Today’s movie is The House on Haunted Hill, a movie directed by B-movie gimmick-king William Castle, and famous for including real flying skeletons in the theaters and other gags during its original run. It’s one I’ve long wanted to see. It also stars Vincent Price, and is one of the original run of 1950s movies (along with, among others, the House of Wax) that established him as the king of horror movie actors.
I’m happy to say the movie holds up as more than a mere gimmic. It’s not a real classic or anything, but it has a fairly clever script, pretty good acting, and some decent atmosphere. It runs the course of one night, where millionaire industrialist Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) and his wife are hosting a little party at a haunted house where seven people have been murdered in the past. They’ve invited five guests, and everyone who stays until morning will win $10,000 (or their estates will, if they don’t survive the night).
Among the guests is Watson Pritchard, the house’s owner (although he doesn’t live there), who watched his own brother murdered on the premises. He believes the house is truly haunted, and although some of the other guests are more skeptical, he adds a note of plausibility to many of the unexplained events of the evening. Another notable guest is Nora Manning, a young woman who works for one of Mr. Loren’s companies, and badly needs the money to help pay for hospital treatments for her sick mother. I found these two characters to be the most sympathetic and the ones I identified with most.
THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959)
Story/Plot/Characters–Clever, coherent plot and surprisingly good dialogue for a B movie. The characters are cardboard, but the actors do well with what they’re given. Vincent Price’s performance, in particular, is a gem. (3 points)
Special Effects–Low-budget, some of the effects are laughable, a few, including the critical effect at the very end, are effective (.5 points)
Scariness–Not at all. (0 points)
Atmosphere/Freakiness–The best part of the movie is the haunted house itself with all its mysterious rooms, hidden passageways, creepy basements, old furniture and organs, etc. (1.5 points)
Total=5 points (Okay)
I couldn’t quite bring myself to rate this as Pretty Good, so it lands on our list in the Okay category. It was almost there–with just slightly better characters or effects, this would have been a real classic. Still comes in as a fun way to pass the time.