Halloween-O-Meter: Houses on Haunted Hills
Halloween-O-Meter: House on Haunted Hill (1959) vs. House on Haunted Hill (1999)
The House on Haunted Hill films both follow a group of guests who are invited to a millionaire’s wife’s birthday party being hosted at a supposedly haunted mansion/asylum. The group is offered a large sum of money if they will stay the night, but they soon realize that they are in for more than a simple birthday party…
The original Vincent Price film was made for only an estimated $200,000, and while I cannot find an accurate gross for the film, it does currently stand at an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. It is also the film that supposedly inspired Psycho (1960). The 1999 remake stands at a 30% on Rotten Tomatoes, only grossing about $42 million worldwide on a budget of $37 million.
Having watched the original House on Haunted Hill two or three times now, it has become a classic for me. The film is ahead of its time in regards to the treatment of the horror formula, as it perfectly plays off the cast and setting. Of course being a Vincent Price film, is is also a ton of fun! It’s not quite a comedy, but there is some mystery to the film that keeps it consistently fresh! On top of that, there are some genuinely scary moments to be found.
The pacing doesn’t quite hold up to modern horror thanks to films like Psycho, but it is also only 75 minutes… The most impressive thing about the film for me, aside from the hilarious and terrifying tone, are the performances of leads Vincent Price and Carol Ohmart. The two play the unhappily married couple who spend the entire night at each other’s throats while the rest of the cast deals with the supposedly haunted house. Based on the remake of this film, this is a good way to hate your leads. Except, you don’t. The two have such a hilariously energetic banter that you feel they are simply meant to be together, torturing each other forever. These two totally make the film, and are a perfect representation of the impressive feat that balancing the two contrasting tones is.
Speaking of a cast of characters you hate in a film that manages to be neither scary nor funny! Now I didn’t expect this film to be good, but I did sit through it, so it only seems right that I talk about it a little. The remake of House on Haunted Hill has occasionally good intentions, even trying to change the formula near the finale. But it fails hard, only delivering on the hyper-edited Dutch-tilted strobe lights of the moody early-2000s. The loud, obnoxious score, misguided performances, and cringe-worthy writing lead to a product that feels somehow more dated than the original. Not even the energy from star Geoffrey Rush could save this bland mess.
Now obviously what we have here is a really good movie and a really bad movie. If you haven’t seen House on Haunted Hill though, you totally should! I am sure you can find the entire movie on YouTube or something, and it is a ton of fun! You have a clever story that plays off a now typical horror premise, and when you toss in plenty of comedy, horror, and a couple twists, you get one of my favorite classic horror films! 8/10. Now remake that with all the grace and subtlety of late 90s horror and you get a film that I would never make anyone watch. I did have one really good laugh in it, but I wasn’t supposed to… 2/10.
Now the question is, do these movies make for good Halloween films? I can say that the original yet again blows the remake out of the water here. Let’s look at some key Halloween elements in the older film. You’ve got horror icon Vincent Price, a haunted house, a mystery, horror, comedy, a fairly general content rating that most anyone can watch! (Not young kids.) Heck put this on at a party and you have a cast of characters to represent your friends and make them wonder about your relationship. Plus black and white can make for a very fun Halloween aesthetic! Look I’m not saying it is the perfect Halloween film, but what I am saying is that it might be the perfect Halloween film. 5 out of 5 Scary Pumpkins!
The remake? Yeah very little of that. No black and white, no comedy, no horror, no haunted house. Sure the asylum is a creepy location, but it feels like it moves the film further away from Halloween and more towards general horror. Yeah you’ve got a cast, and if the film were good it might be a half-decent Halloween film. I know I said I wouldn’t account for quality, but I don’t think the 1999 film deserves more than a single Scary Pumpkin. 1/5.
So, the House on Haunted Hill movies? Have you seen either of them? What do you think? And what if your favorite classic horror film? Come on now, we are talking pre-1978. Be sure to leave a like or a comment below and let us know! And if you liked this review and you want to read more like it, let us know what else we should rank on the Halloween-O-Meter!
-review by Ryan Price