Creepy & Tense; Let Done By A Disappointing Final Act
Based on the 1959 cult classic, House On Haunted Hill is a modern remake of the original, bringing a whole host of jump scares and creepy, atmospheric horror to a new generation. With an intriguing premise and a diverse group of characters at its helm, House On Haunted Hill does a pretty good job keeping the scares and gruesome deaths flowing until the final act. It’s here where the film undoes a lot of the good work done early on, resorting to cheap CGI and a disappointing ending to an otherwise passable horror.
The basic premise of the film rests with amusement park owner Stephen Price (Geoffrey Rush) and his twisted sense of entertainment. The idea is simple enough – survive the night at an abandoned insane asylum to win $1 million. The more people who survive, the lower the amount of prize money each receive as it’s distributed out. What begins as a series of planned scares quickly devolves into a more sinister plot lurking beneath this facade. As the deaths begin mounting up and the group find themselves trapped, the fight for survival becomes real as chaos descends over the house.
For the most part, House On Haunted Hill does well to keep its chilling atmosphere and chaotic structure ticking along. Some of the scares are genuinely frightening and one particularly memorable scene involving a handheld camera and one unlucky lady is one of the more iconic and scary scenes from the film. There is a fair amount of gore here though but it’s generally kept under control and coupled with the impressively crafted asylum setting, doesn’t ever feel out of place. From cobweb covered wheelchairs to ominously lit hallways, House On Haunted Hill’s setting is consistent and partly responsible for why this film works as well as it does.
Unfortunately, the final act crumbles under the weight of expectation and the practical effects and creepy atmosphere fall to the wayside in favour of cheap CGI and an action-packed finale. It’s quite the jarring end to an otherwise creepy horror and it does take the shine off this one. As a personal preference, it would have been nice to see a slightly less action-packed finale and some more consistency, at least visually, but the first two-thirds of the film are worth experiencing for the atmospheric horror alone.
With the exception of one or two characters, the majority of the cast are largely forgettable and you’ll mostly feel indifferent to whether they survive or not. Geoffrey Rush is as charismatic as ever playing the deliciously evil Stephen Price and a bit of a left-field plot twist does inject some originality into the plot but for the most part, the characters are not what you’re likely to remember here. House On Haunted Hill is one of those horrors that ticks all the boxes, does everything right but falters at the final hurdle, undoing a lot of the good work up until that point. While still one of the better horrors from the 90s, this is one title that’s unlikely to make the “Top Horror Films” list anytime soon.