Despite featuring the usually respectable and potentially very ghoulish Geoffrey Rush in a snarling Vincent Price reinterpretation, "House On Haunted Hill" is not only never scary, it's never even interesting.
An unmotivated, throw-money-at-the-screen remake one of those vintage cornball horror flicks that made the late Mr. Price a household name, "House" revolves around a group of strangers trapped overnight in an abandon, poorly-lit mansion (and former insane asylum) that comes alive and tries to snuff them all.
Rush, an amusement park mogul whose raison detre is devising heart attack-enducing scares for his patrons, has lured them there with the promise of a million dollars each if they survive the night, but even he doesn't know what terrors lay in store.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, you may be haunted by unpleasant memories of July's expensive box office bomb "The Haunting," a nearly identical remake of an entirely different vintage cornball horror movie in which a group of strangers is trapped in a haunted mansion that come alive and ties to snuff them all.
The group of strangers in this boring, bloody, special effects-deluged haunted house movie includes two selfish, scream-happy Barbie blondes (Ali Larter from "Varsity Blue" and Bridgette Wilson from "Love Stinks"), a dullard MD (Peter Gallagher, "American Beauty"), a token black (Taye Diggs, "The Best Man") and the smart-mouthed nervous Nellie ("Saturday Night Live's" Chris Kattan) who inherited the asylum where a Mengele-like doctor used to experiment on inmates without anesthesia.
All present under ridiculous pretense -- the house used mystical powers to alter the guest list for a horror-themed birthday party Rush was holding for his bitterly estranged wife (Famke Janssen) -- these seven dimwits are trapped inside when the house shutters all its doors and windows and begins picking them off one by one because they're all too stupid to stick together in one room. You know the drill.
Director William Malone -- a "Tales from the Crypt" graduate -- tries to put a few new twists on this covered-in-cobwebs concept by letting some of the dumber members of the group blame each other for a while, siting greed and -- in the case of the husband and wife hosts -- personal vendettas.
But none of this adds any punch, and neither do the grossly graphic, "Hellraiser"-like flashes of the random, nonsensical and inconsistent goblins and tortured souls that inhabit the cliff-side concrete spire of a house.
Malone doesn't attempt to give his characters even a hint of common sense (lost in the bowels of the building and running from an invisible evil, Diggs and Larter stop to poke around the dusty office of the doctor who ran the joint), and as soon as the cast is whittled down to two survivors, the sun comes up (over the Pacific ocean in the west -- Malone can't even get that right) and a singed envelope containing the million dollar cashier's checks turns up just as the credits roll -- begetting a sigh of relief from the characters and a march to the box office from audience members who want their money back.
Run time: 93 mins
In Theaters: Friday 29th October 1999
Distributed by: Warner Home Video
Production compaines: Warner Bros. Pictures, Dark Castle Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 1 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 28%
Fresh: 16 Rotten: 41
IMDB: 5.6 / 10
Director: William Malone
Starring: Geoffrey Rush as Stephen H. Price, Famke Janssen as Evelyn Stockard-Price, Taye Diggs as Eddie Baker, Peter Gallagher as Donald W. Blackburn, M.D., Chris Kattan as Watson Pritchett, Ali Larter as Sara Wolfe, Bridgette Wilson as Melissa Margaret Marr, Max Perlich as Carl Schecter, Jeffrey Combs as Dr. Richard Benjamin Vannacutt, Dick Beebe as Male Nurse, Slavitza Jovan as Twisted Nurse, Lisa Loeb as Channel 3 Reporter, James Marsters as Channel 3 Cameraman, Jeannette Lewis as Price's Secretary, Janet Tracy Keijser as Girl on Wires
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