House on Haunted Hill Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by William Malone
Written by Dick Beebe
1999, 93 minutes, Rated R
Released on October 9th, 2018
Geoffrey Rush as Stephen Price
Famke Janssen as Evelyn
Taye Diggs as Eddie
Ali Larter as Sara
Peter Gallagher as Blackburn
Chris Kattan as Pritchett
Bridgette Wilson as Melissa Marr
Jeffrey Combs as Dr. Vannacutt
Theme park magnate Stephen Price is throwing a birthday party for his wife Evelyn at a lavish house high in the hills. The venue comes with a dark history, as it was once a mental asylum that closed in the 1930s in the wake of a patient uprising and tragic fire resulting in mass casualties. The building has since been renovated into a private residence, though it is currently unoccupied. Price keeps the guest list small, offering five strangers the opportunity to take home one million dollars in exchange for spending the night in the supposedly haunted house.
That’s really it as far as plot goes. Survive the night and walk away a millionaire. The five strangers explore the house looking for things that go bump in the night. Price has a few tricks up his sleeve and may or may not be plotting to murder his wife – unless she kills him first. Their strained marriage exposes itself through a series of sharp verbal barbs callously tossed back and forth in front of the guests. Soon, people start disappearing and dying, raising the stakes for the surviving members of the group. Will anyone live to see the morning and cash in on the grand prize?
In 1959, perennial showman William Castle (The Tingler) delivered his latest spook-show extravaganza, House on Haunted Hill. Vincent Price (The Bat) starred as a wealthy eccentric offering five strangers a large sum of money to spend the night in a haunted house. Once inside, there are plenty of frights, including ghosts, ghouls and murder – but not everything is as it seems. The 1959 version plays with the idea of whether or not the house is truly haunted, while the remake sets up immediately that something supernatural is going on. Removing the question of authenticity robs the picture of some of its charm, but the filmmakers have made their decision and they run with it.
Directed by William Malone (Creature), this contemporary spin on the classic story by Robb White is a fast-moving picture that wastes little time with exposition before thrusting the plot forward. Written by Dick Beebe (Blair Witch 2), this updated version doesn’t really concern itself with character development as it is more set-piece driven. The house is the real star here and it is fully explored from top to bottom. The monolithic structure is of the Albert Speer design and is quite intimidating. Malone delivers a spooky film rich with atmosphere and loaded with jump scares. Cinematographer Rick Bota (Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight) has a lot of fun lighting this picture and really delivers a rich and colorful landscape for the action to play out. The film was produced by Tales from the Crypt alum Robert Zemekis, Walter Hill and Gilbert Adler.
Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush (Shine) stars as Stephen Price, the roller coaster tycoon with a penchant for thrilling audiences. Price is the puppet master here and is determined to make the night memorable. Rush channels his inner Vincent Price and delivers a solid performance that comes with a wicked sense of humor, but never goes over the top. Matching Rush’s intensity is Famke Janssen (Lord of Illusions) as unfaithful trophy wife Evelyn. She is ruthless and calculating in her relationship with her husband and stands firm on her own terms. She is the one who sets the venue for the party and she is determined not to let him spoil her fun. The supporting cast of characters features Taye Diggs (Equilibrium) and Ali Larter (Final Destination) as Eddie and Sara, two decent people caught up in a wild night of chills and thrills. Both are instantly likeable and audiences will be pulling for them to succeed.
Peter Gallagher (American Beauty) co-stars as Dr. Blackburn, a man with a few secrets of his own. Gallagher approaches the role with a light-hearted touch that endears him to viewers once things go off the rails. Chris Kattan (Santa’s Slay) plays Pritchett, the high-strung home owner ready to leave before the party begins. His manic energy is both a source of laughter and the voice of reason and he pulls it off with ease. Genre favorite Jeffrey Combs (From Beyond) appears in the film’s prologue as the sinister Dr. Vannacutt, who runs the asylum and prefers to operate without anesthesia. He makes the most of the role and leaves a lasting impression in the creep factor.
The 1959 House on Haunted Hill is a beloved classic that really didn’t need a remake, but since we got one, this is actually pretty good. Again, a lot of the fun is missing this time around, but the production design and special effects are both top-notch. The CGI finale goes a bit too far and the picture suffers because of it, that and a last minute deus ex machina that cheats its way to a happy ending. The 1999 version came at the beginning of the remake craze that would dominate the next decade of genre filmmaking, and plays it safe with the material. The film is well-directed and slickly produced with a solid cast and serviceable script. It’s taken a long time for this movie to land on Blu-ray and this Collector’s Edition makes it well worth the wait.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio and sporting a new 2K scan of the original film elements, the movie looks pretty fantastic. A lot of the plot unfolds in the dark and black levels are certainly up for the challenge. Colors are bold and flesh tones appear natural throughout.
An aggressive DTS-HD MA 5.1 track packs a lot of punch and really works the surround speakers. Dialogue levels are clean and free from distortion and well-balanced with the music and effects tracks.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Director William Malone provides a laid-back commentary track that is filled with interesting production anecdotes. He manages to maintain a constant flow of information without slipping into long gaps of silence, though he does occasionally pause for effect.
The Making of House on Haunted Hill (38 minutes) finds Malone covering a lot of ground in this wide-ranging 2018 interview. The piece begins with the film’s origins and design work before moving into a broad spectrum of stories from across the production. He has much to say and explains a lot of aspects of this shoot.
Composer Don Davis sits down to discuss the project in a new interview (10 minutes) in which he shares his stylistic choices in his approach to the genre. He’s a thoughtful guy and seems really easygoing.
Visual effects supervisor Robert Skotak is interviewed (19 minutes) about his contributions to the production. He goes into great detail about how certain effects were accomplished without getting too technical. He keeps things interesting and very informative; this is a solid piece.
A slideshow (3 minutes) of never-before-seen storyboards and concept art gives a look at some early design work for the picture.
A second slideshow (4 minutes) of behind-the-scenes stills shows the crew hard at work building and shooting various models and miniatures.
A third gallery (5 minutes) focuses on a wide variety of production stills and publicity shots.
A Tale of Two Houses (19 minutes) is a vintage featurette that first appeared on the DVD release. It compares and contrasts the original film with the 1999 remake.
The featurette Behind the Visual FX (7 minutes) details four sequences from the feature spotlighting the glass ceiling sequence and the saturation chamber scene among others.
William Malone introduces a collection of deleted scenes (12 minutes) that are presented in the 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. These are mostly character beats that were cut for pacing, although there is one genuinely scary scene that should have been left in.
The original theatrical trailer is included here joined by a pair of TV spots.