|The House on Haunted Hill
1958 - NR - 75 Mins.
|Director: William Castle
|Producer: William Castle
|Written By: Robb White
|Starring: Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Richard Long, Alan Marshal, Carolyn Craig, Elisha Cook Jr., Julie Mitchum
|Review by: James O'Ehley
This black & white 1959 movie, starring the legendary horror actor Vincent Price, is unexpectedly good – and even scary!
Take back what you said about my mother!
An eccentric millionaire (played by Vincent Price – who else?) invites several strangers to spend an evening at a haunted house. If they can last the evening – and not chicken out before midnight, or worse, get killed – they will each get $10 000 in the morning.
The real problem doesn’t seem to be ghosts though: someone in the group is a murderer and in no time they all retreat to their separate rooms armed with loaded pistols (which the Price character lovingly supplied in miniature little coffins!). Things are also more complicated than they appear on the surface: the millionaire host’s wife (Carol Ohmart) is afraid for her life since he suspects her of adultery, and his previous three wives have died under mysterious circumstances (one actually simply “disappeared”).
The thing with old movies is that they simply aren’t really that scary by modern standards, but it is HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL’s several plot complications that make one keep watching. Also, there are at least one genuine jolt and enough scary atmospherics for my wife to remark that she does really “like horror movies like this” (okay, she scares easier in movies than most people).
On the acting side, Price oozes menace and is understated by his own over-the-top campy standards. The interplay between him Carol Ohmart is a highlight. Only Elisha Cook Jr. as the obligatory drunken portent of doom strikes a bit of a one-note performance.
Surprisingly the haunted house in question isn’t your old-fashioned gothic-style mansion, but instead an example of modern architecture, namely The Samuel Freeman House in Los Angeles, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. (“Modern” is a relative term here: the house was actually built in 1924.)
It is only by the end and the movie’s many surprise twists that the whole thing unravels as audience credulity is really put to the test. Still, THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is worth catching late on the telly one night. Remember the big bowl of home-made popcorn . . .
Some trivia courtesy of the Internet Movie Database: Since the film was directed by William Castle who employed all kinds of gimmicks during screenings of his movies, THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL used “a gimmick called ‘Emergo’ in the theatres. When the skeleton rises from the acid vat in the film, a lighted plastic skeleton on a wire appeared from a black box next to the screen to swoop over the heads of the audience. The skeleton would then be pulled back into the box as Price reels in the skeleton in the film.”
Naturally audiences responded by hurling popcorn and empty soda pop bottles at the thing.
(Oh yeah, THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL was remade in 1999 for some reason.)