House On Haunted Hill (1999)

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Details At A Glance

Category Horror Audio Commentary - William Malone (Director)
Cast and Crew Listing
Crew Biography - Director
Deleted Scenes (3)
DVD-ROM Content
Featurette - Chamber
Featurette - The Shadow
Featurette - The Sculptures
Featurette - The Glass Ceiling
Featurette - The Saturation Chamber
Featurette - The Vat Of Blood
Featurette - The Exploding Floor
Featurette - Scenes From Creature by William Malone
Featurette - Tale Of Two Houses
Menu Audio and Animation
Theatrical Trailer (1999)
Theatrical Trailer (1958)
Year Released 1999
Running Time 89:02 minutes
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (45:57)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 4 Director William Malone
Warner Bros
Warner Home Video
Starring Geoffrey Rush 
Famke Janssen
Taye Diggs
Ali Larter 
Bridgette Wilson
Peter Gallagher
Chris Kattan
Case Transparent Amaray
RPI $36.95 Music Don Davis

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision ?Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, end of credits

Plot Synopsis

    I vaguely recall sitting down to watch the original House On Haunted Hill, with the incomparable Vincent Price as the star, many more years ago than I care to remember. Trouble was, it was at one of those Sunday afternoon sessions put on by (I think) the Guild of Students of the university, and as a result half the audience were stoned out of their minds and the other half soon joined them as a result of the smoke haze that filled the cinema. As a result, there is not much I recall of the film other than the fact that it seemed quite funny. This thought came to mind as I sat through this rather uninspiring remake of the film. This is a classic example of the problems that are plaguing modern American film making in my view - they simple have forgotten that there is a heck of a lot more to film-making than putting together some cool effects - simple things like plot and acting spring immediately to mind as essential ingredients. The original House On Haunted Hill was not one of the greatest films of the horror genre, but this remake barely lives up to the genre name at all. Indeed, there is nothing here that I found remotely surprising or horrifying, and it was all about as telegraphed as a Morse code message.

    The broad story centres around the disintegrating marriage of Evelyn (Famke Janssen) and Steven Price (Geoffrey Rush), both of whom would cheerfully kill the other. Evelyn fancies spectacular parties and so leases the House On The Haunted Hill, the former Vannacutt Institute For The Criminally Insane, for her Halloween bash. Steven was supposed to send out the invites from the two page listing of names given him by Evelyn. The actual guest list that gets sent out totals four names - Sara Wolfe (Ali Larter), Eddie Baker (Taye Diggs), Melissa Marr (Bridgette Wilson) and Dr Donald Blackburn (Peter Gallagher). When the guests arrive, neither Evelyn nor Steven know who they are but what the heck, let's party! Add into the mix the landlord in eternally pessimistic Watson Pritchett (Chris Kattan) and one very spooky old house, and things are guaranteed to go bump in the night. The incentive for the party-goers is one million dollars to each of the five guests if they survive until morning, with any person not making it having their money tipped into the winner's pot. What follows is the slow demise of several of the guests and hosts in various ways, courtesy of the evil spirits of the house.

    Since this is a remake, obviously there is no great originality to the story, which is something of a pity as what is here is not much of a story at all. So if you have a weak story, what do you do? Well, you get a big name actor (Geoffrey Rush), a hot babe (Famke Janssen), the girl next door (Ali Larter), and an ex-jock (Taye Diggs), toss them into a blender with a serious-sized dollop of special effects and see what comes out of the mix. What you end up with is the horror equivalent of The Matrix - in other words an over-rated piece of celluloid that completely fails to live up to the promotional hype that the studio throws at it. Quite what possessed Geoffrey Rush to jump aboard this effort I simply do not understand - and then to proceed to try and turn himself vocally into James Woods and visually into Vincent Price... He is a great actor, but not even his talents could help this. The only real interest here is in Ali Larter and Taye Diggs, but the rest are barely above mediocre. The whole thing is not especially well-directed by William Malone, whose previous history says a lot - he wrote the utterly lamentable Universal Soldier: The Return. Still, it has to be admitted that some of the effects work is pretty cool, but not cool enough to sustain the entire length of the film.

   Frankly, I found this to be very uninspiring stuff indeed, barely worthy of the description of horror. The only redeeming features are some cool effects, a technically excellent DVD and Famke Janssen and Ali Larter. Eminently avoidable in my view.

Transfer Quality


    In accordance with Dean's theorem that the quality of the transfer is inversely proportional to the quality of the film, we have here what virtually amounts to a flawless transfer. The film was shot in a particular way, so there are what may be considered to be imperfections, but these are actually the effects that the director was trying to achieve and the DVD is very much the embodiment of what the director's desires were for the visual aspect of the film.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    Basically, this is a perfect transfer in just about every respect that does not hide in any way anything that the director wanted us to see. In general, it is a very sharp and detailed transfer with no distracting edge enhancement apparent. The shadow detail is quite brilliant indeed, with just about every little detail in the darker scenes in the bowels of the house being very clear, without a hint of murkiness. It is a very clear transfer with no hint of unintentional grain. There is no low level noise.

    There is a very good colour palette on offer here, albeit not one that is terribly over-vibrant. Any overt vibrancy would, in my view, certainly have detracted from the atmosphere being created here. The overall colour is exceedingly believable, even in the darker scenes of the film. There is a nice depth to the colours, although perhaps the blacks and whites could have been just a little bit more intense on occasions - but I am quibbling about really little things here. Saturation of colour appeared to be pretty much spot-on throughout the film, without there being any evidence of oversaturation at all. Colour bleed was also not an issue here at all.

    There are no MPEG artefacts in the transfer. The only hint of an issue with film-to-video artefacts here was some slight telecine wobble at around the 28:55 mark, but that was about all that I noticed. I do not recall any film artefacts at all. The overall impression is of quite a superb transfer that barely falls short of reference quality - with most perceived imperfections actually being inherent in the source material.

    This is an RSDL formatted disc with the layer change coming at 45:57. This is located in the middle of a scene, which results in a slightly prolonged glare from Famke Janssen. Quite a good layer change overall, although I would have thought that there were a couple of places where it could have been even better placed.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-to-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    This is an absolutely awesome soundtrack that for a couple of very minor quibbles would be of absolute reference standard.

    There are just two audio tracks on the DVD, comprising an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and an English Audio Commentary. I listened to both soundtracks.

    This is a fairly dynamic soundtrack as you would expect of a film set in a haunted house, with a wide variety in the levels of dialogue and sound effects as a result of reactions to various situations. Accordingly, there are times when the dialogue comes through just a tad on the difficult-to-hear side, if you leave you audio levels at a consistent level. This is a reflection of the style of the film and is not a mastering issue. It may be prudent to keep this one set just a little above your normal listening levels.

    There is no problem with audio sync in the transfer.

    The musical score comes from Don Davis, and a very good effort it is too in general. Director William Malone certainly raves enough about it in his commentary, but the raves are quite justified. In general, the music is very supportive of the film, even in the rather unusual sounds used here at times. The only real complaint is that the music totally gives away just about every major surprise in the film by way of a steady, rising crescendo of a bass beat until the big moment. Have they never heard of silence, a far more effective way of approaching a major surprise than saying "here is the bass beat, so now you know what is coming up in the next minute of so", like they were trying to avoid scaring people?

    The great joy in this soundtrack is the wonderful surround channel use throughout the film. Sometimes quite subtle, at other times really overt, it certainly creates the right sort of eerie feeling. The haunted house certainly talks an awful lot here with a variety of sounds through the rear channels especially. The bass channel kicks in with some gorgeously crackling bass at times that really propels the action on the screen into your living room. The entire soundtrack is riddled with little highlights that will get the ambience junkies like me really on a high, making this one of the best spooky soundtracks that I have heard thus far. The only downer on the whole soundtrack, and it is a very small one, is just once or twice the dialogue level seemed to get just a little recessed in the surround channels, usually when something big was about to happen soundwise. But really, this is a wonderful soundtrack that does a distinctly evocative job, and in many ways is far, far better than this film deserves.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Most unusually for DVDs from this source, there is a rather good extras package - especially in quantity. Quality is perhaps a different matter altogether.


    Boasting very extensive audio and animation enhancements (and 16x9 enhanced to boot), this would have been amongst the very best that I have seen on a Region 4 DVD had it not been for what possibly is intended noise in the image. If it were intended, then it is a slightly misguided artistic choice in my view: the features menu in particular is very shimmery. Nonetheless, an effort that is impressive enough to let the main menu play for a few minutes!

Audio Commentary - William Malone (Director)

    As I sat down to listen to this, I reflected upon the fact that it has been a little while since I have had to listen to an audio commentary track. After the first ten minutes of the commentary, I was beginning to wish that I did not have to do this one either. Whilst William Malone thankfully does not feel the need to emulate Chris Tucker in the motor mouth department, much of this I really found to be not all that interesting and it tends to repeat a lot of what was said in the featurettes. Indeed, if you watch the featurettes first, this is almost superfluous. I doubt that this would be ranking up there in the listing of commentaries you need to listen to before dying. The presentation is over a muted 2.0 soundtrack of the film, so when he is silent you do get to hear the dialogue of the film. On reflection, this may be the best way of watching the film, but then again I generally abhor these things anyway.

Biography - Crew

    The singular does indeed apply - all we get is the bio for director William Malone. Seems a little bit pointless to just cover the director, particularly when his history is not all that exciting.

Cast and Crew Listing

    Actually in the same menu as the aforementioned sole biography, but with no links to anywhere, which really makes the whole thing even more pointless as the opening credits tell you who is in the film and the closing credits tell you who they played. Perhaps I am missing the point here.

Deleted Scenes (3)

    Well, four actually as one, Sara Gets The Invite, is presented in two different versions (totalling 6:22). Cut apparently due to the fact that it delayed the film in getting to the good bits quicker, I am grateful that they did cut it - the whole scene is really that bad. It thankfully also removed the entire part played by Debi Mazar. Having cut that scene, the Epilogue scene (2:10) also got the chop as it involved Debi Mazar again. The only scene that really did not deserve to be cut is a 3:41 scene entitled Zombies, which actually was cut due to length considerations (in an 89 minute film?). Pity, as this is actually a cool scene and would have added a little to the film. All four scenes are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, are not 16x9 enhanced and have Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Sometimes things should remain buried - the scenes involving Debi Mazar amongst them.

Featurette - Tale Of Two Houses (19:16)

    An interesting enough look at the original film and the remake detailing some of the choices that went into making the remake, rather than the usual extended promotional trailer. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. A decent inclusion in the package, even though it does suffer somewhat from what would appear to be some compression-induced artefacts.

Featurette - Chamber

    I have seen some pointless extras in my time but I think this one just about takes the cake for the most pointless yet committed to DVD. I am presuming that it is an effort to demonstrate what it is like in the saturation chamber, but that is a real guess. This lasts about one minute, is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, is not 16x9 enhanced and has Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. A waste of DVD space to be honest.

Featurette - Behind The Screams

    This actually comprises seven short featurettes, six of them regarding some of the effects in the film, namely:     with the remaining featurette being Scenes From Creature by William Malone which runs 1:12. All are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, are not 16x9 enhanced and have Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. They are not about how the special effects were created per se but rather an explanation of what was trying to be achieved and how they did it. Interesting enough, but this film demanded a more extensive and intensive look at the special effects work than this.


    Since this is a remake, it seems fitting enough to have some brief notes about the director of the original film, William Castle. Interesting enough but not exactly extensive, given the "quality" of the film he brought to the screen!

Theatrical Trailer (1999) (2:04)

    Your basically typical two minute trailer that does a fair job of encapsulating the entire film, thereby saving you the effort of actually enduring the film. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, it is 16x9 enhanced and has Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Not much wrong with this one.

Theatrical Trailer (1958) (1:38)

    You have got to love these old movie trailers! This is a gem of a trailer that is almost as funny as the film it is promoting - unintentionally funny of course. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, it is 16x9 enhanced and has Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Considering the age, of surprisingly good quality.

DVD-ROM content

    Drop the DVD into your DVD-ROM drive and, after the slightly buggy and very badly named PC Friendly has loaded, you will get the chance of watching the film or Going To The Party. Lets go to the party, which takes you to a screen with four choices:

    Special Events - this takes you straight to the Warner Bros website and has nothing directly related to the film at all, at least as far as I can see. Whoopee!

    Essays - this takes you to a choice of two written essays entitled Oh The Horror! A History of Horror and Take Two! (Or Three!) A Retrospective of Horror Remakes. The titles are self-explanatory, and whilst the essays are quite interesting, I simply do not understand why they were not just included on the DVD as ordinary notes rather than as DVD-ROM content.

    Escape From This House - a game of sorts. It completely defeated my understanding and I just gave up trying but if you like these sorts of things then perhaps you will find more here of interest than I did.

    Original Theatrical Website - a direct link to the website where you can learn about the story, the cast, the filmmakers, the production, leave messages on the message board, chat with other people and play a game. Really exciting stuff and entirely reachable without needing to have a direct link on the DVD.

    There are also clickable ad links to the film website (duplication here), WB Studio Store, Warner Bros Online and Warner Home Video - all in the United States of course. Overall, my views are well known on DVD-ROM content, but this really is not much to worry about at all, unless you enjoy indulging in movie-related games. I think the word I am looking for is crap, and it should be pointed out that the aforementioned PCFriendly makes navigation of the DVD-ROM content quite annoying.

R4 vs R1

    Well, after extensive checking it would appear that there is no material difference between the Region 1 release and the Region 4 release other than NTSC formatting, which would make the Region 4 PAL release a slightly better choice I would think.


    House On Haunted Hill (1999) is a very poor movie given an almost reference quality video and audio transfer, and an extras package that is at least quantitatively extensive if not qualitatively so. Just to make certain that it was not me, I checked out quite a few reviews amongst those listed on the Internet Movie Database and the general consensus seems to be that this is indeed a crap movie. House On Haunted Hill (1999) is a good example of how modern filmmakers have in general forgotten how to make films and think that a bunch of cool effects will hide the obvious flaws like lack of a creditable plot, mediocre acting and so on. Still, the soundtrack alone is worthwhile hearing, as you hear few as good as this.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
21st October 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 80cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL