Hollywood takes opposite stabs at haunted house theme
July 14, 1999
From Dennis Michael
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Here's the story of two haunted houses. The first is "The Haunting," based on the Shirley Jackson novel "The Haunting Of Hill House." The DreamWorks production is the epitome of big-budget Hollywood, with spectacular sets that suggest Charles Foster Kane's Xanadu on a particularly bad night.
"When I first came on the set and just saw just the huge scale of everything, it was 'gosh,' and we were like little humble humans walking around trying to act in here," says actress Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Literally across town, on a tiny set with a limited budget, Dark Castle Productions is remaking "The House on Haunted Hill." The titles sound alike, but they're as different as night and, well, another night.
"The Haunting" originally was made as a high-class supernatural drama. This version, headed by director Jan de Bont, aims to cleave even closer to the book than the first version.
"They couldn't do it at the time," de Bont says. "They didn't have the technical possibilities or the technology. We, I think, are more faithful to the book also in regards to the last chapter of the book, what happens to it, because the house plays a big part."
"The House on Haunted Hill," on the other hand, is a classic example of the beloved cheesy '50s matinee horror film. The original take on this haunted house, released in 1959, was directed by William Castle, the master of the low-budget shocker.
"I really always liked the Bill Castle pictures," says Bill Malone, who directed the 1999 version. "I thought they were terrific. And the start of the story is very much like the original picture. I mean, it really has the same setup and so forth, and but it diverges quite drastically from the original picture, and it's a much more updated version."
In "The Haunting," Liam Neeson brings a batch of students into the haunted mansion to conduct research. In "House on Haunted Hill," a group of desperate people are offered $1 million each to spend a single night in the house. And although its budget doesn't compare to that for "The Haunting," co-star Geoffrey Rush thinks it has a classiness all its own.
"The look of the film is very elegant, as if it's some bizarre, stylish dinner party gone horribly wrong," he says.
As different as they are, "The Haunting" and "The House On Haunted Hill" have one other thing very much in common: a real affection for things that go bump on the screen.
"I haven't seen movies like that in a long time," de Bont says. "Yes, there have been a lot of, you know, guts -- gory horror movies, which are not my favorites, but nothing has come close to those movies of over 20 years ago."
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