Thrill ride designer and amusement park magnate Stephen Price (Geoffrey Rush) is throwing a birthday party for his loveless wife Evelyn (Famke Janssen) at the notorious House on Haunted Hill, a former Hospital for the Criminally Insane (notorious because it was run by a psychotic mass murderer - played by Jeffrey Coombs - who was himself killed during a 1931 inmate uprising which resulted in a massive fire that claimed the lives of almost everyone else). Price tells each of the attendees (Taye Diggs, Bridgette Wilson, Ali Larter, Chris Kattan, and Peter Gallagher) that if they survive one night there, they will each be awarded one million dollars. But things are not as they seem: Price and his wife may be plotting to kill each other, and the House itself seems to have an agenda of its own.
The first of a planned series of remakes of William Castle films, House on Haunted Hill manages to preserve all the plot holes of its predecessor while at the same time introducing holes of its own. The quality of the acting and effects is generally high, and Oscar winner Rush in particular seems to be having a good time. A fairly good horror movie, though much of the updating seems to consist of adding a bit of nudity, lots of gore and the ever-popular "f word".
A glorious transfer all around - there's a nice amount of detail in the shadows (and given that this is a spooky house movie, there are lots of those) and there's always something creepy going on in the surround channels. My player choked on the layer change during the first viewing, but I didn't notice it during the second time through (for the audio commentary).
The interactive menus are nicely done, utilizing sets from the movie, and various motifs such as racing shadows and blood dripping from the ceiling, as in the original movie - not to mention some creepy damn sound effects. Clicking on "Extras" nets you 6 "mini-documentaries" about various effects and set pieces, and a brief snippet of scenes from director William Malone's first feature, Creature, aka Titan Find. This is incredibly brief, set to generic techno music and rather obviously taken from a videotape. The cast for House is listed, but only Malone gets a bio.
"A Tale of Two Houses" is a nicely done piece using footage from both pictures to highlight the similarities and differences between the two productions. There are four deleted scenes, which were cut largely for time considerations (and one is a major effects sequence). There's also something called "The Chamber", which I suppose tries to recreate the Saturation Chamber segment with production stills of the KNB-supplied makeup effects. Lastly, there are trailers from both versions, and more goodies for DVD-ROM owners.
Director Malone's commentary track is almost superfluous, as practically every piece of interesting information he imparts is covered - using the same sound bites - in the "Extras" section. He does, however, fill us in on several missing backstory points which never made it into the finished picture, and which plugged a couple of those plot holes I mentioned earlier. Shame they didn't find *some* way to insinuate them into the final picture.
A well-made disc, and one of the better shock films I've seen in a while. Worth a rental, at least. Now if we could just get Warner to stop using these blasted flimsy cardboard boxes...
Dr. Freex, 6/1/00