House on Haunted Hill

Hollywood always seems to put out two extremely similar movies at about the same time. This results in two asteroid movies, two volcano movies, two movies about WWII, two movies with orgies, two movies with Queen Elizabeth, two animated ant movies, and the list continues. Now, we have our second haunted house movie of the year, which, like The Haunting is also a remake. Thankfully, House on Haunted Hill is better than The Haunting, but that is not saying much. The original movie came out in 1958 and starred Vincent Price.

The story is pretty simple. A group of people will receive one million dollars each if they survive the night in the house. The money is given by Steven Price (Geoffrey Rush, Shakespeare in Love, Mystery Men), a multimillionaire theme park owner, in honor of his wife Evelyn (Famke Janssen, Monument Avenue, Celebrity) . Price, (the name is an homage to Vincent Price) and his wife detest each other, and both have tendencies toward the macabre. For her birthday, Evelyn decides to have the party at the abandoned Vannacutt Institute, which, in its heyday was a standard bearing institution for the criminally insane. Earlier in the century, the inmates managed to escape, and the Institute burned down, with many people trapped inside. Now, the rumor is the Institute is haunted. Oddly enough, no one invited got an invitation, and the people that do show up are complete strangers to everyone. They include an ex-major league baseball player (Taye Diggs, The Best Man, The Wood) a vice president (Ali Larter, Varsity Blues, Drive Me Crazy), an actress (Bridgette Wilson, Love Stinks, The Suburbans), a doctor (Peter Gallagher, American Beauty, City Ballet), and the caretaker of the institution (Chris Kattan, NBC's Saturday Night Live, A Night at the Roxbury). The names aren't really important. You will forget them the instant the movie is over.

Along the way, Price set up many scary gags to frighten the heck out of the guests. So when things start happening, Evelyn thinks it is Price, Price thinks it is Evelyn, and their guests are freaked out by both. Of course, the group must separate (why are people in movies always so dumb?), so that most of them will get killed of by the end of the movie. It is really easy to guess who survives after watching about fifteen minutes of the film. The frightening moments in the film are not really scary, they are more gory and disturbing. And of course, there are plenty of moments where you jump because of a sudden movement. So in this respect, House on Hunted Hill far surpasses The Haunting. The story moves along at a nice clip, and except for some pointless twists in the plot is utterly predictable. Director William Malone (writer of Universal Soldier II) does a fair job with everything he has. None of the actors, except for maybe Diggs (considered by many women to be one of the handsomest men alive) do more than an adequate job. Thankfully, Janssen and Rush have a little fun with their roles. Larter and Wilson seem to be clones of each other, and Gallagher's role is too small to make much of a difference. Kattan surpasses his annoying roles in SNL, but traces of his histrionics show through every once in a while. Everything about the film screams mediocrity.

Haro Rates It: Okay
1 hour, 55 minutes, Rated R for violence, gore, sexual images, and language

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