter), Eddie Baker (Taye Diggs), and Donald Blackburn, M.D. (Peter Gallagher), are escorted via limousines and modern day underground gothic rock which pulsates in the background . Exiting the comfort of their luxurious rides, the guests are greeted and lead by the awkwardly high-strung Watson Pritchett (Chris Kattan) to the doors of the Vannacutt mansion. Once inside the guests are taken aback by the lack of people and the strange events that quickly reveal the house to be anything but normal. The same applies for the guests' host, Mr. Price, and his ungrateful wife, Evelyn.
As the Prices battle out their grievances and attempt to determine how the unknown guests found their way to the party, Pritchett becomes more and more eager to leave the mansion. With time working against the fated Pritchett, the mansion goes into "lockdown" securing the guests location for the evening's events. One by one the guests meander through the halls with Melissa Marr chosen as the first victim of the vindictive Vannacutt. As Sara and Eddie try to piece the puzzle, the doomed Pritchett guzzles pricey scotch in hopes he can drown out the memory of his destined death. Meanwhile Evelyn dies and rises again in the arms of her lover, Dr. Blackburn, whose fate is ended short by Evelyn's own selfish motives. Stephen Price is faring no better, having lost control of his party games, narrowly escaping death, succumbing to tortures by the ghosts, and undergoing a psychotic torture in Vannacutt's 'saturation tank'.
As Evelyn becomes invited into the restless horror of the house, will Sara and Eddie be able to escape their predestined fates? Knowing the guest list was selected by the house in attempt to bring back future relatives of the former Vannacutt posse, the house insists on killing each person and inviting them into sharing their tortuous legacy. But Sara and Eddie race the clock and receive some unlikely help from Pritchett whereby daybreak and an envelope full of money justify the night's nightmarish horrors that promise to haunt the two for days to come.
"House on a Haunted Hill" is a modern attempt to redo the cult classic of generations past. Though not the worst film ever produced, the intriguing concepts of the film are again, cut short buy the cheesy manifestation of the "ghostly spirit" of the house. Falling into the same vice of much of its contemporaries, the new uses of special effects are actually the films downfall in that, at times, the over spectacular and overdone effects render the film cheesy and unbelievable.
Nevertheless there are some intriguing concepts to the film, like understanding the truly horrific reasons as to why the mansion is haunted. The Vannacutt mansion was, is, and seems destined to continue to be ruled by a truly sick man and his psychotic take on scientific reason. Using conventions akin to medieval torture devices, Vannacutt inflicts pain on victims before, and after, his death in a merciless way that can make one's spine shiver. Moreover the mystery behind the invitations and how the house managed to rewrite the guest list is a rather compelling argument. Lastly the rival-like competition and volatile relationship of the Price's adds a bit of realistic horror to the film as the audience realizes that the two's hatred for each other may be enough to provoke them into a game of 'who can kill who first'.
But again, the edgy popish underground rock that filled in for the usual suspenseful score falls flat in its effect. The songs, like the special effects, give the film an air of contrivance and unrealistic-ness. There is no psychological suspense for the viewer, only the characters in the film. That said, however, "House on a Haunted Hill" is NOT the worst horror film to date, and can potentially be enjoyable if taken for what it is. For maximum effect watch at night, lights off, company by your side. Prepare to jump, laugh, and walk away safely.
Ali Larter plays Sara Wolfe, the self-sufficient stand-in for the formally requested Miss Jensen, whose independent know-how helps keep hers and Eddie's heads above water throughout much of the night's deadly haunts.
Taye Diggs plays Eddie Baker, former pro baseball player who, after answering his fated invitation to the Price Party bonanza, pairs up with the sturdy Sara Wolfe in hopes the two can outlive the horrors of the night.
Geoffrey Rush plays Stephen H. Price, thrill park extraordinaire owner, husband to the regretful gold-digging Evelyn, and host of the nights daredevil extravaganza at the Vannacutt Mansion.
Famke Janssen plays Evelyn Stockard Price, the gold-digging, unthankful, trophy wife to Stephen Price, who is having an unknown lascivious affair with Dr. Blackburn, and whose uncanny penchant for twisted horror becomes the key to her own undoing.
Chris Kattan plays Watson Pritchett, recent inheritor of the Vannacutt mansion after his father (the second of the Pritchett male heirs to die) falls to his untimely death while working on the scaffolding outside the Vannacutt mansion, and whose paranoia and abundant knowledge of the mansions evil ways serves as the comic relief of the film.
Peter Gallagher plays Donald W. Blackburn, M.D., the doctor whose needless participation in the party stems from lustful relations with Evelyn that endanger his life as much as the ghostly haunts of the mansion.
Bridgette Wilson plays Melissa Margaret Marr, the former celebrity TV host whose fascination with the creepy Vannacutt mansion quickly leads to her undoing.