Review: House on Haunted Hill


The 1999 remake of the 1959 film of the same name came out to a very mixed reception, and whilst often these sorts of reviews tend to be quite subjective, oddly enough HOHH does deserve both praise and criticism as some parts are brilliant, others just shit.

The plot gives the film a definite potential. Seemingly random assortment of people are invited to a murder mystery party at an old abandoned asylum. Naturally the asylum, a large emotionless building perched ominously on the edge of a cliff, has a sordid history involving inhumane experiments on the patients, a legacy ended by a fire which killed everyone inside. From here it’s all pretty obvious; one by one the group get harassed and eventually killed by the ghosts which still lurk within. Whilst the plot may seem a little generic there are some nice little additions and twists which make it more interesting than I thought it was going to be.

The characters, whilst fodder, all have their own little perks, although the teeny style aspect of them all (inspired no doubt by the success of other such films of the time) does make them all a little clichéd. The acting isn’t bad, although I don’t really think there was any content within which would push any actor to their limits – no matter how shit!

Where ‘House on Haunted Hill’ really comes into its own is the general creepiness of both the set and the ghosts. The majority of the films scare sequences are set in the claustrophobic labyrinth of tunnels which branch out within the asylum. As well as being generally dark and dilapidated most of the rooms are filled with some method of ‘treatment’ ranging from electroshock to surgery. Each is decorated with an array of old rusted and bloodstained equipment plus the odd wheelchair and such like. This gives the film a definite edge making the locations both eerie and convincing.

The ghosts are another definite plus. Whilst many of the other aspects of this movie are pretty generic the ghost are actually subtly done. Whilst the ghosts for the main part are just the old inhabitants there is no need for cheesy effects, just some old fashioned clothes and equipment – what makes them stand out is some rather nifty camera work. The main doctor in particular is menacing enough, but when you factor in the fact that they use a rather unusual ‘speed frame’ to show exaggerated movement the whole affair becomes more impacting and chilling as he stalls then sprints whilst flailing his arms in a crazed flurry.

Whilst there is not a lot of gore at all in the movie the majority of the films deaths are pretty cool. As I said, the use of an asylum as a basis just lends itself to many of the deaths being a result of some brutal, old fashioned experiments. So naturally yes we see the electroshock as well as other ones which I don’t know the name for. Sadly not all the deaths are that good and towards the end in particular there are some real cop out deaths which are really shit.

Whilst we are on the subject of shit, where the film really lets itself down is the ending. Really the film does begin to unravel once the film passes the hour mark. This is a real shame as the early parts of the film are both quirky and chilling. Sadly it deteriorates into a mixture of shitty running and screaming, crappy instant none imaginative deaths and absolute cheese. Needless to say I wasn’t impressed.

Overall there isn’t much to say which I haven’t all ready. It starts so well and has definite potential. Despite setting itself up well, the ending is so lack lustre it will leave you with a very apathetic opinion of the movie. If you are looking for a teen style spook movie it will do the job, but such a waste of potential.

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