House On Haunted Hill (1959)

House On Haunted Hill (1959), produced and directed by William Castle.


[Vincent Price narrates...]

I am Frederick Loren, and I have rented the house on Haunted Hill tonight so that my wife can give a party. A haunted house party.

She's so amusing.

An eccentric millionaire invites five strangers to spend a night locked inside a haunted house, for which each will receive $10,000. He has a troublesome wife: might this night be a cover for a murder plot? Might there be more than one such plot?

Party favors include loaded .45 automatic pistols. They keep a vat of acid in the basement. What could go wrong?

I remember this as trash, but seeing it again I liked it better. Lighting and camera work are rather good and the cast put a lot into it. Vincent Price and Carol Ohmart as the warring couple are a joy to watch, and drunken terrified Elisha Cook Jr would steal the movie if Price weren't in it.

Many of the jump scares and ghostly effects have no explanation. William Castle was a promoter and he designed the picture as a funhouse scream-fest, nothing more. This is the one with "Emergo", a theater gimmick where an inflated skeleton floated above the audience and then was reeled back in, matching the action on the screen.

Influences: Castle got into horror films after seeing Diabolique (1955). I've heard many times that Hitchcock was inspired by the low-budget filmmaking examples of Castle and Corman to try it himself, culminating in Psycho (1960). (I can't find that in my current Hitchcock references, but maybe in others?)

Available on Blu-ray with a fact-filled commentary track.

This completes Shout Factory's Vincent Price Collection vol 2. Earlier titles were:

I didn't review Return of the Fly (1959) because I had nothing much to say about it, but it was a decent sequel with lovely black-and-white cinematography.