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Originals vs. Remakes: 'House on Haunted Hill' (1959) vs. 'House on Haunted Hill' (1999)

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House on Haunted Hill (1959) vs. House on Haunted Hill (1999)

Shared Plot: A wealthy weirdo offers five strangers a large sum of money if they'll spend the night in a notoriously haunted mansion. Near-deaths abound, but are they caused by the host's devious nature -- or something much more supernatural?!? (mwahaaaa)

Notable Differences: The original was a "gimmick" flick by the lovable William Castle (he actually ran skeletons on wires through the auditorium at the end of the flick!) and the remake was an early entry in the period now known as the "Let's Remake Ever Horror Film Ever Made" epoch. And while both films have amusingly bitchy dialogue and a few legitimate scares, neither are what you'd call a brilliant horror movie. It's just that one is a quaint and chaste little relic from the late '50s and the other is a loud and gory relic from the late '90s.

Highlights: In both films the leading man (Vincent Prince, Geoffrey Rush) have a grand time chewing the scenery as an insidious rich guy with an attitude problem and a potentially murderous wife (Carol Ohmart in the original, Famke Janssen in the remake). The venomous couples' trenchant banter is the best thing about both films, creepy stuff notwithstanding.

Both flicks do have a decent handful of honest jolts, but the original is a bit too hokey and the remake is a bit too hyperactive for anything beyond "surface scares" to take root. Also, the guys who play the owner(s) of the house are both sort of weird and colorful; the late Elisha Cook in the 1959 version and the amiably spaz-tastic Chris Kattan in the 1999 take. And director William Malone does a pretty solid job with a mid-movie "dream sequence" that's more than a little creepy.

Lowlights: The original film comes to a very abrupt halt just when things are getting good -- and the remake decided to turn the simple "house on haunted hill" into a "former lunatic asylum where a horrific massacre took place on haunted hill," which serves to make the remake a bit longer, but not any more original. And not to be unkind, but aside from the aforementioned performers, let's just say that neither flick is knee-deep in awesome acting performances.

Cultural Pertinence: The 1959 film was little more than another weekend throwaway for a lot of its intended audience, but thanks to the legendary status of leading man Vincent Price and gimmick-adoring filmmaker William Castle, it has enjoyed a long and healthy life on the public domain list. The remake is notable in that it, along with its Dark Castle siblings 13 Ghosts and House of Wax, ushered in the seemingly endless era of horror movie remakes. What probably seemed pretty hip and edgy for a 1999 horror movie, particularly one based on something "old-fashioned," is already more than a little dated in 2012. Still, it's not every movie that offers Ali Larter, Famke Janssen, Bridgette Wilson, and Lisa Loeb. Yes, that Lisa Loeb.

Preferred Version? Film geeks are naturally predisposed to defaulting towards the older film, if only out of respect, but since neither version of House on Haunted Hill is especially brilliant, unique, or influential, I'd opt for the garish nastiness of the remake over the mostly dry presentation of the original. Then again, the remake doesn't have Vincent Price ... so maybe it's a tie after all.

 

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