Oct 28, 2014

Review: House on Haunted Hill (1959)

William Castle was known to be an expert at making B-movies. His filmography dates back to the early 1940's, pretty much ten years before Roger Corman made his first movie. What was unique about Castle though were his promotional talents along with implementing different gimmicks that were executed during his movie showings. Strangely enough, he also happens to be the producer of Rosemary's Baby.

The gimmick he used for House on Haunted Hill was a skeleton with red glowing eyes. Attached to a wire above the audience, it would "float" out during the climax. I don't know about you but that just sounds like a lot of fun. I'm not sure if it actually scared people then, but it's kind of sad you don't hear about things like that being done anymore because I think a lot of people would have a momentary heart attack. No one would expect it. Word would get out pretty quick though with everyone having a smartphone, so only the first viewers would really get a kick out of it.

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Genre: horror, mystery
Directed by: William Castle
Produced by: William Castle, Robb White
Written by: Robb White
Music by: Von Dexter
Running time: 75 minutes
Production company: William Castle Productions
Distributed by: Allied Artists Pictures, United Artists, City Film, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $200,000
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Richard Long, Alan Marshal, Carolyn Craig, Elisha Cook Jr., Julie Mitchum, Leona Anderson, Howard Hoffman

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Synopsis


Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) is a millionaire who's on his fourth wife since the previous three died. He invites five people to a party in a supposedly haunted house and promises each one $10,000 if they stay the whole night. They're to be locked in in the house from midnight until 8:00 AM, so changing one's mind won't be possible. Frederick's wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) warns one of the guests named Nora (Carolyn Craig) that her husband is crazy and dangerous. It stands to reason that each of the five guests are in for a long night.

Review


House on Haunted Hill is as fun as a horror movie can be. Of course it helps that Vincent Price is in it. He's also given lots of great material to work with and delivers his lines with silky smooth charm. He's absolutely cracking to watch and you got to love how he breaks the fourth wall at the beginning of the movie with his narration.

The story of HoHH actually seems quite modern despite the fact that it's fifty-five years old. A bunch of people locking themselves inside a scary place is still the kind of thing that we see today and it makes for a good premise. There's a lot of mystery involved too though because no one really knows what the motives of Frederick Loren are, or even if the house is actually haunted.

In terms of scariness, you can't really expect a movie this old to be all that scary anymore. Horror has changed a lot since 1959, it's faster paced now. Old horror movies seem to have scares that go on for many seconds longer than you'd see in a modern horror movie. Pretty much imagine a creepy ghost suddenly appearing, cut back to a woman screaming, cut back to the ghost and then cut back to woman screaming again. That doesn't bother me though, you just have to change your mindset when it comes to watching old horror movies like this and it's easy to do that for House on Haunted Hill.

What HoHH is good at doing is conjuring up creepy imagery inside your head. Any sort of scary things that happen are also quite well executed in terms of effects and they're patiently built up. The house itself is a great location, especially the cellar unsurprisingly. I also really like the score which has that old movie kind of charm.

Without spoiling the story, let's just say that it keeps you guessing. Robb White definitely did an impressive job at keeping things interesting until the end. The climax is really quite something too. House on Haunted Hill may be a B-movie, but it's aged well and deserves its spot among the best of the category. It's not going to scare you, but you're in for a good time all the same.

Rating


7/10

Related Reviews:

House on Haunted Hill (1999)
Return to House on Haunted Hill (2007)