On to the review
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959)
Directed by William Castle
Running time: 75 mins (approx.)
An eccentric millionaire, Frederick Loren (Vincent Price), throws a party for his beloved wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart), inviting five strangers to spend the night with them in a remote, old, inescapable haunted house, with a reward of $10,000... Should they survive the night.
House on Haunted Hill is a film that I've been wanting to see for quite a while, given both the talents of the director, William Castle, a man who described himself as America's “number one scare master”, and of leading man Vincent Price, who remains eminently watchable in just about every performance he gives.
The film itself is a delightfully charming feature, gleefully amping up the tension and providing set-ups aplenty for horrors to come, but still takes the time to flesh out the relationship between Frederick Loren and his wife in a way that feels entirely believable, never overstaying its welcome or pushing the point too hard, this is a film that is content to leave you with tantalising glimpses, and leave the rest to your imagination.
The cast is adequate, with some brilliant work by Price, Ohmart and Alan Marshall (As Dr. David Trent, the film's resident skeptic and psychiatrist) – and characters rarely feel as though they're out of place or not serving any purpose to the film or the plot, with possibly a few exceptions (which I'll get to later).
The plot of the picture is pure Gothic camp horror, with a heavy emphasis on fun and spectacle befitting of the personalities of Vincent Price and of director William Castle, who 'pioneered' the technology of “Emergo”, an enormous plastic skeleton which would (in theory) descend over the terrified audience at the film's hair-raising climactic moment, causing the ultimate experience in immersive terror.
In reality, it just sort of creaked a bit, rarely worked, and audience members queued up to hurl popcorn and rocks at it in order to make it fall down like the world's worst piñata. But that's hardly the point.
The effects on screen are rather more effective, if not entirely frightening or realistic by modern standards, and the campy nature of the film allows for rather more leeway with the acceptance of a severed head or twisting, snakelike (or rather, stiff and shambolic) rope here and there, indeed it would have been nice to see a little more ghostly activity, such as the cut “rubber worms” designed by Jack Dusick, who would later go on to design the creature in Castle and Price's later excursion, “The Tingler” (also written by Robb White, but this time, post-LSD).
But the film is of course not entirely without its faults. Despite a strong start by Elisha Cook, Jr. as proprietor of the house and paranormal tour guide, his character quickly degrades into a rambling, drunken portend of doom, growing tiresome extremely quickly and nearly ruining the closing moments of the film with disastrous final lines of almost Picture In The House proportions.
Yes, that's a Lovecraft reference.
But, despite the best efforts of the concluding dialogue and some over-enthusiastic shrieking, House on Haunted Hill does a particularly fine job of balancing horror, mystery and the paranormal, and you're never truly quite sure who (or what) is behind the mysterious events, or where the next twist is going to take you, and what each character's true motives are.
House on Haunted Hill, then, is a beautiful, spook-tacular fun-house ride, not without its flaws, but for the most part wonderfully executed and at a mere 75 minutes it doesn't outstay its welcome and makes good use of its time. Having not yet seen footage of the “restored colour” version, this review is based on the original 1959 recording.
Apparently a while back production company Dark Castle (named after William Castle) did a remake of both this film and another of Castle's outings, “13 Ghosts”, but I have yet to see much of either of those and apparently they're rather schlocky and not too faithful, which is a shame.
In conclusion, seeing as how this isn't my blog and I've already taken up far too much time and space here, I would give House on Haunted Hill a solid four X OUT OF Y.
House on Haunted Hill is available to watch for free on YouTube's Movies section here (http://www.youtube.com/movie?v=7BeUWMfqELk&feature=mv_sr) and for purchase on Amazon in DVD format here (http://www.amazon.co.uk/House-Haunted-Hill-Anniversary-Special/dp/B001LIK8KC).
REVIEW BY WILLIAM BINNS, WHO IS INCAPABLE OF NOT WRITING AN ESSAY