Starring Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Elisha Cook, Carolyn Craig, Alan Marshal, Julie Mitchum and Richard Long, this 1959 horror is every bit as outrageous and camp as the title suggests. The premise, in essence, is that Loren, a millionaire, offers five strangers $10,000 each to stay in a haunted house overnight.
Frederick Loren (Vincent Price), an eccentric millionaire, invites five people to a party he is throwing for his fourth wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) in an allegedly haunted house he has rented, promising to give each $10,000 with the stipulation that they stay the entire night in the house after the doors are locked at midnight. The guests are test pilot Lance Schroeder (Richard Long), newspaper columnist Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum), psychiatrist Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal) who specializes in hysteria, Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig) who works for one of Loren’s companies, and the house’s owner Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook). All are strangers to both the Lorens and each other, with their only commonality a desperate need for money. Wikipedia
My first highlight comes in the opening scenes, when the Lorens are having a tense conversation. Frederick is convinced Annabelle has poisoned him:
“Remember the fun we had when you poisoned me?
Something you ate, the doctor said.
Yes, Arsenic on the rocks”
“Don’t Let the ghosts and ghouls disturb you.
Darling, the only ghoul in this house (dramatic pause) is you”
This movie is replete with such inspired volleys of speech, though the acting itself is either wooden or over the top. House on Haunted Hill has a terrific atmosphere with some great character development. Of course Price carries the film through with his stoic calm presence which never dips into sensationalism.
Something else that director William Castle is great at is imagery. Whether it be a genuinely creepy moment or just an effective dramatic shot, Castle proves with this film that he has an eye for effective photography. This movie is pretty cheesy in its horror imagery, but that’s mainly the third act. In fact, I think the first two-thirds have some pretty creepy moments. Moments like a woman dressed in black jumping out at someone is creepy, and even simple moments like a dead body hung from the ceiling, but instead of seeing the full body we only see the dangling legs. Stuff like that is really effective and memorable. Not just scares, but even basic moments like Vincent Price putting a gun in a coffin or the classic 50’s “dramatic glance”, or even someone just standing in a hallway for just the right amount of time to make it unsettling. Horror Syndicate
William Castle has directed a slightly creepy but clearly classic horror film in The House on Haunted Hill. I recommend it to you in isolation, looking for something thrilling and well made, but not too complex to follow.