Boo and Boo again – Castle lives!
While earlier this year Jan DeBont’s remake of The Haunting failed because it lacked the emotional connection to hold it’s marvelous f/x together, William Malone’s update of the 1958 William Castle camp classic succeeds – simply because it needs no emotional depth. HOHH is an amusement park spook house attraction, souped up with the latest in shocks, creeps and scares. Outside of haunted houses, the only thing the two remakes have in common is Lisa Loeb. Castle, whose daughter Terry produced, would approve.
Castle started his picture with a black screen and screams. Malone gets things started with an even bigger bang: a nightmarish prologue set in the ’30s shows us the rampage of an army of psychos taking over the House (this time an art deco asylum run by criminally insane Dr. Jeffrey Combs – the Re-animator himself). Malone, a veteran of the Tales From the Crypt and Freddie’s Nightmares TV series, truly outdoes himself here – the sequence is about as strong as R-rated horror can get these days. The result is a madhouse haunted by hundreds of ghosts (not just 7, as in the original).
After that shocker of an opening, Geoffrey Rush (Mystery Men) is introduced to establish the proper tone, playing amusement park tycoon Vince- er, ah, Steven Price, and relishing the Grand Guignol theatrics almost as much as the real Price would have. Price’s shrew of a wife (Famke Janssen in the Carol Ohmart role) enjoys celebrating her birthday with true crime themed parties and decides that the House is the perfect spot for her next bash.
And so, a group of strangers is invited to the bizarre birthday party, lured by an offer of 1 million dollars reward if they can stay the night. Talk about you indecent proposals.
The remake follows the bare bones of Robb White’s original story pretty well, with members of the party constantly suspecting each other, spouting snarky dialogue, and thinking up reasons to wander off in the basement alone. Chris Kattan (SNL’s Goat Lad or Opera Boy, or whatever), in the Elisha Cooke role, hangs around constantly predicting doom. Where the remake differs is in drastically increasing the activity of the ghosts, and the severity of the violence they commit. Finally, here is a horror film with guts – both literally and figuratively.
Castle served up as a spooky main course a phony glowing skeleton on a string that swung out over the audience at the film’s climax. While the new Dark Castle Productions doesn’t have the clout to get theater owners to install such a stunt, they’ve managed to come up with an f/x showstopper of their own. I don’t want to give anything away, but I’ll tell you this: it’s more impressive than any skeleton on a string.
Hollywood has gotten awfully lame over the past 2 decades about releasing decent horror films for the Halloween season. I’m happy to report that this year, The House on Haunted Hill fills the bill perfectly, delivering scares, giggles, chills, camp, and gross-outs in just the right measure.