I felt like easing off the clutch a bit for tonight's film, so let's all take a big breath before we start the review and reassure ourselves that this horror movie is from 1999 and thus, cannot hurt us. Amidst the rocky fringes of this cultural wasteland of a decade, a film arises, a remake of the 1959 haunted house flick, The House on Haunted Hill. And before we begin, has anyone seen a film called The Haunting? It is a horror classic from the same era that ALSO got a 1999 remake, where the subtleties of paranoia and fear were discarded in favour of a bad actress yelling at the CGI monster from Boogeyman while Owen Wilson got his head eaten by a gargoyle. So we have nothing but high hopes going into this one. Though frankly, I doubt the remake can top this:
We get some twitchy stop motion effects for the opening credits, which start out a little eerie but just dip into “Shock rocker music video” as they go on. Some screaming bald man silently thrashes while somebody pounds their head against an organ, and the movie finally gets started. We get what looks like a pretty nice matte painting of a frankly gigantic insane asylum, populated by wandering lunatics and one orderly who likes to keep his pencils reeeeeeal sharp.
He seems relatively unperturbed by the rest of the staff downstairs as they silently tape themselves vivisecting a patient, at least until the patients bust free under unexplained circumstances and start to riot. The doctors are quickly overwhelmed by a tide of violent, non-specifically ill madmen and things take a dive into a good ol' fashioned blood orgy as patients start ripping open every nurses blouse they see in a level of sexual violence that makes the average episode of Game of Thrones look...well, still pretty rough. Orderly Chekov's pencils get shoved right through his neck and I guess someone drops a match as the whole place goes up.
We cut to Peter Graves telling us all about the craziness of that night and how only five people ever made it out of the conflagration alive. I wonder if that will ever come back into the narrative.
Famke Jannsen is watching all of this from a very sensibly bubbled up bubble bath and calls up Geoffery Rush. Rush is playing theme park mogul Steven Price in a rough American accent and an even rougher pencil mustache as he dicks around with a news team on his new roller coaster, which is clearly The Incredible Hulk Ride at Islands of Adventure. Oh hey, James Mardsen! So, Spike's in this movie for five minutes.
The phone call between Famke and Price (I feel like this movie would be way better if Geoffrey Rush was actually attempting a Vincent Price imitation throughout it) concerns the attendance of her birthday party. Price assures her that he is taking care of the guest list as he feeds it into a shredder and just invites a bunch of random putzes. Classy. But as he leaves his office and the movie just drops all pretenses with a Marilyn Manson song, some unseen force accesses the computer and invites a completely different bunch of random putzes. It's haunted broadband.
The buffet for the evening lines up as they are shuttled up to the party destination, the cliffside asylum from the beginning of the film, which looks pretty modern for a place that was built in the 30's. At the gates, we get to see a fidgety Chris Cattan playing Pritchard, the owner of the house that Price is renting it from. He shakily welcomes them and escorts them inside. He explains how the place was built by his grandfather just as our resident Black Man for the evening helpfully comments that this place is spooky, yo. Pritchard is barely finished talking about the big stained glass skylight before it shatters and gives Black Man a chance to look cool by saving Jannsen.
Finally Price sashays in and refreshes everyone on the rules: You have to spend the entire night within the walls of the house, and come morning, you get 1 million dollars. If you leave or...DIE....your share is divvied up between the remaining people.
Jannsen (I think her name is Evelyn) escorts Price upstairs and they bicker over the guests, both claiming that they have no idea who the assorted mooks downstairs actually are. It seems that the Prices throw a variation of these murder parties every year, frequently taking them as a chance to off one another. It's clearly a strained relationship. Back downstairs, the cast of Clue start to talk each other up and introduce themselves. There's Proffesor Plu- I mean, Donald Blackburn, MD. Eddie is a former baseball player, having quit for some reason that isn't looked into. Melissa is the lady with the camera, eager to videotape something and get famous, because this actress is terrible. The last girl is Jennifer, Executive VP of such and such and really needs someone to touch up those bangs.
Pritchard is very eager to get his rent money and leave, but as soon as the paycheque touches his fingers, some clockwork machinery lurches to life and metal shutters all slam shut over all of the doors and windows, sealing them in. Pritchard is almost fanatically determined to bust out of there, and one has to wonder; if he was so unwilling to even set foot in the old place for fear of exactly this happening, why would he even let all of this happen at all? The dude owns a massive chunk of cliff property. He can't be hurting for cash that badly. As they are all locked up tight, Pritchard pours himself a drink and states rather flatly that everyone is going to die. The shutters were built as a safegurad in case the patients got out, and he mentions that fixing the mechanism was on his fathers “To do list, until the house did him first”.
At this point, Evelyn is convinced that this is all just a big work, asking Price what the hook is. He responds by shrugging and pointing to a series of boxes all containing loaded guns, one for each person. It doesn't make a lot of sense why these are even here beyond the Chekov principle and a possible reference to the initial film. One or two guests arm themselves and head into the basement, determined to figure out a way to trip the 12 hour lock down and get out. In the meantime, Price checks in on a techie he has holed up in a control room filled with cameras, who reveals that he also had nothing to do with the lockdown.
The guests run across a few rooms that I'm sure we'll get back to later, such as an electroshock ward, a partially walled off door that's leaking black stuff and some hyperbolic-looking room called the “Saturation Chamber.
It's apparently a room full of crazy that the head psychiatrist, Dr. Vannacut (Oh, and Dr. Vannacut was serial killer as well? In case we needed any more horror backstory sprinkles on this spooky sundae) thought could shock crazy people back to sanity, or something. Okay.
Everybody inevitably gets split up, Eddie gets some time alone with Jennifer and he deduces that she isn't who she claims she is, stating that no executive is as competent as she is. Jennifer wanders off and comes clean that she is actually Sarah, the assistant to the actual Jennifer and just there to try and collect the prize money. She gets a minor haunting when a bald man stares at her and a vision of Eddie tries to drag her into a smokestack or something full of blood, and everyone retreats back upstairs.
Well, almost everyone. Melissa has wandered off in search of something to videotape and has the first genuinely scary scene of the film when she stumbles into an old operating room. The room seems empty, but her camera is recording another vivisection.
Then the doctor and nurses all silently turn towards her....
The subtlety goes out the window a second later when some eyeless ghost charges in and blows in her face, and everyone heads back downstairs to investigate the shriek.
The gang finds a trail of blood that leads right into the wall, and theories abound that the house just ate her. Evelyn decides enough is enough and heads upstairs to bed, promising that she will empty her gun (Which is actually loaded with live rounds, despite Price claiming that they were all blanks) into anyone who disturbs her.
A wacky Scooby-Doo montage begins as everyone starts to scope around the house for a way out, Melissa, or just another drink. Price checks in on his techie and whoops, somebody took an ice cream scoop to his face.
Then everyone gets called back downstairs by power fluctuations to find Evelynn strapped in to the electroshock table and getting her nards zapped off. Despite their best efforts, Evelynn dies and Price starts to lose it. Now everybody thinks that someone else is trying to murder them, Price thinks that at least one of them is a plant sent to incriminate him and oh yeah, everyone has loaded guns! Before things reach their logical conclusions, Eddie punches out Price and somebody gets the bright idea to lock him up in the insano-chamber. Dr. Blackburn offers to keep an eye on him, but then just decides to turn the crazytron 5000 on and leave him there.
Inside the Psychofrakulator, Price puts on a pair of goggles in the middle of a huge zoetrope as it fries his brain. John Cleese laughs at him for a bit, then the hallucinations get worse as some people in blurry clown make up lock him up in a fetish asylum while naked ladies judge him. I am running out of ways to avoid saying “Marilyn Manson music video” again.
Eddie and Sarah discover an old staff photo and figure out that everyone in the house is descended from the original five survivors of the big Flaming Blood Orgy of '31. I also have to commend the incredibly progressive insane asylum that would hire a black surgeon in the 30s. Then they notice that Blackburn's name isn't on the photo. Cut to the good doctor feeling up Evelyn's corpse before injecting her with a shot that brings her out of her “death”. Turns out that she and the doctor had a plan inside of Price's plan to fake her death and make everyone think that he did it. Now they are just waiting for someone to wig out and kill Price, leaving her to collect his fortune.
Okay, so Evelyn's plan was to drum up paranoia, substitute the blanks in everyone's guns with live rounds, pretend to be murdered by ghosts in a rigged up electric chair and try to get the hysterical guests to shoot Price. And she did it in cahoots with a doctor who ended up getting an invitation to the event, despite the fact that Price shredded her guest list in favour of another one, which was in turn rewritten AGAIN by an evil house in order to lure the heirs of the survivors there. With what, haunted dial up? Or maybe the house sprung for a haunted modem. What the heck is Dr. Blackburn doing there? Evelyn wonders the same thing, and just decides to stab him, figuring that another body will crank up the hysteria to a boiling point.
Back upstairs, the dwindling few ponder how Blackburn is doing, and the ever-lovable Pritchard drunkenly states that he dead by now. At this point, any smart person would opt to just stand back to back in the middle of the well lit lounge area with their guns drawn and wait until morning, but these losers decide to see if Blackburn is dead. And he sure is, decapitated body left on display and all. Damn, Evelyn really committed to that murder scene.
Sarah runs across Price, and frankly, he looks a lot more scared and disoriented than murderously insane. I guess that trip through the nightmare machine served no other purpose than to jam a bad acid trip into our eyeballs. He begs Sarah for help, and Sarah responds by shooting him full of holes. I think this lying murderer is supposed to be our heroine? I should also mention that every time someone dies in this movie, this ominous latin chorus mutters or hums in the background, and boy, it raises to a climax here. Eddie and Prichard escort Sarah upstairs and Evelynn gloats over her husbands corpse. But it turns out he was wearing a bulletproof vest! He's alive and he's mad.
Okay. So Evelynn had a plan for a birthday, but then Price planned to interfere that plan, but Evelynn planned around that plan with her plan, which involved double crossing the doctor's plan and killing him, which in turn was planned against by Price's plan. And all of these plans were planned around by the evil house, which of course, has a plan of it's own. Holy good goddamn, I've seen less convoluted episodes of The Wire. Price harasses her for a bit and finally tosses her through the big walled off door and into The Black Room. The most evil room of all.
This place seems to be lined with the charred corpses of everyone who took refuge in there during the initial fire. It's kind of like someone wall papered a bathroom with the entirety of Pompeii. Whatever was residing in there awakens and the blackness just...eats Evelynn as Price flees. It kind of looks like a kaleidoscope of ink injected into water, which initially looks pretty cool until it just...stays on screen for the rest of the film. The Ghostcloud leaks out of the hole that someone really should have put some plywood over and Price stumbles into Melissa's dissected body. So that's where that got to. He runs upstairs and Pritchard of all people decides to open the door for him and is immediately eaten for his troubles. Aw, I liked him.
Eddie and Sarah flee upstairs while the entire asylum just starts exploding at them and the Big Black Ghostcloud chases after them, taunting them with the faces of people it has killed and absorbed. Man, for a moment I kind of thought that some vague, shadowy nightmare cloud of oblivion would be a decent final threat, but that is one DOOFY looking vague, shadowy nightmare cloud of oblivion. The faces really ruin it. Meanwhile Price has actually found a way upstairs ahead of them and is working on an exit. They converge in the attic with the Ghostcloud hot on their heels just as Price manages to Jimmy a window open. Turns out the controls weren't even in the scary death basement at all! Ha! All the needless deaths...
The Ghostcloud lunges at Sarah, but Price shows a surprising amount of bravado and shoves her aside. He seems very eager to sacrifice himself for somebody who tried to shoot him in cold blood a few minutes ago. He gets flash fried or sucked away into ash by the cloud and Sarah manages to escape outdoors, just as the shutter slams shut behind her. Eddie looks as though he's going to get eaten by a screensaver before he blurts out possibly one of the greatest lines in a horror movie.
“I've got nothing to do with this shit! I was adopted!”
This actually earns him a Mandatory Black Man Horror Movie Death Exemption Card and the Good Ghost of Chris Cattan appears to open the shutter for him. I guess not even an all-devouring swarm of damned souls can have-a the Mango.
The two greet the rising sun from the top of the precarious ledge and breath a sigh of relief, spared by the fact that neither of them were even supposed to be there to begin with. Sarah even notices that the envelop full of blank, million dollar cheques made it out with them. They laugh and wonder how the hell they are going to get down, and I'm guessing that at least one of them is thinking that they could double that 2.5 million dollar windfall with one well-timed shove...
Okay. I appreciate that this movie tried to be more than what it was. There was a lot of, if not good, then at least creative shots in this movie, and the needlessly convoluted plot did keep me guessing as to what was going on. Most of the scares were pretty predictable and the problem with the horror imagery is that this film was made in 1999. We as a collective audience had seen a lot worse at this point in the average...*sigh*...Marilyn Manson Music Video, which is exactly what this movie feels like an extended version of, with a shoehorned in “And then there were none” dinner party plot. The best it could do was throw a few boobies at us and hope that would raise the shock value enough to be worth our time. I'd rather watch Clue on one television and 90's MTV on the other and just shake my head really fast.
I also have to note that I did not see a scrap of food at this party. If I was invited over and did not see so much as a plate of hors d'ouvers, I would be rightfully pissed. This movie is a mess, but too ridiculous to be terrible. Watch it if you want to see a black guy actually survive to the end.