HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (director: William Castle; screenwriter: Robb White; cinematographer: Carl E. Guthrie; editor: Roy Livingston; music: Von Dexter; cast: Vincent Price (Frederick Loren), Carol Ohmart (Annabelle Loren),Carolyn Craig (Nora Manning), Elisha Cook Jr (Watson Pritchard), Richard Long (Lance Schroeder), Alan Marshal (Dr. David Trent), Julie Mitchum (Ruth Bridgers), Leona Anderson (Mrs. Slydes), Howard Hoffman (Jonas Slydes); Runtime: 75; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William Castle; Warner Home Video; 1959)
“As campy fun, this one is timeless, expertly executed and still delivers its fey thrills and worldly laughs.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
William Castle (“Crime Doctor’s Manhunt”/”Macabre”/”The Tingler”) helms and produces this highly entertaining creaky classic in fright horror films. It’s one of the best of the Vincent Price chillers. The schlocky director known for his gimmicks comes up with “Emergo,” it involved a prop illuminated skeleton on a string that enters the audience from the side of the screen during the third act to add to the viewer’s fright. Screenwriter Robb White keeps it taut with a healthy dash of tongue-in-cheek humor.
The now familiar scenario set in a spooky old mansion (Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House on Los Feliz) has eccentric multi-millionaire Frederick Loren (Vincent Price), upon the suggestion of his lovely fourth wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart), hold a ghost party in a known haunted house they rent for the night, where seven murders were committed. They invite 5 diverse guests, all strangers, who if they stay from midnight to 8 a.m. will each receive $10,000. The five invited guests who volunteer because of the money are: cocky test pilot Lance Schroeder (Richard Long), worldly writer Ruth Bridgers (Julie Mitchum), the ghost believing house owner Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook Jr ), a psychiatrist studying hysteria Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal), and a typist named Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig) who must support her large extended family on her meager wages and is unknown to Loren even though working in one of his companys. The Lorens also stay overnight, as the doors are locked after midnight by the caretakers, Jonas Slydes and his blind wife; there’s bars on the window, no electricity or phone, so once committed to staying one can’t leave until morning no matter what.
Each guest receives a party favor of a tiny coffin containing a loaded handgun to ward off any danger. There’s a dank wine cellar that contains a bubbling vat of lye, where a grizzly murder once took place. The scene is repeatedly set for ghosts to be perceived as present. Pritchard can’t stop talking about how the ghosts are active tonight and will seek revenge. Lance is mysteriously bumped on the head. Nora becomes hysterical after seeing a ghost. The overly jealous Fred believes his wife will try and kill him if she could to inherit all his money. Annabelle believes she’s in danger because hubby’s three other young wives all died or vanished under mysterious circumstances. The shrink doesn’t believe in ghosts but believes one can become hysterical and believe what they want to see. The writer sees a good story here and a chance to earn some needed cash.
When one of the seven is found hanging from a ceiling, foul play is suspected and everyone goes into a self-protective mode or tries to smoke out the murderer.
It’s cheesy. The dialogue is built for cheap laughs. The suspense is couched in the absurd. But as campy fun, this one is timeless, expertly executed and still delivers its fey thrills and worldly laughs.
REVIEWED ON 3/15/2007 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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