Sunday, October 20, 2013

Monster Serial: HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, 1999

 Hello, boils and ghouls! October is upon us and that means one thing: HALLOWEEN! While most holidays get a measly day or two of formal recognition, orthodox Monster Kids prefer to celebrate it in the tradition of our people: By watching tons of horror movies. This month at THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY, we're going to be discussing some of our favorites every day until Halloween. So, put on your 3-D spex, pop some popcorn and turn out the lights .... because we're going to the movies!


Overheard at Musso and Frank Grill around 1997 ...

“You know what?  Crazy idea.  But follow me.  Let’s actually show the audience a good time for once.”

“Har-dee-har-har.  And just how do you intend to pull that off?”

“Well, I was thinking... what if we put in fun stuff and laughs and thrills into a horror movie.  But we won’t let Kevin Williamson poison it with postmodernism.  That’s the hook.”

“Okay... okay.  I’ll bite.  None of this PG-13 crap, though.”

“PG-13 can kiss my keister, buddy!”

“So, no PG-13.  Can we bring back breasts?  We don’t get those in horror movies anymore.  And they’re the cheapest special effect.  It’s not like they were banned.”

“Breasts?  Hell, we’ll give them a whole CGI Monster Made of Writhing Naked Women!”


“In a great big climactic fight with no irony.  Just wild action and Lovecraftian weirdness!  Exploding floors!  Crashing stained glass windows!  Crazy nightmare machines!  But... (conspiratorially)  with ghosts.”
“You mean, ghosts that won’t turn out to be our misunderstood friends at the end?  So, let me guess, they’re us!”

“Um, neither.  They haven’t ruined horror for a while with those movies, yet.  But M. Night’s working on it.  It’s 1997.  We’re still safe.  No.  We’ll -- and get this -- make the ghosts evil.”

“You’re asking for too much.  Next, you’ll say we can assemble a cast of charming actors who win us over because they look like they’re having so much fun making the movie.  What are you?  The messiah?”

“My friend, I will raise an underrated SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE actor from a dead career and get a quirky, endearing-but-serious performance out of him.”

“Okay, okay.  You’re taking a lot of risks here.  But I’ll top you.  What if we also leave out long shots of gray existential dread and leave out an expressionlessly brooding, laconic hero we’re supposed to get behind, but secretly can’t?  No Eastwood crap.”

“Christ, no.  No Eastwood crap.  Hell, let’s leave out ‘a woman with a chip on her shoulder who turns out to be the macho one with a level head!’”

“One better, let’s make her normal and relatable, but... okay, follow me... not a secretly chosen messiah-type.”

“In fifteen years, Whedon will never forgive us.”

“I know! Haw!  In fact, we won’t wink at the audience.  What we’ll do is tell an interesting story that has laughs coming from situationally driven character needs.”

“Listen to you.  Mr. MENSA.  But you have to have a demographic mix in the cast.  Can there be a black guy?”

“There’ll be a black guy.  There’ll be a guy with big eyebrows.  The whole spectrum.  And the black guy?  The black guy?  Here’s the twist.  He lives at the end.”

“That implies a happy ending.”

“I know!”

“You’re crazy, that would make us like JAWS, a highly entertaining movie beloved by millions.  You can’t do that!”

“Can’t I?  I’ll even leave out the boring parts.”

“You can’t leave out the boring parts.  You have to have some.  What about the exposition?  Surely we can make that boring.”

“All gone.”

“That’s not a movie.  It’s a stunt.  The kind that William Castle would have pulled.”


“Good sir, you have just requested the main dish; let’s make it a remake of a William Castle movie!”

“You can’t do that!  William Castle films are sacred ground.  Who would do something that crass?”

“William Castle.”

“Zing!  But there’s no Vincent Price.  So, no Vincent Price, no movie.”

“Oh, I think I can find an Oscar-winning actor and dress him up like Vincent Price mit ascot. Let him chew the scenery to pieces!”

“So, he’ll act like Vincent Price?”

“No!  He’ll act like a straight John Waters who sold out and went hilariously bitter!”

“Are you sure this is horror and not science fiction?”

“More fantastic than that.  I’m going to make it interesting.  All of it.  Not since Beyond the Valley of the Dolls will such a feat have been attempted!”

“Not gonna happen.  It’s impossible.  That’s just the science of screenwriting.  I mean, what about Robert McKee?  Syd Field?  They won’t let it happen.”

“Just.  Watch.  Me.”

“And just who do you think you are?”

“Oh, just Robert Zemeckis.  Perhaps you’ve heard of me and my little friend, Oscar.”

Yeah, the conversation went thataway.  At least, the movie looks and feels like it did. 

Cigars were smoked and highballs were quaffed in sybaritic measure.

I won’t say that the 1999 remake of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is a truly scary movie, but it’s a helluva lot of fun.  It shows audiences the kind of fun that we so cherish in horror films.  It has colorful characters, catty dialogue, suspense, gore, ghosts, a twisted eroticism, superbly atmospheric art direction, music of sweeping grandeur, and most daringly of all, a happy ending. 

So, invite some friends over, watch it, and have a good time already. 

You’re welcome. 

PATRICK McCRAY is a well known comic book author who resides in Knoxville, Tenn., where he's been a drama coach and general nuisance since 1997. He has a MFA in Directing and worked at Revolutionary Comics and on the early days of BABYLON 5, and is a frequent contributor to The Collinsport Historical Society. You can find him at The Collins Foundation. 


Jamie Pellerin said...

Just wanted to pop in and say that I'm glad to find I'm not the only one who loves this movie. It really is a lot of fun, and Geoffrey Rush is a riot in his role as Stephen "Goddamn" Price. I think HoHH and Ghost Ship are the best of the Dark Castle run of horror movies.

Liam Vincent said...

I never really felt any love for this version, but the original is an indisputable cult classic, my favourite "bad" movie. Sure, some of the acting is laughably bad, and the effects cheesy and low-budget, but it's all in good fun. And besides, it's got Vincent Price, probably my favourite horror film actor period. No Halloween is ever complete for me without a viewing of 1959's "House on Haunted Hill".

Cousin Barnabas said...

I'm pretty sure that's the actress who played Gozer in GHOSTBUSTERS in that second screencap.

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