From the DVD case: Vincent Price is wonderful as the sinister owner of an old, dark and evil mansion located on a haunted hill. He bribes several of his enemies with an offer of $10,000 each, if they would spend the night in the crumbling mansion. He gives each of his guests a tiny coffin containing a handgun and proceeds to set in motion gadgets and devices aimed at frightening his visitors into using their weapons. Terror, murder and the supernatural make this one of producer/director William Castle’s best films. (1958, b&w)
Mark says: The DVD description above is not entirely accurate, and in fact, is just plain wrong in places, but it will suffice for a loose synopsis of the film.
The one thing the description does have right is that Vincent Price (House of Wax, The Fly) is wonderful as the sinister millionaire, Frederick Loren. He plays the role as the cool, cold-blooded gentleman we’ve come to expect from Mr. Price. Carol Ohmart is his lovely, and it turns out, just as sinister, wife, Annabelle Loren.
The primary fault with House on Haunted Hill is that the plot has holes in it numerous enough to sink an entire fleet of Titanics. For example, when Carol Ohmart floats to Nora’s (Carolyn Craig) window as a ghost, with that amazing haunted rope of hers, we are later supposed to believe it was just some “trick” played on poor Nora. And when Nora runs from her room, seconds later, there is Carol Ohmart again, dangling from a rope! How did she get in the house and attach herself to that rope so fast?
But I must confess that I really enjoy this film. It is pure William Castle fun. Mr. Castle (13 Ghosts, The Tingler) was a master of promotion and gimmicks, and he knew how to thrill an audience. When House on Haunted Hill first came to theaters, the gimmick was “Emergo,” a prop skeleton that flew over the audience during the climatic scene of the film. But even without Emergo, this film is a blast to watch.
There is a lot of camp value to House on Haunted Hill. The dialog, and especially the scenes with Vincent Price and Carol Ohmart, are pure camp fodder.
However, this movie also manages to maintain a creepy atmosphere. Almost all the scenes with Leona Anderson as the blind groundskeeper still give me a chill, and Mrs. Loren hanging from her rope will certainly cause some uneasiness.
Elisha Cook, Jr., as Watson Pritchard, adds another haunted dimension to the film. Though, as Frederick Loren says himself, we get a little tired of Pritchard’s “spook talk.” Carolyn Craig keeps us equally unhinged with her constant screaming.
In the end, you don’t really mind all the stuff you were asked to believe. The movie moves along at a good clip, and you are completely entertained, one way or another, throughout its entirety. Isn’t that what a good B-movie is all about? It is in my book.
Directed and produced by William Castle.
Scene to watch for: Vincent Price reveals himself as the operator of the haunted skeleton. The contraption he is wearing is hilarious.
Line to listen for: “It’s a funny thing, but none of the murders here were just ordinary – just shooting or stabbing. They’ve all been sort of wild, violent, and – different.”
Trivia: The exterior of the haunted house is the Ennis-Brown House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Bonus: Watch the movie trailer for House on Haunted Hill.
Mark’s rating: ! ! ! ! out of 5.