I saw House on Haunted Hill on its opening night – October 29th, 1999. A stone’s throw from the last Halloween of the ‘90s. I wonder if that’s why I have such fond memories of it?
I really do. I think it’s amazing. Too many people focus on its admittedly dopey ending, and forget that the ride leading up to it was so much fun. The remake of William Castle’s 1959 film was one of the few times that “tongue-in-cheek horror” worked perfectly for me. The film never took itself seriously… except when it needed to. The result was a horror movie that let you in on the joke, but never lost sight of what it was there for. From the way it looked to the way it sounded, everything (well, almost everything) just clicked.
Need a refresher? Here’s one of the early scares:
In the film, a group of seemingly unrelated guests try to win a million bucks by surviving a night in an abandoned asylum. What’s supposed to only have the trappings of an everyday dark ride (animatronic fake-outs and the like) becomes much more sinister: The asylum has a terrible history, and the spirits of those who suffered there have apparently never left.
That conceit gave House on Haunted Hill the chance to be a little bit of everything. It was a “bad ghosts” movie. A “monster” movie. A “mad doctor” movie. A “Hellraiser” movie. A “survive the apocalypse” movie. It had so much going for it, including the greatest possible setting: An asylum that was more like a castle, filled with psychotic medical equipment. Perfect!
With luck on my side, I was able to dig up House on Haunted Hill’s official site, from 1999. The remnants were an aggravating puzzle that took way too long to put together, but I’m glad I went through the trouble. This site had serious charm.
Even by 1999, studios were still “picking their shots” with the internet. Not every movie got the super huge online push that even the lowest level films might get today. Like I’ve mentioned in previous editions of Deadsites, there was a subtle uniformity to most of these pages. Many existed simply because they had to exist, and beyond the barebones content (cast list, story summary and low-quality image gallery), there wasn’t always much to enjoy.
House on Haunted Hill’s site, by contrast, had PLENTY to enjoy. Had I thought to look it up back in 1999 – the dial-up days – I’m sure I would’ve wasted a few hours in there.
I’m gonna rush through the “Overview” portion, because if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Older movie sites were generally no more thorough than press kits. Thankfully, this one had more to offer!
The “Cast” section (which I’ve reconstructed to avoid an 72” graphic) reminds me of another reason why I love this movie: I’m a fan of so many of its stars.
Geoffrey Rush killed it in his lead role, as the snaky puppet master who gets in over his head with his choice of playground. Playing his character’s ambivalent wife was Famke Janssen, still a few months shy of her X-Men resume point. (Famke’s character, Evelyn, won me over during her first scene by drinking a Bloody Mary. I guess I’m an easy sell.)
And Ari Larter? Every time I see her in something, it’s a crush reinvigorated.
All of these great actors, AND Sandy from The O.C.!
AND Lisa Loeb, too! I forgot Lisa Loeb! Even she was in this movie!
Last but not least: Bridgette Wilson. She’s the girl you saw in that video clip. Her role in the film was short, but this old website reminded me that she also played Sonya in Mortal Kombat. Holy shit. Sonya Blade was in this movie?!
Why haven’t we been making a bigger deal about this cast? It’s like some hyper-idealized version of Dancing with the Stars, only instead of dancing, everyone gets eviscerated by the demons from Jacob’s Ladder. Fuck yeah.
WAIT, I ALMOST FORGOT!
THE GUY FROM RE-ANIMATOR! HE PLAYED DR. VANNACUTT!
Okay, I’ll stop now.
I love that the film had its own dedicated message board. I couldn’t pull up the individual threads, but there sure were a LOT of them.
House on Haunted Hill wasn’t what you’d call a “big event” movie. There couldn’t have been a huge amount of “fan intrigue” surrounding it. The fact that it inspired a whole community just warms my heart. (Especially when you consider that this community lasted from before the movie’s debut all the way through its DVD release.)
I’m sure that most of the posts were written by passersby and instantly forgotten, but it’s nice to imagine a handful of dedicated HOHH fans making it a part of their daily routine. There was a genuineness to that sort of participation that’s pretty hard to find on today’s internet.
Also: I will go to my grave hating the fact that I don’t know the meaning behind mackygirl’s thread title.
God damn it, that could mean anything.
In a neat promotion, the first audiences who saw House on Haunted Hill may have received game cards. The impossible grand prize was $100,000, but you at least had a fairly good chance of winning a free Blockbuster rental.
Those Blockbuster rentals also helped the associated parties “lie” about the game’s scope. They made a huge deal about how this was a “million dollar giveaway,” but only $160,000 of that was straight up cash. The rest – all $840,000 of it – was in rental coupons. Sneaky!
And now we’re up to the good part. The whole reason I’m here!
A fair number of ancient movie sites came with associated Flash games, based on whatever movie was being promoted. I showed you one example when I reviewed Lake Placid’s site. Having looked at dozens if not hundreds of similar pages since then, I can confirm that the games almost never work anymore. (Coding grows obsolete, and the root files aren’t always archived.) I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been left weeping over late ‘90s web treasures that never move past their Shockwave loading screens.
It took a lot of digging to make this one come back to life, but in the end, I was able to see, hear and play Escape from House on Haunted Hill. You’ll have the chance to do the same in a minute. First, let me gush about this tiny, silly game!
Those are actual-sized screenshots. It’s amazing to think that this was a studio-fronted official thing, but that just adds to the charm.
In the game, you maneuver some guy in red clothes through the perilous halls of the Vannacutt Psychiatric Institute for the Criminally Insane. There are three levels. Your goal in each is to find the keys and make a safe exit before you’re killed (or pushed into a bottomless pit) by spooks in straitjackets.
If you succeed, you get to see a crude graphic representing one million dollars. If you fail, you get to see a crude graphic representing YOU DEAD.
The placement of the keys is randomized. Depending on where they are, the game is either incredibly easy or outright impossible. If you’re willing to endure the bloody torments of Vannacutt’s haunted asylum, click here to give the game a whirl!
I adore House on Haunted Hill’s ancient website. Before stumbling upon it, I admit that it’d been many years since I even thought of that movie, let alone watched it. I feel like it’s one of those horror films that got lost in the shuffle.
Well, no more! On the list it goes! I must see it again before Halloween. I know I’ll get ticked when Chris Kattan gets all “golden ghost,” but man, there were a lot of good parts to balance things out. Recommended!