As we creep closer to Halloween, we continue to bring you the classic, genre-defining films of the season. This week, House on Haunted Hill starring Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, and Richard Long (among others).
Originally released in 1959, this William Castle film gives us the tale of one Richard Loren (played by Price), an eccentric who has offered a wager to 5 party guests. (An “eccentric” is simply a weirdo with enough money to afford better PR.)
He wagers $10,000 to any guest who can survive a night in a big haunted mansion, owned by the heavy-drinking Walter Pritchard (who is one of the guests, played by Elisha Cook Jr.). Walter also serves as the chorus in the film, providing the exposition, commentary, and interstitial information needed to tie together what are sometimes exceptionally convoluted details.
Now technically speaking, this party was the idea of Richard Loren’s wife, Annabelle (played by the blonde bombshell Ohmart). Only now she doesn’t want to attend. Richard is having none of it, and reveals his domineering, cruel, jealous nature in coercing her into attendance once all the other guests have arrived. Foreshadowing? In a horror movie? Pshaw.
Now we get just about all the horror clichés one could want:
- Excessively large mansion in a remote location, which has no phone or electricity, and only one door- which only locks from the outside (can you say fire trap?)
- Shadowy cobwebs in the corners
- Obvious cobwebs on the tables and furnishings – but not dust, that would be gross
- A basement with lots of wine, numerous extra rooms for no apparent reason, and a vat of acid in the floor
- Exposition out the yin-yang
- Secret passages
- People, noises, and things appearing and disappearing without warning
- Bleeding ceilings
- A massive thunderstorm that is loud enough to cover screams, but not mask footsteps in a carpeted hallway
- Women who stand and scream, run and scream, hide and scream, and engage in other activities while screaming
- Surprise decapitated heads
- A faked suicide
- A creepy skeleton (two if you count the rat)
- The Femme Fatale in a filmy white dress showing lots of leg and cleavage
- The Good Girl driven crazy by all the nonsense
- A love triangle with a murder plot that is excessively elaborate (and gets a double-cross)
- A warning at the end that now the ghosts are coming FOR YOU!!!
That’s practically a “Pick Five” list for Halloween films; if you don’t have at least a few of those in your flick, you aren’t even going straight to DVD.
This film comes in the middle of Price’s career, well into his time as a fixture of science fiction and horror films. Distinguished and robust, with an unmistakable voice, it’s easy to picture him charming or terrifying his guests with equal ability. Long, as his foil, is every bit the Boy Next Door Who Grew Up. Innocuous, protective, easy to smile and offer logical solutions – until you find out he’s part of the bigger picture. Meanwhile Ohmart is stunning, cunning, and constantly running; either away from her husband or toward her next scheme.
Many people are probably familiar with the remake of the same title released in 1999, which updates the payout to $1 million. And I’m sure our readers are familiar with the comedic horror, Clue, which is based on the synonymous board game but borrows heavily from Haunted Hill.
If you would like to watch it for FREE, (The) House on Haunted Hill can be downloaded in several formats from The Internet Archive.
This is the print I watched, which is the most popular.
This is the .avi file, nearly as popular.
This print, while it lives up to its claim of being the clearest print (certainly the least fuzzy), is a bit jerky between frames.
***Note that ALL of the prints begin with a black screen and several seconds of silence – that was by design. Letting the suspense build and whatnot.
We’re big fans of Vincent Price here on the blog.
Gen wrote up a quick review of Vincent, a 1982 stop-motion short by Tim Burton. Her review has an embedded copy of the animation.
Havilah speaks well of his voice work on the radio series The Saint.
Dileas includes some praise in his post on The Fall of the House of Usher.