House on Haunted Hill

House on Haunted Hill


USA 1999, dir. William Malone, stars Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen

It wouldn’t be so bad if House On Haunted Hill were rotten all the way through. In that case, it would be easy to dismiss as the work of fourth-rate incompetents. But because it starts off so promisingly – indeed, the first ten or fifteen minutes suggest we’re in for a giddy horror classic – Haunted Hill ends up being even more depressing that it otherwise might. The opening scenes of this film indicate real talent somewhere behind the camera, but something must have gone very wrong somewhere along the line. It’s the same with the film as with the house itself – the best advice is to clear the hell out as soon as night falls.

That the remaining hour and a quarter is worth watching at all is basically thanks to the heroic efforts of Geoffrey Rush, who plays his theme-park impresario Stephen Price with at least one eyebrow cocked in the direction of namesake Vincent, the star of 1958’s original, cheesily forgettable version of Haunted Hill. The ‘story’, which makes zero sense, involves Rush paying a handful of nobodies to spend the night in a haunted mansion, as a prank on his trophy wife Famke Janssen. Rush struggles on in the face of massive odds – idiotic script, wayward direction, insipid supporting cast – but must ultimately give up the ghost during a truly ludicrous special-effects climax.

Neither funny nor scary, Haunted Hill does at least afford critics the chance to wheel out a favourite clich in the trade. “The house, it’s alive!!” stammer the characters. “The picture – it’s dead!!” we dutifully reply.


by Neil Young
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