Traditionally, a remake of a horror movie is going to stink. Sure, this can be said about more than half of all remakes, regardless of genre, but it’s especially true with horror movies, because unless the new movie goes off in a completely new direction, the suspense and the fear factor have been eliminated.
This was somewhat true with House on Haunted Hill (1999), which was a remake of the 1958 film of the same name, and it’s even more true with this film, a remake of Roger Corman’s 1960 movie.
An eccentric rich dude (if he were poor, he’d just be weird) who loves collecting oddities bequeathes his house and all the goofy stuff in it to his unsuspecting nephew Arthur (Tony Shalhoub) and his family. The house is a gorgeous mansion, although it is stuffed with some truly gruesome antiquities. Oh, but the late Uncle Cyrus (whom Arthur met a couple of times, tops) certainly danced to a different drummer, so the weirdness quotient’s acceptable. His house is away from everything else – not a neighbor for miles, the lawyer tells them all – lending a supposedly eerie atmosphere to the murky, muddled script.
Arthur is joined by his lovely daughter Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth – you might remember her from being scantily clad in the American Pie movies), his morbid young son Bobby (Alec Roberts), and his son’s nanny Maggie (Rah Digga). The mother died in a fire, a fact that’s brought up more than once throughout the movie. It’s all about ghosts, you see, just in case you were misled by the film’s title. Ghosts and souls and fun, uplifting stuff like that.
At any rate, the family gets this house, but weird things happen even before Arthur signs the paperwork. For one thing, there’s the wacky dude named Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) who palled around with ol’ Uncle Cyrus (played by F. Murray Abraham – remember when he won an Oscar for Amadeus? Poor guy can’t catch a break now, generally playing heavies, but this is a new low for his career). Seems Rafkin knows more than a little about these weird goings on. So what’s it all about? There are thirteen ghosts, collected there by Uncle Cyrus, and there’s also a whole buncha money, safely stowed inside a whole horkin’ ton of traps.
But Arthur and his clan just want to get out of the house, which sealed itself shut as soon as possible. The ghosts don’t want them to leave, y’see, because they’re basically ghosts of Really Bad People (oh, and they can only be seen through use of these nifty special glasses). Naturally, the kids get lost, separated from their dad who must, with the dubious help of Rafkin, somehow locate them before they’re tortured and killed by the spirits. Or something like that.
This movie is about 95% screams – and no, that’s not a good thing, no matter how enamored you are of slasher films. The plot is simplistic and is largely unnecessary, given the massive budget for effects (I’m reluctant to call them ‘special’). There’s much shrieking, probably so designed to distract the viewer from the unending, undying crappiness of the film itself. Forget the acting – there is none. These people take every cliche from the Great Book of Horror Movies and overact their way to stupendous boredom. It’s a lesson in ennui, which is tough when you’re trying to make a horror movie. One fun pasttime for those watching the movie is to see how dumb and gullible the characters are. This is a time-honored tradition; ever sit down and watch a cheesy 70s horror movie, pointing out the utter stupidity of the Dumb Blonde who comes back to the cabin to find none of her friends around, then proceeds to take a shower – with the bathroom door open? Sure, we’ve all done that. That’s about all you can do with this waste of time, too. In the grand pantheon of horror movies, it’s pretty awful, albeit slightly better than that benchmark of Crappidom, Blair Witch Project II: Book of Shadows.
Thirteen Ghosts: 1