Volume 93, Issue 36

Wednesday, November 3, 1999


Streep carries Music through griping end

Haunted Hill houses no real horror

Hollywood shows true colours in casting calls

Primus still epitome of Antipop

Haunted Hill houses no real horror

Photo by Peter Iovino
TRUST ME, THIS IS WHAT I DO WITH ALL MY FIRST DATES. Geoffrey Rush stars in the latest convoluted Halloween flick, House On Haunted Hill.

By Anthony Turow
Gazette Staff

Thankfully, most horror flicks today don't promise epic film lengths of hours upon hours of terrifying footage. The latest entry to jump on the thriller bandwagon, House On Haunted Hill, seems mercifully short, clocking in at just under 90 minutes.

However, in this case, even if Haunted Hill was an hour, it would still be 59 minutes too long. For lack of a more poetic word, this movie truly sucks.

The titular house featured in the title is the Vannacutt Neuropathic Institute, a former insane asylum which closed after a night of horrifying events in the 1930s. The patients held in the institute, who were used as guinea pigs in cruel and bizarre experiments, eventually decided to exact revenge and kill a bunch of people, taking the institute by force.

Today, the house is abandoned and peaks the curiosity of a wealthy woman named Evelyn Price, played by Famke Janssen. Evelyn decides she wants to have her birthday party there.

With the help of her husband Steven (Geoffrey Rush), a successful amusement park owner, they set the house up with carefully crafted scares and booby traps. Then Steven proposes an offer to his guests – make it through the night alive and you walk away with a million bucks.

It sounds all fine and good in theory, however the actual execution of the picture is another story entirely. Leaps of logic too perplexing to comprehend present themselves ad nauseam until nothing really makes sense. Instead of building a consistent tone to tie the story together, the movie ends up all over the place.

Another major problem is in director William Malone's inability to stage anything convincingly. The horror genre is one which has to rely on certain conventions to effectively elicit scares. Tense moments such as opening a door to face the unknown, or a villain lurking in the back seat of a car may not be incredibly original, however, when done well, they can still successfully terrify. Proper staging is a crucial part of a horror movie's effect, yet Malone just doesn't have what it takes.

He can't be held completely accountable for this downfall, however, as the majority of the performances in the film are woefully inept. Geoffrey Rush proved his talent with his Oscar winning work in Shine, but if movie-goers were to judge him solely on his performance here, they'll see a hammy, uninspired actor comparable to Mark Hamill. It looks like he doesn't even try – he walks through the sets, says his lines when required and does little else.

Chris Kattan's performance as one of the party guests is also one of the film's most grating aspects. Kattan is truly annoying and manages remarkably to sink this stinker lower every minute he's on screen.

The only cast member who manages to escape this mess relatively unscathed is Famke Janssen. As Evelyn, Janssen actually keeps a straight face while saying her lines and delivers believably frightened facial expressions and screams. This is no small feat, considering most of the haunted houses kids make in their basements are scarier than this one.

If you are looking for a horror movie to fill some kind of post-Halloween void, do yourself a favour and avoid House On Haunted Hill.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999