Sunday, September 12, 2010

Similarly Titled Films: The Haunting and House on Haunted Hill

Wait, what? Those films don't have similar titles!

Okay, I'm cheating a little here. But here's my defense: The Haunting is a shortened title for the book that the movie is based on, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, which is obviously very similar to the title, House on Haunted Hill. Ha! I win.

But wait again. Are we talking about the original Haunting or the crappy remake? Is this the Vincent Price awesome House on Haunted Hill or the equally awesome Geoffrey Rush gorefest remake of House on Haunted Hill? I say, what the hell. Let's do 'em all!

First up, a William Castle chiller classic and its relatively faithful remake which completely upped the production design and gore to crazy levels. I give you:

Yes, evil does love to party. And both of these parties were quite an experience, were they not? I had been in love with the remake of House on Haunted Hill for a while before I caught the original (included in a DVD 2-pack with The Last Man on Earth). Vincent Price kind of rules, so I figured this movie would be good, but not at all scary or shocking. I grew up on the gory slashers of the 80s. They're more my style. Anyway, this was also my first and so far only foray into William Castle films, so I was totally unaware of his style and reputation for sort of campy, over-the-top chillers. But I was a little shocked at some of the scenes from this early horror film - House on Haunted Hill has some amazing scenes that totally inspired the remake and is what helped make that movie as special as it was.

Some random comments:

1) The bedroom scene with Vincent Price and his wife was kind of FANTASTIC. I think they pulled off the hatred/amusement towards each other much better than Geoffrey Rush and Famke Janssen in the remake. 

2) What the fuck was up with that floating crazy man-woman in the basement? Of course the truth is revealed later, but you have to admit that that dude (chick?) made you say WTF, mates? Abnormally floating across the room on a skateboard, this woman (seriously, I know it's supposed to be a woman, but one could argue either way on this) scares the bejeesus out of poor Nora not once, but twice. Why can't they leave her alone?                        
3) Why was there no ginormous vat of acid in the remake? That would have made a freaking incredible death scene. Losers. Instead they go for a lame scare with a vat of blood that almost swallows Ali Larter. Ho hum.

4) Related to No. 3, the skeleton that came out of the vat of acid, as ridiculous and funny as it is now, actually freaked me a little when I first saw it. The way it dangles across the room... simply wonderful!

5) Love the little coffins with guns in them, although the set up is much better pulled off in the remake.

Now, the remake is plain and simple a wonderfully gory good time. Same basic set up, only the ghosts are much, much nastier in this film - perhaps because there were no real ghosts in the original (oops). Haunted insane asylum? Pretty much the scariest thing in the world.  The only downside to me, though, is the ending. With the huge ghost-manifestation-of-all-the people-it's-killed thing absorbing Geoffrey Rush. "We're all here. All the ones who've died." It just seemed a little too fantastical and over-the-top.
Everything else, though, the blood and guts and weird spinning contraption and supposed death by electro-shock all make for a great remake to a great film. The mood is very different in both - the remake is genuinely frightening because people might actually DIE, while all the haunting stuff in the original was just a set up by Vincent Price and his wife because they wanted to kill each other - however, they are both fun movies with a great cast of characters. The remake totally owns in the setting department. I mean, hello! Look at this:


You just can't beat that location. Shall I say, splendid?

Next up, we're talking about:


The Haunting remake sucks. And that concludes my review. 

Elaboration? Okay, I love my Liam Neeson and Lili Taylor but even they couldn't save this bad CG infested, ridiculous mess with not even a hint of scare moment anywhere. The big finale at the end? More like a big yawn... and even more bad CG. It felt like the shit we saw in The Frighteners - CG ghosts not meant to be scary, but funny. 

(Don't read that last sentence the wrong way, I loooove The Frighteners.)

Now, The Haunting original I just watched again after many years and while it still did not scare me in the least, it has a much more eerie feeling. Eleanor is our main character and narrator for the film, but she's a bit of an unreliable narrator. Unstable after the death of her mother and no idea who she is or what she's going to do now, Eleanor is immediately drawn to Hill House and the feeling of belonging she gets from it. Everyone else could really care less about the house, especially Luke, but Eleanor comes from nowhere and has nowhere to go, so the house focuses on her and she on it. This original is more a character study than a haunted house story, while the remake seemed to focus solely on the haunting.

The Haunting original has chilling music, an elaborately decorated house, subtle whispers, and the inner monologue rants of a fantasizing woman. The remake doesn't come close to any of that, but seems to be rather a farce of the original. Character study? Pfft! What we need are some freaking ghosts! Bring on Hugh Crain! What a laugh. Bad movie. Bad, bad movie.

If you're a Shirley Jackson fan (*raises hand*) then The Haunting will mos def be your cup of tea (I prefer We Have Always Lived in the Castle), and you will spit on the remake as most horror fans do. I don't know of a remake that is more hated - The Wicker Man, perhaps (shame on me, I actually kind of like that one)? Actually, I can't really elaborate more on the remake because I haven't seen it but one or two times a long while ago. Obviously haven't watched it again because it sucks. 

The original is a classic, and I appreciate it... but I don't necessarily like it that much. It's not something you can watch over and over again because you pretty much get it right from the first viewing. It's fairly simple to analyze and there's not much that you have go back over and watch again. It's frankly just not my kind of haunted house movie. If you learn anything about me from reading my stuff, you should learn that I freaking love supernatural movies. But I'm talking Poltergeist-like supernatural, or even GD Paranormal Activity freaked me out at least one part ("I can feel it breathing on me" - and then her hair moves - GAAAHHHHH!!!). Not just some banging on the walls and retarded cold spots. My ghosts need to move shit around, or do anything that resembles an Asian ghost story to really scare the fuck out of me. Nice try, Haunting, but I was never in the least bit scared of Hill House.

Sidenote: If anybody has any other similarly titled films in mind that I could include in my series, please let me know. I've got one more in my arsenal, but then I'm kind of tapped. Help!


  1. I haven't seen the originals but I loved the remakes. I remember seeing the Haunting when it came out and the voices of the ghost children always creeped me out.

    House on Haunted Hill is one of my favorite horror movies even the sequel to the remake was pretty good. For more similarly titled movies try Children of the Corn and The Children that's the only one I could think of and their both about evil children :D

  2. I agree with your thoughts 100 percent. The original HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is a cool film. I really like the remake as well. The sequence where Geoffrey Rush is trapped in that room and that crazy stuff happens is a highlight. I saw it in a crowded theater and it freaked me out.

    THE HAUNTING is a classic horror film. I really think it's one of the best ghost films of all time. The remake can suck it though. Ugh.




    THE UNINVITED (ok that might be a stretch...)

  4. I love both of them....
    Especially The House On Haunted Hill.

    Great post, in general.

  5. jervaise brooke hamsterSeptember 19, 2010 at 3:15 AM

    With regards to "HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL" the original has perhaps the greatest re-watchability factor of all-time, where-as the remake was good but didn`t have the charm, magic, cosyness or soothing qualitys of the original. Moving on to "THE HAUNTING" i`ve always thought the original was a tad over-rated and the remake a tad under-rated, i`d put them about level.

  6. I always get Shirley Jackson's The Haunting Of Hill House (aka The Haunting) confused with The Legend Of Hell House, which is a superb horror movie from the seventies.

    If you haven't seen or heard of The Legend Of Hell House, so hunt it down. Written by Richard Matheson and starring Roddy McDowell, it's one of the best haunted house movies out there.

    Any if you love the music of Orbital, you owe it to yourself to see this movie.

    Aaron Masters.