The movie opens, okay, in an insane asylum in 1931, and there's this mean doctor dude and his friends Nurse Betty and Nurse Veronica, and Doctor Dude is cutting his patients open without anaesthesia while Nurse Betty holds them down and Nurse Veronica hand-cranks a camera and watches impassively, and there's a male nurse in a cage who's biding his time by sharpening pencils and writing stuff, and then they all get attacked by the inmates, who apparently in their insane state got it all together and said "Hey guys let's rise up against the doctor and Nurses Betty and Veronica and that guy who keeps sharpening pencils because apparently there's no other guards or orderlies in here, just these four, so I'll take half the group over to the pencil dude while Stuttering Bob takes the rest down to the operating theater and let's just kill 'em all in gruesome and gory ways."
So they do, and the pencil guy of course gets it in the neck with his pencils while the doctor is carved up and the nurses have their tops ripped off (four exposed breasts; Joe Bob sez check it out) cause it's a proven fact that A. you need that kinda stuff for a good solid R rating and B. crazy people are always like that, going RAWR KILL MAIM DESTROY DROWN CHOP UP OH WAIT BOOBS YAY BOOBS WHEE OKAY NOW BACK TO THE SLAUGHTER so all the evil people are killed but not before the doctor dude starts the BIG MACHINERY going that puts big metal sheets over all the doors and windows, and then one of the crazy guys picks up the hand-cranked movie camera and we see footage of him looking into it while there's still sound going on in the background and then oh hey we're in a newsreel that tells how there was a big fire at the insane asylum and everybody died and there's a whole bunch of charred corpses around but the fire apparently didn't burn the building down, just the people so it means the doctor and his gang died but all the crazy people too, and then Peter Graves of all people cuts in and it turns out we're watching newsreel on a TV show in a film hello meta and Peter gives us the rest of the exposition while some bitchy woman watches from her bathtub. I'm Peter Graves.
Then Geoffrey Rush shows up and he's a theme park owner and he's like a cross between Walt Disney, Vincent Price, John Waters and James Woods and he always wears his sunglasses, even at night, so he can. So he can. We meet him at his theme park which I think is called Class Action Park or something and he's opening a brand-new roller coaster and the reporter who is LISA LOEB is all "You say this is really scary well omg I'm not scared?" and Geoffrey Rush says "Well board this COMPLETELY NORMAL LOOKING ELEVATOR and let's find out" and then oh nos the elevator drops and everybody's cussing and shit and they look down through the grate at the ground approaching and then at the last minute it turns out to have been tv screens showing you falling and a recorded voice says "You have just survived Terror Incognita! Yay for you!" which is A. one hell of a bad spiel and B. a shitty name for a roller coaster that's in plain view. I mean, if you're gonna call it "Incognita" you might as well obscure it so people don't know what's going to happen. Anyway it doesn't really matter cause the coaster is really the Hulk from Islands of Adventure. Also those tv screens are gonna get gunked up in the first two weeks of this ride's operation from kids who spit down onto the grate or drop their bubble gum or wet themselves or stuff.
So Lisa Loeb goes to ride the coaster and wheeeeeeee off she goes and yaaaaaaaaaaaay it's fun and there's another train ahead of them on the tracks and they're going through the same inversions at the same time and I'm going okay I can understand video screens under an elevator grate whatever but that's not how roller coasters work, and then pop the track actually comes apart and whooooosh the first train goes flying off the tracks into oblivion and Lisa Loeb, who is in the second car, looks on in horror and some guy in her train whom we shall call Captain Obvious goes "OH MY GOD WE'RE GONNA GO OFF THE TRACKS" but no the track pops back into place just in time for them to safely complete the course, and that squealing you just heard were the cries of glee from a zillion personal injury lawyers. And that's the last we see of Lisa Loeb in the movie and that's a shame cause, like, Lisa Loeb, man.
The first train, it turns out, was a fake all along and full of realistic-looking human dummies but Geoffrey Rush (ol' G.R. from now on) wasn't happy cause Dummy #14 wasn't spurting blood like he was supposed to have. Never mind the fact that apparently he designed the ride with full confidence where he could predict where an off-the-tracks flying roller coaster train would land Every Single Time, or that people waiting to ride wouldn't have noticed the train full of Fake People going out before them, or that the shock and novelty would wear off around the entire park after, say, the third go-round. "Oh, look, the train's gone off the tracks again, Jim. Let's go get a churro."
Anyway the lesson we are to learn from all this is that ol' G.R. is a CRAZY MANS who likes to CREATE HIS OWN SCAAAAARY REALITY and if you're scared it's ALL FAKE OKAY JUST KEEP TELLING YOURSELF THAT. Also, we learn it's pretty clear that ol' G.R. got his start at a young age by charging neighborhood kids a quarter each to ride The Box Ride, where they got shoved into a cardboard box and pushed down a steep hill.
Oh! The lady in the bathtub turns out to be ol' G.R.'s wife as played by Famke Janssen or however you spell it, and it's her birthday coming up, and she wants nothing but to hold her birthday party in that insane asylum she saw on TV, cause she's just as batshit insane and morbid as ol' G.R. Also, nobody ever wonders why they call it the "House on Haunted Hill" when it's clearly the "Hospital on Haunted Hill" or maybe the "Nut House on Haunted Hill" and who the hell would purchase property on Haunted Hill, anyway? "Honey, we can build our house on Sunshine Acres or Haunted Hill, which would you like?" "Haunted Hill sounds good to me! I hear they've got a great school system."
Bitch Wife gives ol' G.R. her party guest list but he shreds it and makes his own guest list, which apparently consists of names of the movie's crewmembers. It's not really clear why he does that, except that he's a contemptible bastard and she's a morbid bitch and they do so hate each other and I mean a lot and you can tell cause when they say "Darling" they say it with sneers and also they keep saying things like "I'm gonna kill you" or at least hint at it. But no sooner does G.R. come up with his own guest list than he's called away from his computer and we watch as his names are MYSTERIOUSLY ERASED BY AN INVISIBLE HAND and new names put in and these people are the ones who show up at this party given by some dude they don't even know for some woman they don't even know at this place that's still being called THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL even though we've already established that name sucks and they should change it.
The people arrive at the gates of the house and they're greeted by the likes of Chris Kattan who would be enough to send most people running screaming into the night, but he's Friendly Chris Kattan who's also Very Very Scared of the house (they still insist on calling it "the house") because his family owns it, you see, and his grandpa died in it, and his dad died while renovating it, even though he also says the house hasn't been changed since the Nutjob Uprising of 1931 so you figure it out. But Chris Kattan gotta eat, so Chris Kattan rented the house out to G.R. and Evil Wife for their crazy party. Apparently he also gave G.R. free run of the place because he's apparently outfitted the place with crazy tricks and has one technician sitting in a little control room who presumably gets to press buttons like "TURN OFF ALL THE LIGHTS IN THE DINING ROOM" or "MAKE SCARY SHIT JUMP OUT IN HALLWAY 3B" or "MAKE THE ROLLER COASTER FLY OFF THE TRACKS" and "GIVE CHRIS KATTAN MORE SCREEN TIME."
Everybody shows up in the entry foyer of the asylum which doesn't look like an asylum up top but whatever, and there's a big ugly Cubist stained glass thing on the ceiling which Chris Kattan says is from an "ancient German" tapestry or picture or I don't know what, only it's weird cause I didn't think Cubism came from Ancient Germany. We are introduced to our Potential Meat Puppets this evening, who introduce themselves as if they themselves are auditioning for the role. Hi! I'm Movie Executive Lady, I like long walks on the beach and my turn-offs are bloody heaps of corpses! Hi! I'm Dr. Peter Gallagher MD, and I look dashing yet dark in my doctor's outfit! Hi! I'm Woman Who Works On A TV Show About Scary Things, and I've got a video camera so I can take footage of scary things so I can use it for the show! Hi! I'm Taye Diggs! I helped Stella get her groove back!
G.R. welcomes them all and gives the rules: anybody who survives a night in the house gets a cashier's check for one million bux made out to CASH. This is where Taye Diggs gets all "awwww yeah". Also, this is the worst birthday party ever, there's very little in the way of refreshments, no awesome cake, no balloons, no moon bounce, just a stupid game about staying alive in a crazy-ass haunted house of haunted horrors. Apparently everybody's cool with this, even when a segment of the stained glass ceiling comes crashing down on everyone and Bitch Wife nearly gets a shard through the head. Oh ho ho! G.R. you bastard, you! This was another one of your tricks, wasn't it? G.R. looks all innocent. Oh why it couldn't be my doing! He says. Even if it would have been nice if Bitch Wife had been killed. Oh, how droll.
Then there's a bit involving guns with the casings welded shut or something so you can't see if they're really loaded, and nobody thinks of actually firing one at a non-human target to make sure. Then KLANG FOOM all the security shields fall down and everybody's locked in for the night and again G.R. goes garsh, it wasn't me what done it. Oh and nobody can call for help because the metal in the shields apparently blocks all cellphone reception. They're either inside a giant Faraday cage or this metal is the magical composite known as Cellphoneblockium, which is only found in movies. Chris Kattan is freaking out, by the way, since he can't escape, so he then admits that yes, yes, the house is haunted and it's alive and it kills people and he's next maybe and sorry for not mentioning this when you were at the bottom of the driveway and could get away. So now the birthday party turns into a game of Let's Go Fix The Klang Foom Machinery, Make Like Hockey Players And Get The Puck Outta Here. This means that everybody gets to go explore the basement.
The rest of the movie pretty much takes place in the basement cause that's where the sanitarium shit is. TV Show Lady goes off on her own taking footage of things and she's having a great time until something that looks like the evil doctor dude jumps out all undercranked, like the zombies in 28 Days Later, and kills her. She leaves her camera behind but the footage is just her hand in front while she screams and then she gets yanked away. Meanwhile, Taye Diggs and Movie Exec Lady are exploring other hallways and avoiding such dangers as FALLING MASONRY and SCARY MUSIC. At one part she fixes electric wiring by reaching her hand into a hole full of electric wires, grabs one at random, and jabs it at another one until there's a spark. This is where Taye Diggs realizes she's not a Movie Exec Lady at all, because he's never known a Movie Exec Lady who could actually take care of things. Ho ho ho! It's a Hollywood joke, kids! (Actually he may have a point.) It is here that Movie Exec Lady breaks down and admits yeah, she's not a Movie Exec Lady, she was the assistant to the Movie Exec Lady but got fired, and took the invitation with her because hey, free money.
I read a shooting draft of this script later on to try and figure out what was going on, and there was an omitted scene where we see Not Movie Exec Lady getting fired by Movie Exec Lady for laughing at the party invitation, which was supposed to have been a cube with a little tiny razor blade in it that nicked you when you opened it. This was removed from the film most likely because the filmmakers went "Wait, nobody would want to go to a party if the invitation cut them like that. We'd better just get rid of the scene entirely cause that's just like way unbelievable. We gotta maintain some standards here."
Okay so as it turns out, Chris Kattan really was right, this house/asylum/huge-ass building really IS alive, and it's pissed. See, it's full of ghosts of the former inmates who were killed in the name of medical science, and they were the ones who rigged the party invites to invite the relatives of Doctor Dude, Nurse Betty, Nurse Veronica, and the other staff, so that they could kill them and get revenge. Not that killing Dr. Dude, Nurse Betty, Nurse Veronica and Pencil Guy was revenge enough. They had to, like, wait for the grandkids or the great-grandkids at this point. Oh yeah, and woven into this intricate plot of twists and turns is the fact that G.R. and Bitch Wife really do want to kill each other, and at various times each one appears to be dead (but isn't! ha ha ha! Fooled you!) and that Dr. Peter Gallagher is conspiring with Bitch Wife to kill G.R. (rather, get someone else to kill G.R. once it's established Bitch Wife is "dead" and it looks as if G.R. did it all along) and then abscond with all his theme park money. So we don't know why Dr. Peter Gallagher was put on the guest list since we know by this point that the ghosts in the house CAME INTO AN ON-LINE COMPUTER (that's the exact line in the script) and ALTERED THE GUEST LIST.
Well now everybody's marked for death due to family ties, but they're not really worried so much as just lost in the basement. We also get a nifty sequence where G.R. is put in this allegedly therapeutic spinning chamber called the Fuck-You-Up-O-Tron, which spins around and shows hallucinations and fucks you up. That part of the film was pretty cool. There was an evil butler-like dude with a medicine ball, and some girl in a water tank letting stage blood pour out of his mouth, and then there was like a Nine Inch Nails video going on with Geoffrey Rush instead of Trent Reznor, and while he's trippin balls and screaming inside, people outside start dying, or not dying, or really dying. Dr. Peter Gallagher gets beheaded which was pretty cool.
Then the film like changes from the original Castle film and the souls of everybody evil in the house come to life and they turn into this giant black swirling mass of EVIL GHOSTS whose tentacles reach out and grab Bitch Wife and Chris Kattan and finally G.R. himself while being all evil and shit. But Taye Diggs and Not Movie Exec Lady aren't immediately killed. Why? Cause they're not related to the original staff: Not Movie Exec Lady is, well, not the Movie Exec Lady, and Taye Diggs shouts "I'M ADOPTED!!" at one point while being pursued and the house is like, oh, okay, you're cool.
Not really, but that's pretty much the logic behind why those two are the only survivors. Chris Kattan's ghost also helps them escape, and they do so as daylight breaks, and make it to the roof of the top top top tower of this house or whatever the fuck it really is, and find all the million dollar checks and yay they're rich and there was a bit of sexual tension between them during some of the earlier scenes so they may also do it with each other later on. "But how do we get down from here?" one of them wonders as the camera pulls back and Marilyn Manson's cover of "Sweet Dreams" starts to play. YEAH, NOW YOU START QUESTIONING THE PLOT.
So there's some blood and gore, and some topless nurses, and deformed bodies in glass cases, and freakishly fast-moving spirits, and disembowled people and decapitated people and some pretty decent horror movie imagery, but man oh man is the story as dumb as a brick that someone wrote DUM on and then threw into the Stupid Pool. See, the original movie is D-U-M too, but it's campy dum and it's William Castle dum (with the EMERGO gimmick of a glowing skeleton flying on wires over the audience at an appropriate moment; this gimmick failed when kids kept going to the movie just to throw stuff at the skeleton) and that means hammy, Vincent Price fun. So this remake was dum and stupid and fun to make fun of, so I guess I really can't call it utter crap cause I had fun making fun of it. But it really did want to take itself a bit more seriously than the original, what with the freaky-moving doctor ghosts, the NIN images, and that kinda stuff.
Still, I had more fun watching FROM DUSK TIL DAWN a few nights earlier. But I would totally ride a roller coaster with Lisa Loeb any day. Over and over and over and over again. You know how to reach me. Let's make this happen.