House on Haunted Hill (1959)
house on haunted hill | william castle | robb white | vincent price | carol ohmart | richard long | mystery | united states | elisha cook jr. | carolyn craig | alan marshal | haunted | haunted house | ghost | ghosts | julie mitchum | leona anderson | howard hoffman
Film: House on Haunted Hill
Director: William Castle
Writer: Robb White
Starring: Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart and Richard Long
Now I have to admit that I saw this film for the first time after I saw the remake. The first time I did see this film, I hated it, mostly because of the ending. After a few viewings, it is definitely one I appreciate more and more. The synopsis is a millionaire offers $10,000 to five people who agree to be locked in a large, spooky, rented house overnight with him and his wife.
This film kicks off with women’s screams before Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook Jr.) appears. He tells us this is the only real haunted house in the world and that the ghosts are moving. Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) then appears to tell us the stakes. This is a party for his wife and that if the attendees can stay overnight in the House on Haunted Hill, they will each receive the money. The guests do not know each other, but each of them needs the money for very different reasons.
We get to meet each one with Frederick giving us background on them. Lance Schroeder (Richard Long) is a pilot. Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal) is a psychologist who wants to prove that hysteria can make people see things and there is a hint that he might be greedy. Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig), an employee of Frederick. She is supporting her whole family after an accident. Watson is the owner of the house and his family has met tragedy there. There is finally Ruth Bridgers (Julie Mitchum) who is a newspaper columnist that wants to write a piece on ghosts. She also has a bit of a gambling debt.
Inside, they are given the tour and Watson tells them of the deaths that happened there. We also see Frederick speak with his wife, Annabelle (Carol Ohmart). She refuses to come down to the party, as she doesn’t know the guests. We see that the banter between them is they don’t get along. She won’t leave him though, as she wants all of his money.
Strange things start to happen and Nora starts to really think this place could be haunted. Lance is trying to help her get to the bottom of this. When Annabelle is found hanging, did she commit suicide or is there something else going on in this house?
The first thing about the story that I love is that this film makes you wonder if the house is really haunted like Watson keeps carrying on or if it isn’t. We get a few things that we see show that the place isn’t, but there are things that still make you wonder as well. I also love that everyone is skeptical except him. It is really only Nora, who starts to come around as she keeps seeing stranger things.
There is the interesting concept as well about the greed in the film. All of these characters are here for the money for completely different reasons. I won’t lie, if this was offered to me, I would probably end up doing it. In most part, I don’t believe in ghosts. There are some deeper issues here as well. Frederick is a highly jealous and cruel man. Annabelle married him for his money, but is cheating on him, or at least Frederick thinks she is. She won’t leave him as she wants his money. The hatred between them is pretty high.
One thing that I really needed to point out as I found it weird, there is a vat of acid in the basement of this place. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that it would still be there. After the murder that occurred there, you’d think that it would be drained. That is unless the murder was never reported which is possible, but I don’t see why Watson would keep that there. Now he is scared of the place so I could see him just avoiding it and never going down there until now. Just some thoughts on had on this.
The film is also paced well. It doesn’t waste any time getting the characters into the house and from there it builds tension all the way through. It is interesting that Dr. Trent keeps going on that being locked up here can cause hysteria, which is exactly what is happening with Nora. The tension really ramps up the more that she sees and her not knowing the truth of what is happening. I don’t mind the ending as much as I did the first couple times seeing this. I still think it is a misstep to not take us all the way to morning personally.
The acting in this film is amazing. I don’t have much to say about Price except that he is at his best and shows why he truly is a horror film legend. Ohmart is solid as his wife that despises him, but is still coy about it. Something that really hit me here was their banter back and forth is one of the best parts of the film. Craig does a lot of screaming and she is great at it. Cook is actually very good in this film as well. He is the only believer that it is haunted at first and even though Nora starts to agree, he doesn’t waiver at all in his beliefs. Leona Anderson plays a creepy woman, Mrs. Slydes, and does it very well; she might have the scariest part of the whole film. The rest of the cast rounded out the film for what was needed as well.
Something I won’t really harp on too much would be the effects of the film. They are done practically, which is really the only way at the time of this film coming out. I will say that the look of Mrs. Slydes. We see a couple moments where there is a dummy that looks like her. Other than that though, the rest of the effects are well done for me. There is a skeleton that doesn’t move great, but when you see why it makes complete sense.
I have to point out here the soundtrack before wrapping this up. The selections they made for the score was absolutely amazing. It makes each scene feel so creepy and I loved it. I think without this, I might not be as big a fan of the film, but whenever they need to build tension, they have the right selection of music playing.
Now with that said, I would recommend this film if you are in haunted house films. Now this film makes you question if there is technically a real haunting here or something else happening here. I’m not a huge fan of the ending, but I get what they are doing. The acting in this film is amazing as well as the score of the film. The editing is well done in building tension and I thought the effects were good for the most part. I need to warn you that this is a classic coming from 1959 so it is in black and white. If you have an issue with that, avoid this film. If not, I definitely recommend this if you are into the genre.
My Rating: 9 out of 10