Reviews

House On Haunted Hill

3

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the old haunted mansion, along comes another lame-brained spookfest out to cash in on the recently revitalised horror genre.

The good news is that this big-budget remake of William Castle's 1958 chiller isn't half as dire as The Haunting. William Malone's film at least has a sense of humour, poking fun at Hammer conventions while giving his cast free rein to ham it up to their hearts' content.

Castle was a prolific, even inspired director, but he's now more celebrated for the outrageous stunts he dreamed up to promote his films than the movies themselves: he offered death insurance to anyone whose heart gave out while watching Macabre; wired seats to shudder during screenings of The Tingler; and for Haunted Hill had skeletons jump off the screen and fly over the audience's heads. Sadly, there's nothing so ingenious on display in Malone's gore-splattered retread, although writer Dick Beebe pays homage to Castle by naming one of the new version's characters after original star Vincent Price. When the horror veteran was in charge, the prize at stake was $10,000. Now it's a million, with the additional sweetener that lucky winners take their dead comrades' share of the loot as well.

A devious scheme to be sure, and one the house has a hand in, hacking into Price's computer and redrafting the guest list. (A house surfing the Internet? Is one of its relatives a cyber café?) But what is it that connects Taye Diggs's ex-baseball player, Ali Larter's ambitious PA and Peter Gallagher's unflappable physician? And what do they have in common with the building's old owners, who used to amuse themselves by carrying out barbaric experiments on their inmates? (Look out also for Re-Animator's Jeffrey Combs contributing a tongue-in-cheek cameo.)

The only thing certain is that it'll be a long night for everyone concerned - not least Bridgette Wilson's talk-show host, who should know better than bring a video camera to the party. Didn't she see The Blair Witch Project?

Okay, this isn't the most original picture in town, and it won't win any awards (not unless the Razzies are feeling generous this year). The effects are awful, with the evil force controlling the edifice looking more like a slick of monochrome puke - and nothing is made of the elaborate Albert Speer-inspired architecture.

On the plus side, there's an enjoyable prelude at Price's thrill-ride theme park, while Janssen is deliciously vampish as his pampered spouse Evelyn (""You poor, foolish old geek!"" she mutters in a rare outburst of sympathy). Rush, meanwhile, is a hoot as the smirking Steven. Those who thought he couldn't get more camp than he was in Mystery Men should think again.

Verdict:

The plot's as thin as Geoffrey Rush's pencil moustache, while even the most dedicated horror fans will find the prospect of another Haunting daunting. But take it on its own slender merits and there is much to relish in this schlocky shocker.

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