A certified “nu metal” horror movie, The House on Haunted Hill caused my hair to erupt in bleached tips, my pants to baggify themselves, and a 40 foot long wallet chain to explode out of my pocket, uncoiling like the weapon of a Mortal Kombat character. Suddenly, wounds were crawling through my skin. I try so hard and come so far, but in the end it doesn’t even matter.

It’s pretty good, overall: a gimmicky but scare-packed film with creative VFX, and even inspiring hints that there may be a real, live human writing the script. I don’t remember much of the 1959 version (except it has Vincent Price), but I remembered lots of things from this one. The pencil through the neck. The theme park ride. The shit with the camera. The other, different shit with the zoetrope (the movie doesn’t trust you to know what that is, they call it an “Saturation Chamber” or something). The waterboarding part. The sheer volume of practical effects was enjoyable. The editing is great, and creates massive amounts of chaos from William Malone’s workmanlike direction. It uses that strobe-pulse fluttery-moth shot-through-a-spinning-fan trick you saw in Jacob’s Ladder, to the point where it becomes a fetish. Don’t watch this if you have epilepsy.

The design of The Darkness (the embodiment of the evil in the house, not the rock band) walks a fraught line between “mediocre late 90s CGI that hasn’t aged well” and “genuinely creative and unsettling”. That one shot where they map an animated texture over a 3D model looks terrible, like a videogame.

…but the more abstract Rorschach-blot design looks excellent.

Casting is, admittedly, not the movie’s strong suite. Geoffrey Rush plays a ludicrously hammy 1950s panto villain. Fun, but what’s the point of updating the movie into the 90s and then writing such an anachronistic character? Xenia Onatopp (or whoever plays his wife) is okay. The camera operator appears to think I really want to see down her dress. Unfortunately he is correct.

The rest of the actors are bland. You will not remember their names. If you deign insert them into your memory, it will be as Reporter Bitch, Camera Bitch, Eyebrows Man, Glasses Man, and Black Man in a Horror Movie (he actually lives to the end. They should award him the Purple Heart for that. He gets characterized as a professional basketball player…one of those NBA pros who’s 1.78m tall, I guess.) Holy boring. Where do they find these people? Were they shipped to the film studio in a packing crate from Boring Actors Inc? They should have ripped the crate apart, painted terrified faces on the wooden planks themselves, and used those in the movie instead. It would have afforded us the illusion of more lively and charismatic actors.

Overall, there’s a lot of great moments here to offset the 90s cheese. I was surprised by how well the film held up.

I did notice some thematic elements that sailed over my head when I was 12, like the Scientology angle. It’s one of the most cartoonishly anti-psychiatry horror movies I’ve ever seen (“Electroshock therapy. Dr Vanacutt liked to zap his patients in multiples of eighteen. More energy efficient.”). Or the moment when Evelyn says (referring to her husband) “His initials are S.P.”

That might also explain this lengthy monologue by Ali Larter’s character, when she attempts to defeat the Darkness using the science of Dianetics.

I think it’s a privilege to call yourself a Scientologist and it is something that you have to earn. Being a Scientologist, you look at somebody and you know absolutely that you can help them. Being a Scientologist, when you drive past an accident, it’s not like anyone else. As you drive past, you know you have to do something about it, because you know you’re the only one that can really help. That’s…that’s what drives me, is that I know we have an opportunity, and uh, to really help for the first time effectively change people’s lives, and uh, I’m dedicated to that. I’m gonna, I’m absolutely, uncompromisingly dedicated to that. We are the authorities in getting people off drugs. We are the authorities on the mind.

I found that a little heavy-handed, but your mileage may vary.

Also, I am pretty sure I reviewed this movie already. Oops.

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