31 Days of Guilty Pleasures – ‘The House on Haunted Hill’

Jason McDonald

A few years ago I did a daily countdown to Halloween that featured some of my favorite scares from 31 different horror movies. This year I’m bringing back the feature, but this time we’re taking a look at some of my favorite guilty pleasures.

There’s no rhyme or reason to how these movies are being listed, so the placement on the countdown doesn’t denote any sort of ranking. Also, my definition of guilty pleasure is a movie that ranges from either being not very good to outright bad, but there’s something about it that still makes it endearing to watch.

We talked about “The Haunting” last Friday and now that I’ve had a few days to watch “The Haunting of Hill House” I’m completely in love with that show.  So to keep the trend of haunted houses going we’re gonna talk about my second favorite haunted house guilty pleasure: “House on Haunted Hill.”

Released in the same year as “The Haunting”, the “House on Haunted Hill” felt like one of those situations where two very similar movies come out at the same time.  Similar to how “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon” came out in the same year.  However, these two movies were fairly different.  “The Haunting” tried to be a moving tale about horror while “House on Haunted Hill” was a haunted house experience in movie form.

“House on Haunted Hill” was a remake of a classic William Castle film that starred Vincent Price.  William Castle was a carny who owned a movie studio. This was a guy who was constantly coming up with crazy gimmicks to get people to see his movies.  For example, in the original release of the 1959 film certain theaters would have a plastic skeleton fly over audiences during key moments of the movie.  It’s an effect that would be stupid to us, but in 1959 people probably lost their shit.  At the time, not many people knew skeletons existed.

The remake of “House on Haunted Hill” kept some of the carny feel of a William Castle film.  For one, Geoffrey Rush played Steven Price who could easily be an amalgamation of both Vincent Price and William Castle.  At the beginning of the movie we see him giving Spike from “Buffy” a tour of his theme park and he has an insane contraption set-up in which it looks like people die on his roller coaster.

Can you even begin to imagine the logistics of creating such a ride? It’s not a hologram, he’s literally launching a coaster and some robots off of the track and then, presumably, dragging them back on to be put back on to the ride.  That would take an insane amount of work. It’s so crazy, that you probably wouldn’t even be to recreate such an attraction in “Rollercoaster Tycoon.” Its so absurdly dumb, that I absolutely love it.

And that opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie. “House on Haunted Hill” is best enjoyed as a haunted house attraction.  A lot of the scares in the film are either scares reminiscent of traditional gimmicks featured in either real life haunted house attractions or video games.

For example, take this scene where Melissa is wandering through the basement of the house with her video camera and she’s seeing things on camera that aren’t in front of her.  This is pretty similar to things seen in games like “Fatal Frame” where characters can view supernatural beings through a camera.

Point is, “House on Haunted Hill” is a fun film from beginning to end. It doesn’t have a whole lot of substance to it, but neither did the original. Just check out how the original movie ended.

It was always a corny product and “House on Haunted Hill” just updated it for 2000 sensibilities.  If you haven’t seen it yet definitely check it out, it’ll be a fun walk back in time.


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