Blu-ray Review: House on Haunted Hill (Collector’s Edition)

The late 1950s was a bleak times for movies since television had given people a reason to stay home. The studios didn’t have too many answers on how to combat the menace at home that kept tumbleweeds blowing past box offices. People figured that if they just wait long enough, the new movies would eventually show up on TV. There were few reasons to leave the houses. William Castle knew that there were things you couldn’t experience while watching TV. Castle had directed dozens of low budget films for studios when he surprised everyone by going indie in 1958 with a film called Macabre that made fat dollars. What was the secret of its success? Castle bought an insurance policy so that if you died of fright during the film, your survivors got a million bucks. Your local UHF channel showing the Creature Double Feature wasn’t offering that payoff. You had to go the movie theater. The follow up The House On Haunted Hill was a better film with Vincent Price as wild millionaire who offers a prize to any of his party guests who survive the night. Castle had another gimmick up his sleeve to make sure audiences didn’t wait for the flick to appear on the Night Owl Theater. He devised Emergo which enhanced a climatic point of the film. The film solidified Castle’s reputation as a director who created movies that had to be experienced in a theater with a fun loving crowd. Exactly 40 years later producers Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver remade the film except instead of Emergo, they spent the money on special effects.

The patients at the Vannacutt Institute for the Criminally Insane got sick of the good doctor’s experiments and rioted in 1931. The asylum was a horrifying mess and the place over the years has been rumored to be haunted by all the tortured souls. Decades later Steven Price (Shine‘s Geoffrey Rush) is the king of the thrill ride. He’s opened his latest roller coaster that scary on so many levels including the elevator taking you to the top. Evelyn Stockard-Price (X-Men‘s Famke Janssen) see Peter Graves (Mission: Impossible) host a show about the nightmare of Vannacutt. She gets her husband to come up with his latest high profile thrill. She wants to have her birthday party in the haunted asylum. She invites five friends. They’ll get a million dollars if they can last the night inside the Vannacutt. But it turns out to be a surprise party on many levels. First, the five people who received invitations are strangers to the Prices. Second, the house’s security system is triggered and traps them inside. And third, even though Steven Price has come up with a few scares for the guests, the house has frights that go beyond his capabilities. Very quickly none of the guests care about the money. The only want to live and see the sunrise.

The remake really amps up what goes on inside the haunted house. Both films have similar plots involving a party in a haunted house. The new version amps up the special effects by having the triple team duo of the legendary Dick Miller (The Exorcist), Robert Kurtzman (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and Gregory Nicotero (The Walking Dead). The have plenty of fun pushing the creatures you’d meet in the basement of an insane asylum run by an insane doctor. The five guests include Ali Larter (Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Bridgette Wilson (Mortal Kombat), Taye Diggs (The Best Man), Peter Gallagher (sex, lies and videotape) and Chris Kattan (Monkeybone). They all get into the scares. See if you can spot singer Lisa Loeb on the screen.

While the remake of House On Haunted Hill does a fine job of updating the original movie, it doesn’t have the Emergo moment. Which is good in the case of the Blu-ray release since you won’t missing out on anything by seeing it at home on your television. If you want to watch the original, Scream Factory released the film on The Vincent Price Collection II boxset.

Video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The makeup effects look fine in the high resolution. Audio is 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo. The sound kicks in as the house and the ghosts attack. The movie is subtitled.

Audio Commentary with director William Malone covers a lot of what went into reworking William Castle.

Interview With Director William Malone (37:30) has him admit that as a kid, he looked forward to William Castle films since he and his friend knew there’d be a fun gimmick. He also appreciated the work of Vincent Price.

Interview With Composer Don Davis (9:40) discusses how the music is a great way to manipulate an audience. He gets into how he approached making the haunted house sing.

Interview With Visual Effects Supervisor Robert Skotak (18:42) talks of how the film wanted an Art Decco kind of look. The model of the house was about nine feet time.

Never-Before-Seen Storyboards, Concept Art And Behind-The-Scenes (2:53) shows the rough ideas for the spirits in the night.

Photos Courtesy Of Visual Effects Producer Paul Taglianetti (5:44) are glimpses of what the crew did to get the big scares. This includes the roller coaster scene.

A Tale Of Two Houses (19:14) gives a sense of how William Castle’s original compares to the original. They include great shots of Castle hyping a film including his Coward Coward gimmick. Remake director Malone talks about wanting his version to have real ghosts since he wanted them when he saw the original as a kid.

Behind the Visual FX – Vintage Featurette (7:01) has the crew talking about upping the special effects including the glass ceiling, the strange machine, the exploding floor and more.

Deleted Scenes (12:04) includes two versions of a snipped Debi Mazar (Goodfellas) scene. We get see the invitation. There’s also a falling through the floor sequence. Plus Debi returns for what should have been the end of the film.

Theatrical Trailer (2:13) promises a haunted house like no other.

TV Spots (1:05) are sliced down from the trailer. The focus is on the invite, the money and the ghosts.

Movie Stills And Poster Gallery (4:37) is the promotional campaign.

Scream Factory presents House On Haunted Hill. Directed by William Malone. Screenplay by: Dick Beebe. Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, Bridgette Wilson, Peter Gallagher & Chris Kattan. Rated: Rated PG-13. Running Time: 93 minutes. Released: October 9, 2018.

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