Classics

[Movie Review] House on Haunted Hill (1959) ★★★★☆

Lance, Nora and Frederick Loren in House on Haunted Hill 1959

House on Haunted Hill is a spooky ride through nostalgic lanes.


House on Haunted Hill is a fun haunted house horror tale, that conjures up some frights and a big mystery. Although it might be a bit dated on the scary part, it still is a fun ride through the horrors of the fifties. Be prepared for some scary moments, scary people, scared people, a gothic mansion, a terrible murder, hidden corridors and secret hiding places, skeletons in the closet and a deadly cellar. It’s a fun horror gem from the master of gimmicks William Castle. 


Plot

Rich eccentric Frederick Loren invites five people to a horror party. He offers his guests each $10,0000 if they manage to spent the night in the locked up house. If one of them might accidentally die, the money goes to their families. The legend goes that the house is haunted and he gives each guest a gun to protect themselves. 

Nora might be easily scared and is seeing things, but she’s not crazy. And when the night takes an unexpected turn as Annabelle, Loren’s wife is found dead, one of them must be a murderer. Paranoia and panic take over as they still are locked up for the whole night, and who knows who would be next… 


Why you should watch it

The story is more of a murder mystery than a real horror story, but still there are some frights to scare you. The creepy housekeeper is definitely one of them, as is the head found in Nora’s suitcase and the hairy hand that wants to grab her.

Frederick Loren is played by the charismatic Vincent Price and his part seems small, but gets bigger when the story unravels. 

The main focus is on Nora and Lance who trust each other and want to keep each other save and go on an investigation in search for the truth. Dr. Trent is all bout women hysteria and Ruth the journalist plays an insignificant part. Finally there is Watson Pritchard the one who actually owns the place and has rented it to Loren. He’s the most scared of all, for he truly believes in ghosts. Loren and his wife can’t stand each other and are at the background the backbones of the story. 

The house, the setting, de cobwebs and moving curtains are fantastic. It really creates a gothic atmosphere that is campy fun as well. It really shows that this film loves horror and mystery and is not afraid to play with it. 

The plot is a real mystery. Is the house really haunted? Is someone out to get Nora? Why are there so many secret passageways? No wonder a big paranoia in a closed environment with a coupe of people to stir things up gets a hold of them very fast. It’s a joy to watch and it makes a wonderful whodunnit. 

It has a buildup that leads to the big reveal at the end and the film has some excellent shots, good lighting and psychological little games to entertain the audience. 

The film can be viewed in black-and-white or in color. The black-and-white gives it that little extra classic vibe as does the music with its high pitched tones. 


My favorite part

I’m afraid the best part will stay a secret to us viewers. William Castle is renowned for his gimmicks to lure people to his films. Every time he invents something creative that takes place in reality during the film. This time it’s a flying skeleton that floats above the audience at a particular time in the film. It’s kind of like a 4D film. The skeleton is also shown in the film at a crucial moment that reveals some of the mystery. How fun would it be if we could go to the theatre and watch this little gem with the gimmick called ‘Emergo’ to be fully immersed in the original film experience. The skeleton even gets its own credit and is played of course, by himself. 

But aside from this reverie, I really like how the mystery unfolds. The first scare of the housekeeper is a big red herring and brings in some scary fun. She’s called Mrs. Slydes, because she slides, instead of walks. It’s that kind of fun. But the real plot is wonderfully played out and ends in a fantastic finale, where Vincent Price can steal the show. 

In fact Vincent Price is one of my favorite horror actors. His charismatic presence, his voice, his acting that can be over the top if needed but also very small and subtle are superb. But I like him the most when he can revel in playing an over the top character. Although Loren is eccentric but not so much over the top, the ending makes up for his more reserved presence during the film. 

House on Haunted Hill is a horror classic every horror lover must see just once in their life. 


Ratings

Rating: ★★★★☆

Scare factor: ★★☆☆☆

Originality factor: ★★★★☆

Entertainment factor: ★★★★★


Cast and crew

House on Haunted Hill is directed by William Castle and written by Rob White. It stars Vincent Price (Frederick Loren), Carol Ohmart (Annabelle Loren), Richard Long (Lance), Carolyn Craig (Nora), Alan Marshal (Dr. David Trent), Elisha Cook Jr. (Watson), Julie Mitchum (Ruth), Leona Anderson (Mrs. Slydes) and Howard Hoffman (Jonas). 

Duration: 75 minutes. Music: Von Dexter. Cinematography: Carl E. Guthrie. Edited by: Roy V. Livingston. Production company: William Castle Productions. Distributed by: Allied Artists Pictures. 


Check the trailer below


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