House on Haunted Hill (1959)

“Only the ghosts in this house are glad we’re here.”

Synopsis:
An eccentric millionaire (Vincent Price) and his embittered wife (Carol Ohmart) invite five strangers — a secretary (Carolyn Craig), a pilot (Richard Long), a journalist (Julie Mitchum), a psychiatrist (Alan Marshal), and the owner of a haunted house (Elisha Cook, Jr.) — to spend the night in Cook’s house, promising them each $10,000 if they can last the night.

Genres:

Review:
One of gimmick-meister William Castle’s best-known and loved films was this Old Dark House flick (remade in 1999 and apparently in development as another remake), featuring Emergo — a skeleton “emerged” from the theater and descended upon audiences — and plenty of twists and turns to keep audiences screaming in fright. The storyline, centered around Price’s contentiously bitter arguments with fourth-wife Ohmart, keeps us guessing about who’s up to what, and it’s relatively easy to forgive some egregious lapses in logic (isn’t that what horror films are known for?). Price, Ohmart, and Cook, Jr. are especially well cast, and the other actors acquit themselves nicely.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Atmospheric cinematography
  • A number of effectively spooky moments

Must See?
Yes, for its historical importance as a film that inspired Hitchcock and was beloved by audiences of the day. Listed as a Cult Movie and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

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2 Responses to “House on Haunted Hill (1959)”

  1. A tentative once-must for thriller fans, mainly for Price’s performance.

    I rewatched this about 2 years ago (and my post from Revival House of Camp & Cult follows below). I recall being disappointed on the revisit. It may have been one of Castle’s popular films (no doubt largely due to his gimmickry) but it’s certainly not as strong as ‘The Tingler’ or ‘Homicidal’ or ‘Strait-Jacket’. Personally, I prefer 1965’s ‘Two on a Guillotine’ – which is essentially the same film as ‘House…’ but on a bigger budget and with a Max Steiner score!

    ‘House on Haunted Hill’ [blu-ray]: Rich, eccentric Vincent Price invites a small group of people to a haunted house for a party…for his wife – the one, it seems, he would like to kill. After it turns out that they are locked in for the night in the spooky place, with no way to get out, the group doesn’t do what any group would do: stay together in the same room all night, so that they can protect each other. There would be no movie if they did that. So… they each go off to different rooms, usually alone, through most of the picture, so that ‘terrifying’ things can happen to them. And, of course, there’s the scary housekeeper… She always drifts in and out spookily, holding her gnarled hands up in a reaching-out snarl. Blind, too, you know – but she does keep a tidy house! This version is in blu-ray – so you can really notice the Brylcreem on Richard Long’s hair. But, of course, I’ll watch anything with Vincent in it. *Anything*.

  2. Easily a must see for being one of two must see William Castle films; the other being The Tingler.

    Both are supremely entertaining and feature Price at his best. Both were critically derided in their day but massive popular hits … especially with children, the target audience.

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