"No live organism can continue to exist sanely without a little creativity or originality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hollywood, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding emptiness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, sequels continued mindlessly, agents met neatly, salaries and egos were inflated, and minds were sensibly shut; stupidity lay steadily against the sequels and remakes of Hollywood, and whatever filmed there, filmed awry."
I have a special loathing for The Haunting 1999. Not that it's really all that miserable a movie, provided you judge it on its own strengths. Certainly, it's not very good, especially in the script department; and the effects, while well-accomplished, are more silly than frightening. The house they chose as an external location is a rather fine-looking haunted house, though. The much-lauded set design and sound design deserved most of the praise they received -- as movie sets, though pointedly not as convincing backdrops for the action of the story. Under other circumstances, The Haunting 1999 might have passed quietly into oblivion, as will this year's Lake Placid and Bats, to sit forever on the video store shelves next to Nightwing, Maxim Xul and Beyond Darkness.
There is a catch, though.
You see, the novel on which this movie is supposedly based, Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House", is one of the few genuine, indisputable classics that the horror genre can lay claim to. Perhaps only "Frankenstein", "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and "The Turn of the Screw" can approach it in terms of literacy, intelligence and psychological validity. What's more, the 1963 Robert Wise film is not to be taken lightly either: though it's shot in black and white, and though no ghosts are ever seen or even proven to exist, it's still one of the most frightening movies ever made.
De Bont's film trashes everything that made its predecessors great. There is an apt comment made both in the novel and the earlier film, which hints at the subtle character of both: nothing ever moves in Hill House until the moment you look away, and then you catch a slight movement out of the corner of your eye... On the contrary, in de Bont's Hill House, nothing ever stays still -- statues, curtains, ornaments, doors, ceilings, windows, and yes, fully visible, unambiguous GHOSTS turn the place into even more of a funhouse than the set designers intended. Shirely Jackson's Hill House was a metaphor for the human mind, where the angles never quite add up, and where the doors remain shut until forced; de Bont's absurd Hill House is simply a metaphor for his own CGI-driven movie.
Intelligent horror fans are jealous of their masterpieces, and in this case -- for a change -- they didn't walk alone. A host of mainstream critics, scholars and fans joined them and tore this movie to tiny shreds in the press, on the Internet and even in the theatres. In fact, except for the chimney scene, the only things jumping up and going "BOO!" during the whole picture were in the audience.
So why am I wasting more words on this piece of crap?
Actually, I think I've figured out why this movie was born bad: I'll bet Jan de Bont saw Robert Wise's terrific film, and thought it was based on Richard Matheson's explicit, pulpy variation on Jackson's theme, "Hell House". Hill House, Hell House, they sound about the same, especially through a Dutch accent.
So naturally, de Bont must have been a little mystified by Wise's low-key approach. Matheson's novel has gallons of blood, slime and ectoplasm where Jackson's had little or none. Jackson's discreet hints about Theo's sexual orientation are replaced by at least one scene of graphic lesbian sex in Matheson. Jackson's shadowy Hugh Crain is almost completely peripheral to the REAL "haunting" of Hill House (if there even is a real haunting, which is never made clear); the House is an extension of his warped soul, certainly, but he is only one of a whole cast of warped souls, abusers and their willing victims, each of whom has a part to play in the grand scheme of things. By contrast, Matheson's Emeric Belasco is the evil supernatural genius behind every aspect of the haunting of HELL House, and the thought of an unambiguous Bad Guy seems to have appealed to de Bont's prosaic mind.
Let's take a closer look, shall we?
See what I mean? Can there be any doubt? It's Emeric Belasco who comes thundering out of the painting in de Bont's painfully confused movie, NOT Hugh Crain. Seen in this light, de Bont's "Haunting" emerges as a mediocre version of "Hell House" rather than a dismal, almost sacrilegious trashing of both Jackson's and Wise's work.
Of course, this argument is also overstated and over-simplified... but perhaps that was my point.
There are some more problems with this view of the new "Haunting": "Hell House" has already been made into a movie, an incredibly high-octane 70's frightener with Roddy McDowell, The Legend of Hell House. There really was no reason, in this world or beyond, for The Haunting 1999 to be made. This being the case, it's no wonder that the Great Jabootu, god of Bad Cinema, has decreed that yet another movie travesty should disgrace both Jackson and Matheson in 1999: The Haunting of Hell House (!!!!!), starring Michael York, was listed as "Completed" in an Internet Movie Database entry for October 12, 1999; and it's already (as of Nov. 1999) on VCD in Japan. Jan de Bont's film will no longer even enjoy the distinction of being the worst rip-off of its source material.
And with that, we can all spin a little faster in our graves.