Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The House on Haunted Hill *cue evil laughter*

I just finished watching the 1999 version of House On Haunted Hill. My God, I forgot how much I enjoy that film. Granted, it doesn't scare me anymore (unlike The Shining, which terrifies me more and more each viewing) but there are so many subtle nuances and plotlines I never noticed I completely missed before. Beware: what follows is a rant about a film that most people probably didn't see.

I wonder if the film was lost in a sea of other mainstream late-90s films. There are undeniable similarities between this film and The Haunting remake or the Blair Witch 2 (the latter also being an under-rated film) and perhaps in the wake of the original Blair Witch Project, audiences were just too blasé to the more tradition styled horror film. I've always liked this film though, finding it having just the right amount of disturbing visuals and intriguing plot with constant turns.

Watching it again tonight (and projected for the first time), I was glad I still enjoyed it, and maybe even appreciated it even more. I decidedly analysed the acting to see if it was full of the usual B-movie downfalls you'd expect, but no, each character has a driven character and the actors are nothing short of world class. Geoffrey Rush is so perfect as the Vincent Price-like character, even though it's a role that could have gone so wrong. I applaud you, Mr. Rush. With that said, I don't think there's a single character I could not give accolades to.

Then looking at the films visuals, the mind boggles that when a film can be made look as good as this, we still have underwhelming ugly pieces of trash littering the cinema screens now. Without wanking cinematic language, the film has no compositions that feel awkward and all the lighting, though very stylized, gives the film that other-worldly look that is just stunning. For anyone with an overabundance of free time and nothing else to do, look at how many different creatures and odd designs show up. Some of them only last for a few frames whereas a different film would dwell on them to get the most bang for their buck. The understating of this is fantastic.

Many moments recall early Marilyn Manson videos, which is to say they are eerie in a 'what the hell is that on that guy' kinda vibe. If you've seen the Silent Hill film, you get the jist of this style. There is something Gothic yet modern about it, something to make you look in disgust and decide is it horror or art. Mentioning Marilyn Manson, this films use of Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) is what got me into the shock-rocker. It is one of my favourite uses of music in a film, I must say.

The film only downfalls in minor places (some clichéd music cues and some bad powdered hair), but all in all, this is as close to the perfect haunted house film as I have seen (matched by the original version of The Haunting). Filmmakers would do well to learn from the horrorshow on display here. The elements that others (understandably) consider the downfall of this film could be improved upon and we could see something so rare; a good haunted house film that people can respect. Someone get Christopher Nolan on that shit to reboot it gritty Dark Knight style.

Obviously I'm gushing fanboy here. I really enjoyed this film. I understand why it didn't win any Oscars. I can see why some people might not like it. What I cannot understand is how it got so many bad reviews when it came out. This film should have been a catalyst for a new and exciting age of horror film. Let's face it, the majority of late 80s and 90s horror sucked (bar the groundbreakers; Scream and Blair Witch). This film gave some class and beauty to the ailing genre (I guess it would be irresponsible not to mention William Malone, who I cannot say I am familiar with otherwise, but this film gives me enough to respect him wholeheartedly) and for it to not even be remembered by most is... well, it's sad, really. I truly believe this film may have gotten lost in the post-Blair Witch hype and was never found again.

What I think would be appropriate, is for horror fans, or those with a fleeting interest in the genre (it's negotiable!) to check this film out. Buy it, rent it, download it, whatever. Just give this little gem another chance. It's not Citizen Kane, but then again, how much better would Citizen Kane have been if it featured a haunted asylum?