"If I were gonna haunt somebody, this would certainly be the
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 06/14/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Say what you want about producer/director William Castle (The Tingler, 13 Ghosts, Mr. Sardonicus) but one thing was for sure...he knew how to fill seats in a movie theater, primarily by forcing some sort of direct interaction between the audience and the film (at least in his horror themed features). In House on Haunted Hill (1959), he utilized a technique he called `Emergo', which essentially featured a skeleton, suspended from wires, coming from the screen towards the audience during a specific part of the movie, the intent being to scare the pants off those in the theater. From what I've heard, it didn't sound like many were frightened, but it didn't really matter as Castle was a master at selling the sizzle, rather than the steak, as they say, and audiences flocked to his films...produced and directed by William Castle, the film features the merchant of menace himself Vincent Price (The Fly, The Tingler, House of Usher) in the first of two films he made with Castle. Also appearing is Elisha Cook Jr. (Shane, The Haunted Palace), Carolyn Craig (Giant), Richard Long (Ma and Pa Kettle), Carol `homina homina' Ohmart (Spider Baby), Alan Marshal (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), and Julie Mitchum (Edge of Hell), sister of actor Robert Mitchum.
Price plays Frederick Loren, an eccentric millionaire who, along with his wife Annabelle (Ohmart), has thrown together an interesting little party involving five, seemingly random strangers gathering at a haunted house with ten thousand dollars to each who dare stay through the night. In attendance, along with Frederick and his wife, is Watson Pritchard (Cook), whose brother, one of the previous owners, was murdered within the house, Lance Schroeder (Long), a test pilot, Dr. David Trent (Marshal), a psychiatrist, Nora Manning (Craig), a typist, and Ruth Bridgers (Mitchum), a newspaper columnist. Seems all have agreed to play Frederick's little game for one reason, they need the dough, and if some crazy rich dude is willing to part with his green for such a seemingly easy task, what the hay, right? Well, the guests arrive, introductions are made, and Frederick gives them the full lowdown. The secluded house is like a fortress (steel doors and bars on the windows) in that once they're locked in (at midnight, to be precise), there's no getting out until the caretakers arrive the next morning. Also, there's no electricity or telephones, and the nearest neighbors are well beyond yelling distance. After a tour of the house, highlighting where various grisly events occurred (including a visit to the acid vat in the cellar...man, this place has everything), a few drinks, and some scares (the ghosts seem to have a thing for Nora), Fredrick passes out some party favors in the form of loaded handguns (nothing like being drunk and armed), not that they'd do anyone much good if there are ghosts out and about...anyway, midnight is coming so if anyone wants to cut out of this ghoulish get together, they'd better get while the getting's good...
While not my favorite Castle feature (that goes to The Tingler), House on Haunted Hill is still a hoot and a half for all of its campy, good-natured fun. The one thing this film has going for it, above and beyond everything else, is Vincent Price. No matter how rotten the feature was (which wasn't the case here), Price always brought with him a real sense of class and sophistication to the proceedings, especially true of the number of Poe based films he and Roger Corman made throughout the 1960s for American International Pictures. The absolute best parts of this movie for me occur early on as Price's character is interacting with his wife, and we see the pair have an interesting hate/hate relationship...here's an example of their often snide and insinuating banter they engage in behind closed doors...
Fredrick: Of all my wives you're least agreeable... Annabelle: But still alive.
Here's another bit...
Frederick: Do you remember the fun we had when you poisoned me? Annabelle: Something you ate, the doctor said. Frederick: Yes, arsenic on the rocks...
There are a few more excellent exchanges between Price and Ohmart, worthy alone of seeing this film. As for the rest of the performers, I had no real complaints. Elisha Cook Jr.'s character did get on my nerves after awhile, with his constant dour outlook punctuated by his persistent `doom and gloom' predictions. Drink some more booze, you rummy...seriously, all this guy did was talk about how the ghosts were going to come and take them all away. Perhaps this attitude was assisted by his excessive alcohol intake, but really, what's the point of accepting an invitation to spend a night at a house you believe you won't come out of alive? The money? Won't do you much good if'n you're dead, fool. If I was in that house I probably would have shot him just to be rid of him. At least I learned one thing...never invite Elisha Cook Jr. to your party and ply him with lots of booze as he'll turn into a real poison pill. I did like Ms. Ohmart, and not just because she was a smoking babe with a large rack, but because she held her own with Price, even if it was for just a handful of scenes. If you've got a hankering to see more of her, and you like ookie horror features, you should really check out another film she appeared in called Spider Baby (1968), featuring Lon Chaney Jr. There are a few, minor scares scattered throughout the film (a crusty crone, a disembodied head or two), but nothing that will make you soil yourself...some scenes will make you snicker, though, like the one where Pritchard chucks a dead rat into the acid vat, if only to demonstrate the acid is really acid. After some bubbling effects, a fully articulated rat skeleton bobs to the surface, indicating to those watching it truly is the real deal. Yes sir, that be some powerful acid...the movie may not be much for scares, but it does have plenty of atmosphere created by Castle's direction, groovy, cobweb laden set pieces, spooky music, and usage of the Ennis Brown House in Los Angeles, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, for the exterior shots.
It seems this film has fallen into the public domain (i.e. the copyright expired), as I see there are a number of DVD releases by various companies. I can't speak for those other releases, but the one I own, put out by Warner Brothers (it has a large headshot of Price in the lower right hand corner and Ohmart in a nightgown being menaced by a disfigured hand in the upper left), looks exceptionally good, and features both the fullscreen and widescreen formats, along with a excellent Dolby Digital mono audio track. The only extras included are a theatrical trailer for the film and subtitles in both English and French.
By the way, this movie saw a remake of the same titled, released in 1999, oozing with high tech special effects. It was decent enough, but I still liked the original better. "
Old Price Classic is that pure fun!
Deborah MacGillivray | US & UK | 10/30/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"William Castle at his gimmicky best! A Classic, spooky Black and White, with deliciously devilish Vincent Price as millionaire with a bored gold-digger wife. She wants a Halloween party with her friends, Price tosses a party all right, but not with the people of her choosing. He offers $10,000 dollars to five stranger if they will join him and his wife in spending Halloween night in a truly haunted house. One of the 5 is a young Elisha Cooke, family of the former owners who died in the house, and he leads them on a murder tour. To jazz things up, Price passes out "party favors" - guns. And it's a race to find out whether Price of his wife will be the last one standing. This movie is a grandfather of nearly every clichés, blooding dripping from the ceiling, dark mysterious corridors, a witchy woman floating around and vanishing - and the topper that organ music!! This is more like a Halloween Fun house ride than a movie! Price is campy and has great fun with the role, with super lines, especially when fussing with his less than happy wife.Castle originally devised this movie with "special touches" for the audiences, like ghost on wires gloating through the audience of people in costume sitting down beside you to enhance the fun house feel.Just plain fun and a wee trip down memory lane."
Scary, Campy, Old Horror Fun
Josh Hitchens | Philadelphia, PA | 12/27/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is one of my favorite movies. It has everything. A haunted house, a dark and stormy night, ghosts, a bloodstain that won't wash out, severed heads, an acid vat, organ music...It's just so atmospheric. The plot: Millionaire Vincent Price and his scheming wife invite five strangers to the house on Haunted Hill. He'll pay them 10,000 dollars each if they spend the night there. One of them dies, and a murder mystery also evolves. This movie from William Castle and Robb White is so much fun, and the set and acting is fantastic. If you love this, check out 13 GHOSTS, which I have also reviewed.E-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org"
A THRILLER FOR IT TIME! STILL GOOD!
Noel Serrano | Tampa, Florida United States | 03/18/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"House on Haunted Hill (1959) is a horror film B movies directed by William Castle, written by Robb White, and starring Vincent Price as eccentric millionaire Fredrick Loren. He and his fourth wife, Annabelle, have invited five people to the house for a "Haunted House" party. Whoever stays in the house for one night will earn $10,000 each. As the night progresses, all the guests are trapped inside the house with ghosts, murderers, and other terrors.
Exteriors shots of the house were filmed at the historic Ennis-Brown House in Los Feliz, California.
House on Haunted Hill is the tale of five people invited to stay the night in a haunted house by an eccentric millionaire, Fredrick Loren, who is throwing the "party" for his fourth wife, Annabelle, with the stipulation that the power will be out and all doors will be locked at midnight, allowing no accessible escape. Anyone who stays in the house for the entire night, given that they are still alive, will each receive $10,000.
The five guests all arrive in hearses, which he explains may be empty now, but they may be in need of them later. He explains the rules of the party and gives each of the guests a gun for protection. Loren's wife tries to warn the guests that her husband is psychotic, causing them to be very suspicious of him, especially Nora Manning, who becomes convinced that he's trying to kill her when she keeps seeing mysterious ghouls, including the ghost of Annabelle, who had hung herself after being forced to attend the party.
After being driven into a fit of hysteria by the ghosts haunting her, Nora shoots Mr. Loren, assuming he is going to kill her. Dr. Trent, another guest, tries to get rid of the body by pushing it into acid, but the lights go out, and when they come back on, both of the men are gone. Annabelle emerges, having faked her death with the help of Dr. Trent, and having succesfully tricked Nora into killing Loren. Suddenly, the skeleton of Loren emerges from the acid, approaching Annabelle and mourning how she's killed him. In a panic, a screaming Annabelle accidentally backs into the acid herself. The real Mr. Loren walk out of the shadow, holding the pully that he was using to control the skeleton with, and watching Annabelle disintegrate.
Nora tells the other guests that she's shot Loren in the cellar, and they all rush down there. When they arrive, they see that he's actually alive, and he explains to him that his wife and Dr. Trent were having an affair, and they'd planned to trick Nora into murdering him so that they could get away with his money. Unfortunately for them, he'd hadn't loaded the guns with bullets, but powder, and he hadn't been killed. Just when everyone thinks the trauma is finally over, Mr. Pritchard looks up, a terrified expression on his face, and announces that the ghosts are finally coming for them.
The theatrical trailer promoted the film as The House on Haunted Hill, although all advertising material, and the title on the film itself were simply titled House on Haunted Hill. The film is best known for a famous promotional gimmick used in the film's original theatrical release called "Emergo": William Castle placed an elaborate pulley system in some theaters showing the film; allowing a plastic skeleton to be flown over the audience at the appropriate time.   In the late 1980s, the Film Forum in New York City had a revival of the film (along with several other Castle pictures) that included the original gimmicks.
Thanks to Castle's gimmickry, the film was a huge success. Alfred Hitchcock took notice of the low-budget film's performance at the box office, and set out to make his own low-budget horror film, which became the critically acclaimed hit Psycho (1960). Ironically, Castle himself was a Hitchcock fan, and tried to imitate Hitchcock's work in later films such as Homicidal (1961).
House on Haunted Hill was originally released by Allied Artists Pictures Corporation. The film has since become public domain, and is available in a number of issues. Two major studios have released the film in remastered versions. Warner Home Video released the film on DVD as a tie-in to promote the release of the 1999 remake. In 2005, the film was colorized by Legend Films. The color version was released on DVD the same year by 20th Century Fox. Extras prepared by Legend Films for the Fox DVD release included an audio commentary track by comedian Michael J. Nelson, of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame, two versions of the trailer, and a slideshow of images from the film's original press book. Johnny Legend released a 50TH Anniversary DVD containing a whole slew of Extras such as both Original Theatrical Trailer and TV Spot plus several William Castle and Vincent Price Theatrical Trailers, A Carol Ohmart profile and Golden Age TV Shows starring Vincent Price. A DivX file of the colorized version with the commentary embedded is available as part of Nelson's RiffTrax On Demand service. In 2009, a newly-recorded commentary by Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett was released by RiffTrax.[ "
Great classic horror - Color gives it a new angle
ronnie | San Francisco | 02/10/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am a usually a stickler for the correct aspect ratio and non-colorized versions of films (their original intent). In this case, many post-1953 films, other than Scope films, were filmed 35mm film which has 1:37 to 1 dimensions, with a "soft" matte so they could be cropped anywhere from 1:66 through 2:1 in theatres. When shown on television, they could look like there's a lot of headroom in the cinematography, so the composition isn't quite right, although you see the whole full-frame picture. Legend films has provided the latter here, but crops nicely on my widescreen television, maintaining the original aspect. But the clincher here is both B&W and Colorized versions are included on this disc. To my surprise, in contrast with the 1980s faded and phony colorized releases, the color looks fantastic here, muted and striking to look at. Even the colorized trailer, while keeping the audio soundtrack, replaces the dull talking head scenes, with more shock scenes from the movie, an actual improvemnt! The Menu design is also great fun. So watch it in Color, and enjoy the memorable performances of leads smarmy Vincent Price and statuesque Carol Ohmart (Miss Utah 1946, 4th runner-up Miss America), a multitude of entertaining quotes ("Do you remember the fun we had when you poisoned me"), and one jump-out-of seat scene in a cellar. "Hurry, or you'll be late for your own funeral.""