Wednesday, October 28, 2009

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Frederick Loren (Vincent Price), an eccentric millionaire, rents a spooky mansion to throw a party for his wife and five strangers. If they stay the night, they each will get $10,000, which was serious coin back in the day. The house was the scene of a brutal double murder.

The film opens with a black screen and a blood curdling scream followed by ghostly noises. We are left to our imagination. Next we see the disembodied head of Watson Pritchard (Eliza Cook, Jr.) who explains a little bit of the background. His brother was murdered in the house and since then he has owned it.

Loren's head appears next, explaining a little about the party. It was his wife's idea, but he chose the guests. With the simple turning of the phrase "She's so amusing", we have great insight into their relationship. Vincent Price was simply amazing. The guests arrive in funeral cars.

Carol Ohmart plays Annabelle Loren, Price's hot trophy wife. She's still alive.(Edit: Nope! Died in 2002!) Richard Long is hunky test pilot Lance Schroeder. Maybe you remember him from Big Valley. I did. He died of multiple heart attacks at age 47. Alan Marshal is Dr. David Trent, a psychiatrist. Perhaps you remember him from guest appearances in 77 Sunset Strip and Surfside 6. I sure don't. He died of a heart attack at age 52. Julie Mitchum plays Ruth Bridges, a newspaper columnist. Perhaps you remember her as the sister of Robert Mitchum. That's probably the most interesting thing about her. This was her last film. She lived to the ripe old age of 88, outliving her baby brother by five and a half years. Carolyn Craig is Nora Manning, a young office worker. Isn't she pretty? Perhaps you remember ... no, you don't. Trust me. She died at 36 from gunshot wounds.

Director William Castle (dead of a heart attack at age 63) loved gimmicks. When shown in theaters, a skeleton would fly across the cinema at a critical point. That aside, the film had enough gimmicks on screen. Scary hands from behind the door, pianos playing without anyone at the keys, scary people jumping out at you. Matinee (1993) was based on him.

So, what is going on? Is Loren trying to kill the Mrs, or the other way around? Are there really ghosts like Watson Pritchard keeps saying, or are the spirits haunting him the bottled kind? Is Lance Schroeder trying to find out what's going on, or is he trying to get into Nora's pants? And maybe the Mrs. Lorens too? While the movie works the second time around, the story in large part doesn't, but that's ok. The atmosphere is great and the dialog is sharp. It's a fun movie.

Here's what doesn't work. The exterior of the house is about as un-haunted house looking as possible. A Denny's looks scarier. The Frank Lloyd Wright abomination was 35 years old at the time. Even worse, there's a scene at the beginning where you see downtown Los Angeles in the background. Thank god the majority of the film is interiors.

Nora Manning, who works for Mr. Loren, was invited because she needed the money. Or so he says, but maybe was was intended to get the Mrs. jealous. Her acting was horrible. She plays the young woman who is frightened of everything. Not a tall order. To watch her struggle and do it standing next to Price was plain weird.

A little silly, yes, but watchable, interesting, and fun. I could say it's AMRU 5 because I did buy it, but that's only because it cost a buck. How did this film end up in the public domain? I love Haunted Hill, flaws and all. One of the best B horror films. AMRU 4.

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