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The 1999 version of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL ($20) is a whole lot of fun, especially if you are in the mood for a film that hearkens back to the days when Hollywood produced scary, haunted house flicks, like the original William Castle production upon which this film is based. This HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL utilizes the basic framework of the 1959 version, but adds actual ghosts to the mix, plus a good deal of gore and some really neat special effects. HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL delivers a deliciously creepy atmosphere for most of its running time, but thing starts to fall apart somewhat in the last reel. Personally, I think the filmmakers took a wrong turn by not taking full advantage of one of the film’s biggest assets- namely Jeffrey Combs whose character is built up during the film, but doesn’t appear in the actual climax.

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL stars Geoffrey Rush as Steven Price, the theme park mogul who hosts a birthday party for his "beloved" wife Evelyn (Famke Janssen) at an abandoned insane asylum. This particular asylum has a rather notorious reputation as being haunted by the demented Dr. Richard Vannacutt (Jeffrey Combs), as well as his criminally insane charges, whom the good doctor butchered in the name of science. As part of the evening’s fun and games, Price promises all of his guests (whom he has never met), one million dollars each, if they stay the night at the asylum… and survive. Of course, Price has the place rigged to scare his guests into leaving without the money. However, Price’s plan doesn’t come off as expected, and somehow the asylum’s security system engages, locking everyone inside with a malevolent force that wants to see them all dead.

I have to give credit to Geoffrey Rush, even with an Oscar under his belt; Rush plays his role in this horror movie with the same level of professional commitment and energy that he has demonstrated in more prestigious films. In fact, judging by his performance, I’d have to say that Rush is having an absolute blast playing the part. Watching Rush in HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is definitely one of the remake’s biggest delights. Fans of the original HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL may notice that Rush looks surprisingly like Vincent Price, who played the role in 1959, however one will have to check out the director’s audio commentary to discover who was Rush’s actual inspiration for his character. The cast of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL also features Taye Diggs¸ Ali Larter, Chris Kattan, Bridgette Wilson, Peter Gallagher, Max Perlich, Dick Beebe, Slavitza Jovan, Lisa Loeb, James Marsters, Jeannette Lewis, Jante Tracy Keijser and Peter Graves.

Warner Home Video has done an absolutely marvelous job with their DVD edition of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is presented at 1.78:1 and the DVD features the anamorphic enhancement for playback on 16:9 displays. The image on this DVD is stunning; everything appears sharp and exceedingly well defined, including the numerous dark scenes in the movie. Colors are incredibly vivid, almost to the point of over-saturation, however the DVD reproduced them flawlessly. There are no signs of chroma noise or bleeding in the most intense hues and the transfer boasts very appealing flesh tones, at least for the living characters. Blacks are reference quality and as I implied above, the level of shadow detail is excellent. The only minor flaws in the image are a mild bit of film grain and a handful of blemishes on the print. Digital compression artifacts maintained a very low profile throughout the presentation. 

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL features a killer Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack, with an unrelenting sound mix. To say that the mix aggressively utilizes all of the discrete channels is putting it mildly. Sound effects are launched in a non-stop barrage, which I found to be in perfect keeping uneasy feeling that the film’s visuals induced. The mix itself has excellent channel separation, with good panning of sound effects around the entire sonic environment. Dialogue reproduction is good, but not outstanding within the overall sound mix. I personally didn’t have any difficulty with the dialogue intelligibility factor, although I am certain that some viewers will have difficulty at times with the actor’s voices becoming buried underneath a wall of sound. Additionally, Don Davis’ musical score perfectly complements the imagery and is perfectly reproduced. The bass channel provides this "house" with a low and deep foundation that will certainly shake the viewer’s home theater. While not perfect, I thoroughly enjoyed the sound mix and the way it enhanced my visit to the HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. Subtitles are provided on the DVD in English and French. 

The very cool interactive menus contain animation and sound, in addition to maintaining the flavor of the film. Through the menus one can access the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the DVD’s supplemental materials. Director William Malone provides a very entertaining and informative running audio commentary that is definitely worth listening to for all the behind-the-scenes stories he shares. The DVD also features A Tale Of Two Houses, a twenty-minute documentary that takes an affectionate look at the 1959 version of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, as well as showing which the elements are carried over into the remake. There are also a number of very brief special effects featurettes that include comments from the director and the film’s special effects supervisor. There are three deleted scenes on the DVD that feature an introduction from the director, who explains why they were cut from the film. Trailers for the 1959 and 1999 versions of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL have been included, as well. One will also find on the DVD a William Castle retrospective, which pays tribute to the director of the original film, plus production notes and cast filmographies. HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is also DVD-ROM enabled, containing the theatrical web site and access for on-line events, as well as some horror genre essays.

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is a lot better movie than the theatrical reviews would have one believe. The movie is pervaded with a genuine sense of fun that anyone who likes to be scared is certain to enjoy. Adding to that, Warner Home Video has delivered a great package, which includes a super transfer and cool extras. This DVD is a very collectable item for horror fans and for them it is highly recommended.



The House on Haunted Hill



DVD reviews are Copyright © 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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