There are a handful of names that one immediately thinks of when the topic of horror movies comes up in conversation. Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and of course, Vincent Price. Among the horror movies I was introduced to as a child were many Vincent Price gems.
His career in horror films is legendary, as are many of his performances, so while I knew I wanted to review one of his works, it was difficult to choose exactly which one. I finally settled on tonight’s movie, The House on Haunted Hill.
Year Released: 1959
Written By: Robb White
Directed By William Castle
Starring: Vincent Price, Alan Marshal, Carol Ohmart
When five people all receive the same mysterious invitation to a party being held for the sender’s wife, their curiosity is piqued. After all, the instructions seem simple enough: Each invited party guest is promised $10,000 each, so long as they can spend the entire night locked within the house at which the party is held. There is one catch, however.
The house is said to be haunted by several ghosts who have been known to kill visitors.
But is it true? Or is it just the ramblings of a mad man? The five party guests participate in a fight for survival as they try to unlock the mysteries of the House on Haunted Hill before it’s too late.
I love this movie, I’m not going to lie. It might be my favorite of the old Vincent Price films, but I’m not certain I can truthfully narrow it down to only one.
Not only is this movie genuinely frightening on it’s own, by 1959 standards, but it has the distinction of being directed by William Castle, who was famous for attaching theater gimmicks to his films upon release. An example of this would be when he released The Tingler, also in 1959, and he attached vibrating motors under theater seats that would jolt the viewer of the film at key moments (When the tingler would attack a victim on screen).
The gimmick for House on Haunted Hill was fairly straight forward. During a scene in the film that involves a skeleton popping out of a vat of acid, the theaters were rigged so that a plastic glow-in-the-dark skeleton would drop from the ceiling to startle the viewers below. This worked some of the time, getting some legitimate screams from the audience, but it also caused some moviegoers to throw things at the skeleton and the gimmick was eventually retired altogether.
The writing, directing, and acting are all on par for a 1950s horror film starring Vincent Price, which is to say great. Many people who didn’t grow up with an appreciation of 50s/60s horror movies like I did might look upon this movie with a feeling of boredom or find the acting and “scares” to be laughable, but if you take into consideration how timid most films were in that era, this is a truly terrifying film. At least it would have been, if you had seen it in 1959.
Should You See It:
If you like Vincent Price, but have never seen this prized entry into his film career, then yes. If you’re a fan of black and white screamfests from the 40s/50s/60s, then yes. If you’re curious to see how many, if any, of the party guests survive the night, then yes.
If you saw (and enjoyed) the remake released in 1999 and want to see where that came from originally, then I say yes, but cautiously so. Keep in mind that the 1999 version of the film was released in a time when horror movies were starting to push the envelope in way of gore and jump-out scares. So you may find yourself a bit bored with the original. But I promise you that it is at least worth looking into.
You should really avoid seeing the remake, though.