Director: William Castle
Writer: Robb White
Cast: Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Richard Long, Alan Marshal, Carolyn Craig, Elisha Cook, Julie Mitchum, Leona Anderson, Howard Hoffman, and Skeleton
Composer: Von Dexter
Release Date: 2/17/1959
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) and his wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) host a haunted house party for five guests: psychiatrist Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshall), test pilot Lance Schroeder (Richard Long), the beautiful Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig), newspaper columnist Ruth Bridgers (Julie Mitchum), and Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook)—owner of the house. In order to earn ten thousand dollars, however, each guest must remain in the house overnight—a task that proves difficult when ghosts, murderers, and other ghoulish characters end up crashing the party.
The quintessential haunted house film, this offering will appeal to fans of William Castle—master of horror gimmicks. Worth noting in particular are the creepy gags featured in House on Haunted Hill, which, though laughable by today’s standards, may affect those of a frail or sensitive disposition.
By combining a claustrophobic setting with classic horror tropes (e.g. severed heads, lightning storms, and living skeletons), House on Haunted Hill—filmed in eerie black-and-white—generates a chilling, suspenseful atmosphere despite being plagued by technical and budgetary limitations.
Also deserving of praise are the deceptions of Frederick—who benefits from the subtle menace of Vincent Price—and the cold, greedy Annabelle, whose cat-and-mouse games enhance the unpredictability of both major plot twists.
House on Haunted Hill contains a superfluous amount of exposition. On several occasions, for example, Frederick and the others spend a great deal of time conversing and speculating with each other, weakening the overall spook factor of this film.
From a logical perspective, House on Haunted Hill is hampered by one significant flaw: instead of remaining together in the living room until dawn, the characters eventually decide to go their separate ways—a decision that makes little sense with a potential killer on the loose.
(Spoilers beyond this point)
Ostensibly a murder mystery film, this production leaves ambiguous whether supernatural elements truly exist within the eponymous house—much in contrast to the 1999 remake, which removes the ominous air of uncertainty from Castle’s original story.
House on Haunted Hill is a campy, scary, and entertaining effort from the director of 13 Ghosts and The Tingler. Horror buffs young and old will therefore enjoy this film, silly gimmicks and dated special effects notwithstanding.
Overall Quality: 9/10
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