This month I cover not one, but two areas of classic horror, as I wrap up my mini retrospective of Vincent Price films with 1959’s House on Haunted Hill, directed by infamous horror maestro William Castle. Frederick Loren (Price) invites a group of five strangers over to an allegedly haunted house for his wife Annabelle’s (Carol Ohmart) party. The guests include test pilot Lance Schroeder (Richard Long), newspaper columnist Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum), psychiatrist Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal), employee Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig), and the house’s owner Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook Jr). What follows is a night of ghosts and murder.
If there is one thing that the film’s of William Castle will be remembered for, it is the in-theatre gimmicks that often accompanied his films. This is is particularly true for House on Haunted Hill, which featured “Emego,” where a skeleton would fly over the audience at an appropriate moment of the film.
Even without the gimmick, House on Haunted Hill is a fairly enjoyable B-movie shock fest. Not only does the film feature Vincent Price’s macabre brand of humour, but the film also features a standout supporting performance by Elisha Cook Jr as the extremely scared an paranoid Watson Pritchard, whose warnings about the house either make a whole lot of sense or are just the rantings of a drunk. While many of the other characters are merely just there, the main core of the plot involves Nora Manning getting progressively more scared at events in the house, which drives her to hysteria.
Like last month’s selection of The Fly, House on Haunted Hill is another case where I saw the 1999 remake before the original film. It’s probably safe to say that both are completely different films, save for a few plot parallels. Indeed William Castle’s film is a lot more psychological with its horror, save for the climax featuring a plastic skeleton. Altogether, it is a kooky fun time.