Ghost In The Machine

A ghost has to work overtime to haunt Hill House, the gargantuan mansion Eugenio Zanetti has designed for Jon De Bont's lavish remake of "The Haunting." The imposing Romanesque pile in the 1963 version (directed by Robert Wise) was a modest cottage compared with this looming, cavernous Gothic-Italianate-Moorish-Baroque hodgepodge. If something went bump in the night here, you'd never hear it: things have to rumble, screech and crash like a 50-car collision to get the attention of the three freaked-out human lab rats lured to the house by Dr. David Marrow (Liam Neeson) for his study on the physiology of fear.

The terrified trio consists of Lili Taylor (in the mother-dominated Julie Harris role), Catherine Zeta-Jones (as a sexually ambiguous jet-setter) and the amusingly quirky Owen Wilson (as the group skeptic). Keeping admirably straight faces, they must undergo an elaborate trial-by-special effects in this expensive-looking horror movie, which turns the original's scare strategy on its head. Where Wise worked by suggestion, never showing the spirits haunting Hill House, De Bont and his visual-effects team adopt a more-is-more philosophy. Doors turn into giant hands, walls sway, ceilings attack, statuary comes alive and the angry ghost of the house's dead patriarch rages around the mansion like a cyclone in De Bont's "Twister." It's all very impressive--and counterproductive. The more the computer-generated images take over, the sillier "The Haunting" gets. By the end, the computers have chased all the scares away.

Where the no-budget "The Blair Witch Project" shows how you can make something out of next to nothing--a camera, a forest, a few actors--the best-that-money-can-buy technology of "The Haunting" shows how little you can make of too much.

The Haunting.DreamWorks. Opens nationwide.