‘Blu-ray or Bust’
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1999, R, 115 minutes, DARK CASTLE ENTERTAINMENT/WARNER BROS)
You have to love Scream Factory. They put together some rather incredible re-releases, and their attention to detail is right up there with the same applied standards as the masterful Criterion Collection.
Case in point: 1999’s HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. This reimagining of the 1959 classic starring Vincent Price has always been a personal favorite of mine. It isn’t a guilty pleasure, as I feel very little guilt in smiling at the giddy and bloody mayhem which occurs throughout William Malone’s film about a billionaire offering six strangers a million dollars each to whomever survives one night in his haunted building, which used to house a lunatic asylum run by a mad scientist. Basic premise with an easy set-up, but the horrifying shenanigans which ensue made this one of the most enjoyable horror films of the last few decades.
At the time of its release, no other genre movie had the blatant audacity that this one did. In the few years following, several excellent films followed in the horror comedy footsteps laid most deliberately by HOUSE. The year 2000 had GINGER SNAPS (another re-release handled deftly by parent company Shout! Factory), but that was a more a feminist envisioning of the classic werewolf tale via puberty, albeit a hilarious one with some great effects. In fact, the only other film that came out within a recent time frame of HOUSE’s release which had the same frenetic energy would have been 2002’s GHOST SHIP—another very enjoyable ride, with some unique effects to it. And it followed the same formula set up by Malone & Co.: a haunted location the protagonists cannot escape from, violent ghosts, and starred Hollywood up-and-comers and one excellent actor.
HOUSE’s playboy tycoon Stephen Price was played by none other than the Oscar winning actor Geoffrey Rush (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, THE KING’S SPEECH). And his conspiring wife Evelyn by genre favorite Famke Janssen, who would go on to star in the first X-MEN films and the TAKEN series. Their pairing is one of the genius casting moves on the part of the filmmakers; watching them bicker and banter and wish death upon each other is a chemistry which enhances the underlying devilish nature of the “house” they are all stuck in for the night. You get the sense that their history is just as vile as that of the building itself, and their dark humor permeates the atmosphere created by all the dark corners and ill-lit hallways within.
The contestants themselves are just as impressive in their own rights: Ali Larter would go on to star in “Heroes” and the RESIDENT EVIL films; Taye Diggs has been on more hit TV shows (including “Empire” and “Grey’s Anatomy”) than I care to list here; SNL vet Chris Kattan, whose wise-ass Pritchett nearly steals the show; and Peter Gallagher, a character actor whose resume makes him one of the most easily recognized actors here. And that’s not including Jeffrey Combs of RE-ANIMATOR fame as the evil scientist!
If you’ve never seen the film, you must—but you have to get Scream Factory’s release of it. Between the deleted scenes (Debi Mazar: genius) and the immersive docs in the special features, there is enough here to keep you busy for a while. You get an in-depth sit-down with director Malone, an interview with the film’s composer Don THE MATRIX Davis, and the original docs included with the previous release on DVD. And the 2K scan of the original film looks amazing; from Malone’s unique color schemes to Rick Bota’s tight cinematography, this edition looks brilliant.
While Scream Factory has a number of releases scheduled for the next several months (CREEPSHOW, THE JERK, and STARMAN, to name a few), pick up HOUSE now. If you aren’t sold on their products yet, you soon will be. Besides; the movie is awesome.
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Abso-freakin’-lutely
-- T.S. Kummelman