When an eccentric millionaire offer a group of opposites $1,000,000 to spend the night in a so called "Haunted House" with a murderous past, they figure it is a quick way to get quick money and leave. All of them are sure it is some made up story just to mess with their heads a little and test their courage. But, once they stay in the house they start to think about the mistake they made in coming there when mysterious things start to happen.
House on Haunted Hill
is one of the new breed of waste-no-time thrill machines, like Deep Blue Sea
, and a particularly effective example at that. The plot is pure contrivance: For a party stunt, a wealthy amusement-park manufacturer (Geoffrey Rush) offers five people a million dollars if they spend the night in a former insane asylum where the patients murdered the sadistic staff. But it turns out the five people who arrive aren't the five he invited--did his wife (Famke Janssen), who hates him, make the switch? From there events unfold with a smart combination of human and supernatural machinations; spooky jolts are dispensed at regular, but not entirely predictable, intervals. The visual effects owe a considerable debt to Jacob's Ladder
, a much more ambitious movie; House on Haunted Hill
just wants to get under your skin, and succeeds more than you'd expect. Rush is his entertainingly hammy self; Janssen, Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, and Bridgette Wilson are attractive and reasonably straight-faced about it all; and Chris Kattan is genuinely funny as the house's neurotic owner. Some elements of the plot seem to have been lost in the editing process, but it hardly matters. More bothersome is that the scares go flat when computer effects take over at the end--the digital images just aren't as creepy as the more suggestive stuff that came before. But that's just the very end; most of the movie has a lot of momentum. Watch until the end of the credits for a final bit of eeriness. --Bret Fetzer