House on Haunted Hill Blu-ray Review (Scream Factory Collector’s Edition)
House on Haunted Hill was one of the early entries in the remake marathon of the late ’90s and early ’00s, and it also started the supernatural trend of WB/Dark Castle films that would go on to spawn Thir13een Ghosts and Ghost Ship. Director William Malone takes the original Vincent Price vehicle and updates it with a star-studded cast, lots of gore, and flashy atmosphere – and a Price stand-in thanks to Geoffrey Rush. What remains from the old, though, is a penchant for William Castle antics and twists, with Malone consistently shaking up the plot as an homage to the original’s spooky supernatural party.
The film follows mostly the same beats from the 1959 film; Stephen Price (Rush) invites a bunch of people to a spooky party at a physics-defying haunted house for his wife Evelyn’s (Famke Janssen) birthday, and all of them experience freaky occurrences in the pursuit of $1 million and surviving the night. The cast includes a lot of big names – Ali Larter, Taye Diggs, Peter Gallagher, Jeffrey Combs, and even Chris Kattan – and all of them trade off focus in the house as they explore, get freaked out, and eventually turn on each other when it’s clear there’s a murderer (or two) running amok in this asylum-turned-haunted house.
The film features a lot of of late ’90s panache that acts as creepy atmosphere; there are seizure-inducing flashes of light, jump-cut editing, slow-mo and speed effects, and tons of off-kilter ambient lighting. Despite the dated elements, it still works rather well to set the scene – though it’s far from Castle’s House on Haunted Hill, the intention is still to keep the viewer on their toes. And the script itself truly does that with constant twists and turns, resulting in the reveal of a pair of murderers and then also an ancient evil mist that also haunts the house on the hill.
Though the biggest misstep is that ethereal mist creature, the rest of House on Haunted Hill is a pretty fun romp with lots of moody set pieces, some tongue-in-cheek humor, and many knowing nods to Vincent Price and older haunted house movies. The film hasn’t aged as well as some might hope, but it has enough character to make it worth a repeat viewing – and get you in the mood for the other Dark Castle flicks.
Scream Factory has released House on Haunted Hill on Blu-ray as part of their Collector’s Edition series, which means it comes with a slipcover and new cover artwork as well as reversible original artwork. The film also gets a new 2k scan from original film elements, though they don’t declare which elements those may be. The result is a fairly good-looking picture that does a commendable job maneuvering through a lot of different hues due to the film’s lighting, especially blue lighting. The color scheme is nice and vibrant, and for the most part, the Blu-ray maintains great clarity except for some darker sequences that lose a bit of definition. Otherwise, though, this is a good-looking image. Audio comes in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and there were no noticeable issues. English subtitles are also included.
Scream has assembled a number of new features, the most impressive being a 37-minute interview with director William Malone. This is edited into chunks about the making of the film, from storyboarding to post production, and it’s an in-depth look at the creation of House on Haunted Hill. A new interview with composer Don Davis runs about 9 minutes long, and he explores the organ soundtrack as well as the request for pipe organ in the score; he also talks briefly about the use of Marilyn Manson. Finally, visual effects supervisor Robert Skotak gives an 18 minute interview about various parts of the FX, like the model used for the house on the hill and the way that superimposed various objects to make the mist monster. These three interviews are great additions to this collector’s edition and add about an hour of new features.
Also collected on this Blu-ray is a previously available audio commentary from William Malone, storyboards, concept art, still galleries, a vintage featurette with behind-the-scenes footage, another vintage featurette on the visual FX, a theatrical trailer, TV spots, deleted scenes, and poster gallery. Overall, this is a nice package that collects old and new extras; certainly worth a pick-up for House on Haunted Hill enthusiasts.
House on Haunted Hill is a flawed, fun, and freaky film that makes use of the flashy cinematography of the late '90s. Scream Factory has assembled some great features along with a new 2k scan of the film, making this worth a pickup for fans.
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