Monthly Archives: October 1999

House on Haunted Hill (1999)

There are some classic horror pics in haunted houses, and the Vincent Price cheese-fest original of House on Haunted Hill is one. The original was campy fun and worth rewatches, but how does the remake fare with a 40 year age gap between the two?

What House on Haunted Hill miraculously achieves what Jan DeBont’s Haunting had tumble through its sticky CGI fingers: the establishment of a true unsettling mood. All throughout Hill you can actually feel the seething, eerie mood inspired from the wonderfully creepy ambiance of the constructed sets. It has a darker component and launches into many sequences of frightening imagery that seem like left-overs from Jacob’s Ladder but are no less effective. So maybe the plot is basically a premise that once established pretty much thins out to non-existence. You will be thinking to yourself that half of the flick is people wandering aimlessly in the bowels of an asylum when they should have enough common sense to not be.

There is no relevant acting since the cast is regarded to fill out the standard stereotypes and yell cheesy zingers at one another with F-bombs spliced into every line. This ain’t yo’ daddy’s House on Haunted Hill! Geoffery Rush, who talked funny in Shine and won an Oscar and who talked funny in Shakespeare in Love and got an Oscar nomination, gleefully plays the host of the supernatural shindig. And he talks funny. Taye Diggs surmises the “funny non-white” character, Chris Kattan surmises the “goofy nutball” character, Famke Janssen plays the “bitchy wife… who can crush people with her thighs” character, and the rest of the cast are interchangeable blondes who actually do get a bit interchanged physically.

Hill is a good shift in your seat spooker up until the end which just really drops the ball beyond belief into a cheap cop-out. Everything up until the part where the “ultimate evil” cloud of charcoal or something is visually haunting and solid entertainment even if it has to run to gore well once too often. But this whole slow moving cloud descends the movie into mediocrity and it just gets more hokey as it goes. The effects for the “ultimate evil” are preposterously bad and wouldn’t frighten a 4-year old with a bladder problem.

Up until the final ten minutes or so, House on Haunted Hill is a guilty pleasure directed sharply to instill the correct senses one should bring out of the story and setting. Hill has moments of inspiration and memorable scenes of horrific faceless demons and hallucinatory flashes of the macabre and bizarre. But the absurdly thrown together ending drowns what could have been a real Halloween treat.

Nate’s Grade: B-

Being John Malkovich (1999)

I think I’ll simply surmise the emphasis of this review in one opening sentence: The most refreshingly and exhilarating original movie in years. MTV music video chief royale Spike Jonze directs a modern day fable that is a hallucinatory trip through the looking glass and into man’s thirst for celebrity. While Malkovich is stuffed with enough brilliant gags to kill the Austin Powers franchise, it is also a deeply articulate and insightful piece about the longing for love and fame. The movie is often thought-provoking while side-splitingly hilarious.

I will not spill one lick of Charlie Kaufman’s plot to ensure the viewing audience the pleasure of astute surprise, and there is plenty. Malkovich is the first film in a long time to have just as many unexpected twists and turns in the final 30 minutes as it does in the first 30 minutes. The acting is wonderful consisting of John Cusack’s greasy puppeteer loser, to Cameron Diaz’s frumpy animal loving wife, to Catherine Keener’s man-eating ice queen, to even a wonderful inspired parody of John Malkovich as himself playing himself.

Being John Malkovich isn’t afraid to tackle weighty subjects such as gender identity or the hunger to be somebody, but it never looks down upon the characters or the audience but instead treats each with nurturing respect. The movie is a breeze of fresh air in a field cluttered with too many formulaic fluff appealing to mass audiences and consumer goods. Malkovich is destined to become a cult classic and deservedly so. The flick is a spurt of creative madness bordering on genius that one wonders how it ever made it into release with today’s society and studio heads. God bless you Spike Jonze and you too Charlie Kaufman. Fare thee well.

Nate’s Grade: A

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