House on Haunted Hill (1959)
Updated: Jul 19, 2021
The 300th review!
You may not know this, but this is actually a huge milestone for me. This is movie number 300 that I’ve reviewed since I started Mr. Pat’s 31 Days of Halloween a decade ago. Now on a normal day I have a lot of difficulty picking the right movie. Now imagine the difficulty when it’s number 300. I realize as of late I’ve been focusing on more modern horror and I want to change that. So for today I went way back to the Vincent Price Classic...
House on Haunted Hill (1959)
It’s in the public domain, so you can pretty much find it anywhere.
An eccentric millionaire is hosting a party for this fourth wife in a haunted house. He has invited five people to his soiree; one of the caretakers of the place, a jet pilot, a doctor who specializes in hysteria, a newspaper columnist and someone who works for him. If they stay the whole night they’ll have a nice 10-thousand dollar check waiting for them. Adjusted for inflation that would be slightly less than 90-thousand today.
The movie starts with a floating head of the caretaker guest, Watson Pritchard giving a short lesson on the sordid history of the house. Followed by a floating head of Vincent Price giving all the back story before we start the movie. It’s a little hokey, but they’re talking directly to the audience, the ghostly image of the head and plus Price’s awesome voice it effectively sets the mood before anything has a chance to happen. You don’t get anything like that today but it’s foreboding and creepy.
From there we learn a little bit more of the party’s guest including Price’s wife Annabelle, and to say their relationship is on the rocks is a bit of an understatement. Every time they speak to one another it’s full of malice, insinuations, insults and lightly veiled threats. Both of them believe the other is trying to kill them as will use the party as a way to do it.
After their uncomfortable interactions we’re taken on a tour of the house and we learn a little bit about the deaths that happened there. And we learn for some reason there’s a giant vat of acid down in the basement. We’ll call it “Chekhov’s Acid Pit” for those in the know.
I’ve said it before that I wish I’d been around the time to experience when The Exorcist first came out in theaters because watching it now I’ve just became so desensitized to that type of horror. But after seeing this movie I think I would have rather around from the time William Castle was doing his little trick in theaters. During the climax of this movie, some theaters would have a skeleton flying above the audience to make the experience a bit more immersive. The theaters had to put a stop to that once people started sneaking in slingshots to try and shoot the skeletons down. Proof that trolling isn’t a modern phenomenon.
This movie works as well as it does because of Vincent Price. The way he towers over everyone, his deep voice, and how he carries himself makes everyone paranoid about him. That’s even before his wife tells all the guests he’s trying to kill her and the rest of them. It’s fun to see all the side glances he gets from everyone, well except for Pritchard who is too busy drowning his fears in alcohol. When he’s not drinking he’s warning everyone about the ghosts they’ve stirred up, trying to get them to see the danger they’re in. Naturally they brush him aside as a crazy drunk.
Like much of the horror movies of this era, it’s very heavy on atmosphere. They obviously don’t have the technology we do today, so the movie focuses more on setting the mood. We have the scary house, lightning and thunder, spooky noises and plenty of darkness. And on top of all that, the caretakers locked them five-minutes earlier than expected, so they’re trapped in there until 8:00 AM. I don’t really want to talk more about the caretakers, because they make no sense. They’re just there to look creepy and provide a weird scare.
Another thing I like about this movie is you’re not given a definitive answer as to what’s going on inside this house. You learn about a fake death and a conspiracy. But you don’t know what was part of the plot, caretaker being weird, or an actual ghost haunting the house, even at the end. You get some answers, but there are several things left dangling and you have to use your imagination to put it together.
It’s not the greatest in the world, it’s short, but it’s pretty light on things happening. There’s a lot of talking and finger pointing, but still it’s a solid movie. As far as type of movie, I’d say it falls into more of Knives Out mystery while the 1999 remake (which I was also a big fan of) is more straight horror. To be honest, I didn’t mind the direction this movie took. I like the plots on top of plots that’s going on here. You see something happen only to realize it’s not what you thought. Then there’s a big reveal, followed by ANOTHER big reveal where you’re able to pretty much piece together what happened inside that locked house.
To sum it up, Vincent Price is wonderful, that’s a given. The house is very cool looking, but you don’t get to see very much of it. There’s the living room, identical-looking bedrooms, a hallway, a spookier hallway and the basement. I wish they would have explored it a bit more like in the remake to really open up the setting. But I understand why they didn’t... or couldn’t.
Still, it’s pretty entertaining and worth a watch, especially when you consider its pedigree. Alfred Hitchcock decided to make Psycho after seeing the box office totals for House on Haunted Hill. I mean, who wanted a celebration with food... drink... and ghosts?
7. Dr. Chainsaws!
House on Haunted Hill
Available on Youtube
House on Haunted Hill is a 1959 American horror film. It was directed by William Castle, written by Robb White and stars Vincent Price as eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren. He and his fourth wife, Annabelle, have invited five people to the house for a "haunted house" party. Whoever stays in the house for one night will earn $10,000. As the night progresses, all the guests are trapped inside the house with ghosts, murderers, and other terrors.
This movie hit the public domain as AA went belly up and did not renew the copyright.