House on Haunted Hill (1999 film)

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House on Haunted Hill
The House On Haunted Hill.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWilliam Malone
Produced byRobert Zemeckis
Joel Silver
Gilbert Adler
Terry A. Castle
Screenplay byDick Beebe
Story byRobb White
Music byDon Davis
CinematographyRick Bota
Edited byAnthony Adler
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • October 29, 1999 (1999-10-29)
Running time
93 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$19 million[1]
Box office$40.8 million

House on Haunted Hill is a 1999 American horror film directed by William Malone and starring Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, and Jeffrey Combs. It also includes a cameo appearance by Peter Graves. The plot follows a group of strangers who are invited to a party at an abandoned asylum, where they are offered $1 million each by an amusement park mogul if they are able to survive the night. Produced by Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver, it is a remake of the 1959 film of the same title directed by William Castle, and features special effects by famed make-up artists Gregory Nicotero and Dick Smith.

House on Haunted Hill marked the producing debut of Dark Castle Entertainment, a production company that went on to produce Thirteen Ghosts and House of Wax, two films which were also remakes. House on Haunted Hill premiered on Halloween weekend in 1999. In the tradition of William Castle's theater gimmicks, Warner Bros. supplied promotional scratchcards to cinemas showing the film, offering ticket buyers a chance to win a money prize, similar to the movie's characters. The film received middling reviews from major critics, but was a commercial success, opening number one at the box office and grossing over $40 million domestically.

In 2007, the film was followed by a direct-to-DVD sequel, Return to House on Haunted Hill, which was released in both rated and unrated editions.


In 1931 the patients at the Vannacutt Institute for the Criminally Insane revolt against the staff headed by the sadistic Dr. Richard Vannacutt. The patients start a fire which engulfs the building, killing all of the inmates and all but five of the staff.

In 1999, Evelyn Stockard-Price is in a disintegrating marriage with Steven Price, an amusement park mogul with a wicked sense of humor. At Evelyn's insistence, Price leases the long-abandoned hospital from the owner, Watson Pritchett, for her birthday party. Pritchett, it turns out, was raised in the building after it had been converted into a private residence. Pritchett fears and hates the house, and is convinced it is evil.

Five guests arrive for the party - Jennifer Jenzen, Eddie Baker, Melissa Margaret Marr, Dr. Donald Blackburn, and Pritchett himself. The guests are not the ones Price invited and neither of the Prices know who they are. Despite this, Price continues the party's theme, offering $1 million to each guest who stays in the house and survives until morning. Those who die forfeit their $1 million to the survivors.

The security gates are tripped, locking everyone inside. After receiving some handguns, Jennifer, Eddie and Pritchett decide to take one of the guns and search the basement for the machinery which controls the gates. Price believes the trap is a stunt organized by Evelyn. As Eddie and Jennifer explore the dungeon-like basement, Jennifer confesses to Eddie that her real name is Sara Wolfe, and that she's an out-of-work assistant to the real Jennifer Jenzen. She attended the party in Jennifer's place because she needed the prize money. The two are separated, and Sara is nearly drowned in a tank of blood by a ghost impersonating Eddie. The real Eddie arrives in time to save her.

Melissa disappears when she wanders off in the basement, leaving behind a massive trail of blood. Price visits his assistant Schechter, who is supposed to be managing the party stunts, but finds him horribly mutilated. On the surveillance monitor he sees the ghost of Dr. Vannacutt walking around with a bloody scalpel. Evelyn dies in front of the others, when they find she has been strapped to an electroshock therapy table. Price pulls a gun on the guests, demanding to know which one of them killed his wife. Sara nearly shoots him, but Eddie knocks him out before either one can kill the other. The remaining guests lock Price in the "Saturation Chamber", an archaic zoetrope device that Vannacut used to treat schizophrenics. Blackburn volunteers to guard Price. When the others leave he turns the chamber on, leaving Price to be tortured by the moving images and ghostly hallucinations until it drives him to a seizure.

Sara and Eddie find Vannacut's office. Inside, they find a portrait of all the head staff and realize that all the party guests are descendants of the five surviving staff from the 1931 fire. Pritchett explains that the spirits themselves created the guest list by hacking into Price's computer. The only exception is Blackburn, whose name does not appear among the staff.

Blackburn is revealed as Evelyn's lover. Evelyn faked her death. The two are plotting to frame Price for the murders, hoping one of the guests will kill him in self-defense. Evelyn stabs Blackburn to add another victim to the mix and releases a delirious Price from the chamber. Sara discovers Price covered in blood and Blackburn's head hanging from the door of the Saturation Chamber. Believing that he is Blackburn's murderer, Sara shoots him. After the others return upstairs, Evelyn approaches Price to gloat. Price, protected by a bulletproof vest, attempts to kill Evelyn. The two scuffle before Price throws her through a decaying door. Inside the rotting room, the two realize they just stumbled upon the evil core of the house. The Darkness – a dark, shape-shifting creature composed of the spirits in the house – awakens and begins to take form. Evelyn is captured and killed by the Darkness. Trying to escape the monstrous apparition, Price stumbles upon the remains of Melissa, neatly dissected and arranged as an anatomical display.

Pritchett is killed by The Darkness, allowing Price to evade it. Price tells Sara and Eddie that the only way out is through the attic. The three flee as The Darkness begins to seep through the house, manipulating the walls and shattering the floors. Price activates a pulley that reveals an opening in the window of the attic. When the Darkness seeps into the attic, Price sacrifices himself to give the others time to escape, but the Darkness closes the iron gate after Sara escapes, trapping Eddie inside.

As the Darkness prepares to assimilate Eddie, Eddie reveals he is adopted, and thus not a descendant of one of the original staff. Pritchett's ghost appears and opens the iron gate. The Darkness is distracted by Pritchett long enough for Eddie to escape out of the window to Sara. Pritchett's ghost and the Darkness both fade away. As Sara and Eddie watch the sun rise, they notice an envelope on the ledge. It contains all five $1 million checks, made out to cash.

In a post-credits scene a short black and white film is shown, depicting the freed patients of the Vannacutt Institute torturing Steven and Evelyn, implying the two are now trapped for eternity with the spirits.


Rush's name "Price" as well as Rush's appearance is a nod to actor Vincent Price, who played the similar lead role, then named Frederick Loren in the original film.


William Castle's daughter Terry Castle served as co-producer on the film.[2] The film was shot in late 1998 and early 1999 in Los Angeles, California, with exteriors of the house's driveway being shot in Griffith Park near the Griffith Park Observatory.[3] The "Terror Incognita" roller coaster at Price's amusement park featured in the beginning of the film is actually The Incredible Hulk rollercoaster at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida.[4]

The unethical psychiatry methods and experimental procedures featured in the film were loosely based on medical experiments conducted by the Nazis.[5][6]

Visual effects[edit]

The surrealist CGI effects featured in the film's climax were inspired by H.P. Lovecraft.[7]

Some reviewers noted that the surrealistic jerking, twitching effect of the ghosts featured in the film was similar to the effects in Adrian Lyne's film Jacob's Ladder (1990).[7] The special effects in the film were designed by Gregory Nicotero and Robert Kurtzman, with additional makeup design by Dick Smith in his last film credit.[7] One of the monster figures featured in the film was a creation of Smith's that was intended to be used in Ghost Story (1981) but was ultimately not featured.[7] The tentacular morphing mass of ghosts featured at the film's climax was designed by KNB Effects using CGI, and was inspired by the visuals of H.P. Lovecraft's novels, as well as resembling the Rorschach inkblots used in psychiatry.[7]

Deleted footage[edit]

William Malone directed the film.

Several key scenes were taken out of the final cut of the film.[8] This included an exposition scene in which Sara Wolfe (Ali Larter) is fired by her boss, Jennifer Jenzen (played by Debi Mazar), the feisty vice president of a motion picture company. Two versions of the scene were shot, both taking place on a film set where Wolfe hands Jenzen a bag delivered for her; inside is a music box with a jack-in-a-box-trigger which cuts the handler's finger. Jenzen throws the box in the garbage, and Wolfe discovers the invitation to Price's party inside of it.[8] This is why in the final cut of the film, Wolfe hesitantly introduces herself to Price as Jennifer Jenzen; in the final cut of the film, she later confesses to Eddie Baker about posing as Jenzen in order to receive her $1,000,000, but details surrounding the circumstances in which she received the invitation are sparsely revealed.[8]

Another scene removed from the film last-minute, according to director Malone, was a scene in which Wolfe falls through a collapsing floor when she and Baker are being chased by the Darkness.[8] After falling two stories below, Wolfe awakens in a subterranean crematorium filled with the ashes and corpses of the hospital's dead patients. There, she is attacked by reanimated corpses who rise out of the ashes, terrorizing her and tearing off her overcoat.[8] As a result of the scene's removal, there remains a continuity error in the final cut of the film, in which Wolfe's overcoat disappears from her body in-between scenes.[8]

A final epilogue scene completing the Jennifer Jenzen story arc was also filmed, featuring Jenzen arriving at the house, which she has now inherited. As she enters the front door, a bloodcurdling scream is heard, and the realtor is revealed to be Dr. Vannacutt.[8] Director Malone said the scene ultimately was removed after the cutting of Jenzen's exposition scene, as well as for having a comical tone that did not fit with the rest of the film.[8]

All three deleted scenes from the film were included on the 2000 Warner Bros. Home Video release of the film on DVD in the bonus features section.


House on Haunted Hill premiered in Los Angeles on October 27, 1999, at the Mann Village Theater.[9] Stars Famke Janssen, Chris Kattan, Ali Larter and Bridgette Wilson were in attendance with director William Malone, as well as the film's producers Joel Silver and Gilbert Adler. The film was released theatrically in the United States two days later, on October 29, 1999, opening #1 at the box office and earning over $15 million in sales its opening weekend.[10]


In keeping with the spirit of William Castle's tradition of releasing each of his films with a marketing gimmick, Warner Bros. and Dark Castle supplied movie theatres with scratch-off tickets that would be given to anyone who paid to see the film. The scratch-off ticket would give each movie patron a chance to win money much like the characters in the film.[11]

Dark Castle had originally intended to release each of their films with a gimmick much like William Castle had done. They had considered releasing the remake Thirteen Ghosts in 3-D with special glasses similar to the ones used by the characters in the film. These plans were scrapped and House on Haunted Hill remains the only film released with a special marketing gimmick.[citation needed]

Critical reception[edit]

House on Haunted Hill received generally negative reviews from critics. In comparison to the original's score of 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, the film received a score of 28% based on 60 reviews, with an average rating of 4.5/10. The site's consensus reads, "Unsophisticated and unoriginal film fails to produce scares."[12] On Metacritic the film has a score of 28 out of 100, based on 17 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[13] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C" on an A+ to F scale.[14]

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said, "House on Haunted Hill is the kind of horror movie that's not a bit scary and quite a bit gross. Yet it's also mildly, even pleasantly, entertaining, at least by the diminished standard set by this summer's The Haunting ... [it] sets up hostile relationships between the characters, which allows the audience to wonder who is doing what to whom. Finding out is not so interesting, but getting there isn't so bad."[15] Maitland McDonough of Film Journal gave the film a similar review, saying "The proceedings are all utterly conventional, but watching them unfold is mildly diverting if you're in the right frame of mind, as many moviegoers apparently were over the Halloween weekend," also favorably comparing the film to Jan de Bont's remake of The Haunting, which was released several months prior.[16]

Entertainment Weekly gave the film a B- rating, calling the film "trash, but creepier than you expect."[17] Variety gave the film a positive review, noting the film's "cheap scares," but saying: "Given the irredeemable cheesiness of the original 1958 "House on Haunted Hill," the makers of the remake had nowhere to go but up. So it's not exactly a stunning surprise to find the new horror opus is a slicker and scarier piece of work."[18]

In their review, The New York Times called the film "a sorry reincarnation" of the original, and said: "This film wastes the talents of actors like Geoffrey Rush and Peter Gallagher in hollow roles and relies heavily on its sets and special effects to do the work that should have been accomplished by its director and writer."[19] The Austin Chronicle echoed a similar sentiment, saying: "The nicest thing I can say about this remake of William Castle's 1958 shocker is that Geoffrey Rush, god bless him, sure can do a fine imitation of Vincent Price's original mustache, even better than John Waters' -- which is no mean feat."[20]


House On Haunted Hill
House On Haunted Hill soundtrack.jpg
Film score by
ReleasedNovember 2, 1999
Film scores
LabelVarèse Sarabande

The soundtrack for the film was commercially released on the label Varèse Sarabande, containing selections from the original score by Don Davis.[21]

Track listing
  1. Main Title
  2. Pencil Neck
  3. Hans Verbosemann
  4. House Humongous
  5. Funky Old House
  6. No Exit
  7. Gun Control
  8. Surprise
  9. Price Pestiferous
  10. Misty Misogamy
  11. Coagulatory Calamity
  12. Melissa in Wonderland
  13. Sorry, Tulip
  14. Struggling to Escape
  15. Soirée a Saturation
  16. On the House
  17. Dead But Nice
  18. Blackburn's Surprise
  19. Encountering Mr. Blackburn
  20. The Price Petard
  21. Epiphanic Evelyn
  22. The Corpus Delecti Committee Meeting
  23. Price in Perpetuity
  24. The Beast with the Least

The song Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) by Marilyn Manson is not on the movie soundtrack but is played during the scene lead up to the Asylum and end credits. Piano Quartet in G Minor Opus 25 by Johannes Brahms was definitely not composed for the movie but is the 5th track on the soundtrack album.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ House on Haunted Hill (1999) Credits. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
  3. ^ Clarke, F.S. (1999). "Cinefantastique". 31–2.
  4. ^ Bell, David Christopher (2011-12-16). "6 Awesome Movie Amusement Park Rides And Their Real Life Locations". Film School Rejects. Retrieved 2015-06-29.
  5. ^ Packer, Sharon, M.D. (2012). Cinema's Sinister Psychiatrists: From Caligari to Hannibal. McFarland. pp. 170–172. ISBN 978-0786463909.
  6. ^ Packer, Sharon (2007). Movies and the Modern Psyche. Greenwood. p. 83. ISBN 978-0275993597.
  7. ^ a b c d e Newman, Kim (2011). Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s. Bloomsbury. p. 414. ISBN 978-1408805039.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h House on Haunted Hill: Deleted Scenes [DVD]. Warner Bros. Home Video. 2000.
  9. ^ "Stars and Filmmakers Are Joined by Celebrity Guests for Special Industry ``Scream-ing of ``House On Haunted Hill, Oct. 27". Company Press Release. 1999-10-27. Retrieved 2015-06-29.
  10. ^ "House on Haunted Hill (1999)". Box Office Mojo. 2002-08-28. Retrieved 2013-09-30.
  11. ^ Rowan, Terry (2015). Halloween: A Scary Film Guide. Rowan. p. 107.
  12. ^ "House on Haunted Hill". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2014-10-22.
  13. ^ "House on Haunted Hill Reviews". Metacritic. 1999-10-29. Retrieved 2013-09-30.
  14. ^ "CinemaScore".
  15. ^ LaSalle, Mick (1999-10-30). "A Gutsy Remake / 'House on Haunted Hill' goes for the gross-out". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2015-06-30.
  16. ^ McDonough, Maitland (2004-11-02). "House on Haunted Hill". Film Journal. Retrieved 2015-06-30.
  17. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (1999-11-19). "House on Haunted Hill". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2015-06-30.
  18. ^ Leydon, Joe (1999-10-31). "Review: 'House on Haunted Hill'". Variety. Retrieved 2015-06-30.
  19. ^ Van Gelder, Lawrence (1999-10-30). "'House on Haunted Hill': Some Parties Are Worse Than Others". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-06-28.
  20. ^ Savlov, Marc (1999-11-05). "House on Haunted Hill". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 2015-06-29.
  21. ^ "House on Haunted Hill Soundtrack (complete album tracklisting)". SoundtrackINFO. 1999-11-02. Retrieved 2013-09-30.

External links[edit]