Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle House on Haunted Hill

By Marc Savlov

NOVEMBER 8, 1999: 

D: William Malone; with Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, Bridgette Wilson, Peter Gallagher, Chris Kattan, Jeffrey Combs, Lisa Loeb. (R, 96 min.)

The nicest thing I can say about this remake of William Castle's 1958 shocker is that Geoffrey Rush, god bless him, sure can do a fine imitation of Vincent Price's original mustache, even better than John Waters' ­ which is no mean feat. The rest of the film, however, pales in comparison. Where Castle had sinister black-and-white atmospherics, Malone has CGI "darkness" and dripping viscera. More importantly, where Castle had Elisha Cook Jr., Malone has Chris Kattan (as the house's caretaker), though, to be fair, Kattan is about as close to Cook as we can get without somehow reconfiguring Steve Buscemi. Written by scribe Dick Beebe, this Nineties update stays true to the original up until about midway through, when it suddenly launches off in a whole new (sort of) direction. Unctuous amusement-park developer Steven Price (Rush) throws a birthday party for his equally vain wife Evelyn (Janssen) in an abandoned madhouse with a horrible past. Not content to just scare the bejesus out of his wife, Price also invites a handful of strangers who will receive $1 million each if they can make it through the night. Among the favored few are Larter's journalist Sara and Gallagher's stand-offish physician Dr. Blackburn. Also on hand for the proceedings, in cameos so brief you really have to look hard, are Re-Animator's Combs and Dallas angst-popster Loeb. As in the first film, Price sets the tone for the evening by handing out sidearms to everyone (with the clips welded shut), and then suddenly locking everyone inside via some giant iron shutters last seen in Forbidden Planet. Mayhem, obviously, ensues, and before long bodies are piling up all over the place. The problem is, who's killing whom, or is it all one of Mr. Price's cruel pranks? Malone's first problem is going overboard on the spooky theatrics. Whereas Castle, limited by budgetary constraints, went easy on the outright scare tactics, Malone tosses wandering lunatics, mad doctors, and hell's spawn into the mix right off the bat, which then makes it all that much more difficult to maintain an air of unease throughout. Diggs, Larter, Wilson, and Gallagher appear and disappear with virtually no hint that they're in the same film ­ collectively, they have all the onscreen appeal of a dead fly on a windowsill, though, individually, I'm sure I've seen them project something other than the stultifying ennui we have here. Rush, for his part, vamps and hams it up like Vincent Price himself, but even he's not up the task. It's all a bit of overkill, not unlike this summer's lazy retread of The Haunting. No more, please.

1.5 Stars

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