ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, NOV. 4, 1999
As if this year’s bogus remake of The Haunting wasn’t discouraging enough for horror fans, now Hollywood has unleashed another sorry remake of a haunted-house flick, this time seeking inspiration from the silly but fun Vincent Price vehicle House on Haunted Hill. The new version has the silliness down pat, but it sure isn’t any fun; it’s boring as hell and should inflict the same unnecessary damage on Academy Award winner Geoffrey (Shine) Rush’s acting career as The Haunting did on Liam Neeson’s.
In Creature director William Malone’s clunky update of William Castle’s 1958 spookfest, Rush stars as billionaire theme-park mogul Steven Price, who arranges that the birthday party for his despised wife (Famke Janssen) be held at the abandoned Vannacutt Psychiatric Institute for the Criminally Insane. Urbane yet ornery, Price shreds his wife’s guest list and e-mails invitations to people she can’t stand, but his evidently haunted computer comes up with its own list of names, causing five strangers to show up for the limo-serviced schmooze.
Nevertheless, Price promises each of them a cashier’s cheque for $1 million if they survive the night in the old loony bin, which he has secretly rigged to scare them away. Everyone but pushy wimp Watson Pritchett (Saturday Night Live’s Chris Kattan), a descendant of the building’s original owners, is up for the challenge, but then the building’s “lockdown mechanism” mysteriously kicks in, sealing the place up tight anyway.
This is when the scary stuff is supposed to start, but as the thinly drawn characters split up in search of a button marked Lockdown Mechanism, you already know which ones are gonna make it till morning. The pushy wimp’s a write-off, as is the would-be TV talk-show host (Bridgette Wilson). Cancel Christmas for the adulterous Dr. Blackburn (Peter Gallagher). And forget about the scheming billionaire and his equally nefarious, foul-mouthed wife—they’re toast.
That leaves only handsome Eddie and beautiful Sara (Taye Diggs and Ali Larter), whose necking session halfway through the film foretells their mutual survival.
House on Haunted Hill was bankrolled by the insufferable producers of Bordello of Blood, so its minimal quality—from the hackneyed script right through to the hokey special effects—is understandable. The show’s big set piece, its incarnation of evil, is a killer cloud of black, dusty stuff that resembles something from a Rorschach test.
The climactic house-versus-humans scenes were so ludicrous that I half expected Kattan to revert to his Mr. Peepers persona from SNL and start battling the evil inkblot with spat-out chunks of apple.