An old classic and a new vision.
House on Haunted Hill represent an important place in my development as a horror fan. Being the first true “scary movie” that I saw as a child, it scared the hell out of me. Honestly, I was terrified while watching this film. Homesick and bored, I saw it on a movie channel, and for some reason chose to watch the film all the way through. Unable to sleep for a couple days due to the terror, something slowly changed in me, and I became addicted to the genre.
Knowing the importance of the film makes rewatching it a somewhat bittersweet experience. I almost laugh at the scenes that once mortified me. In fact, there is much more laughter than anything else when watching the film now. The stilted acting and bad effects are hard to ignore; however, at the core, is still a decent film. We watch as Frederick Loren manipulates his surroundings to uncover a plot against him, and in the meantime scare the crap out of his guests.
The premise of the film is simple: a wealthy man offers a group of strangers $10K a piece if they can stay in the notoriously haunted house for a single night. I wonder how many memes, dares, and thoughts this film spawned through that simple idea. Would you stay in a haunted house for X amount of dollars? Most people probably would, though this film shows why that might not be the healthiest idea.
Vincent Price carries the film (as is the case with many of his movies), and he is certainly worth watching here. Though he is presented as the villain for a large chunk of the film, it is hard to not root for him. The other characters play their parts well, but with each passing year, the connections a contemporary audience will have to them diminishes. The men see the women as hysterical, and this point is reiterated at several points.
The action of the film is done primarily through dialogue. In some ways, the film feels more like a play than a film. Most of the dialogue is expository rather than character-driven. The events are discussed at length, and while these discussions are rational and interesting, they might bore current audiences. Overall, the film is still good campy fun. Despite the thematic and narrative flaws, I think any horror buff should have this one under their belt. 8/10
The remake of House on Haunted Hill was probably not the first remake I ever saw, but it was the first I was are of being a remake. Remakes generally get a bad rap, and a large majority of the time, they deserve it. Remaking a film that has such a cult following is a risky endeavor, and this one fails in a lot of regards. Geoffrey Rush replaces Vincent Price as our titular character, and he does an acceptable job (most of the time). The film does more than throw a new paint job on the old tale, and this is where remakes venture into a difficult place.
How canonized is an original narrative? A difficult question to answer, but one that fires up on the discussion boards any time a book is turned into a film. Revamping a story does not make it bad, but it certainly can be a bad thing. Unfortunately, the numerous changes in this film create more of a mashup of all sorts of stuff rather than a more coherent narrative.
To start, the mysterious rich man now operates carnivals (fine, but why?), the house is actually haunted, there is still a plot against Price (a renamed Loren, obviously an ode to the original actor), and the people at the party have been chosen by the house (odd). None of these changes are inherently bad, but mixed in with some truly unlikable characters makes for a mess.
In short, we have a film that relies too much on special effects, not enough on characters, and assumes the premise will still work without much revamping. Some of the special effects are interesting, but they simply aren’t scary. The scenes look and sound more like a Nine Inch Nails music video than something meant to be frightening. Upping the gore and adding in a lot of visual effects can’t elevate this film to anywhere near what the original was. 4/10