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House on Haunted Hill (1958)


Vincent "If you don't who he is you need help...." Price is Frederick Loren
Carol Ohmart is Annabelle Loren
Alan Marshal is Doctor David Trent
Elisha Cook Jr. is Watson Pritchart
Richard Long is Lance

What the VHS box says:

The House on Haunted Hill is a classic shocker reminiscent of those scary theater thriller films that always send chills up your spine! Vincent Price is at his best as a wealthy eccentric who throws an unusual party. He will give his five guests each $10,000 if they stay in his house all night, haunted by the ghosts of seven people who have already been murdered there-then he tries to kill them all before the morning. To add to the spirit of adventure he gives them loaded guns in little coffins as party favors. As Vincent Price tries to kill his guests his wife and her lover are trying to kill him! Directed by the legendary William Castle, this film also stars Richard Long, Alan Marshall, Carol Ohmart, Elisha Cook, Jr. and Carolyn Craig. Stocked with all the scenes you'd expect to find in a classic thriller-violent thunderstorms, secret passages, blood drips from the ceiling, a decapitated head and a dancing skeleton. Be sure to stock up on junk food and DON'T TURN OUT THE LIGHTS!

What the DVD box says:

Vincent Price is wonderful as the sinister owner of an old, dark and evil mansion located on a haunted hill (I guess that's how they came up with the title). He bribes several of his enemies with an offer of $10,000 each, if they would spend the night in the crumbling mansion. He gives each of his guests a tiny coffin containing a handgun and proceeds to set in motion gadgets and devices aimed at frightening his visitors into using their weapons. Terror, murder and the supernatural make this one of producer/director William Castle's best films.


The black screen erupts in screaming and groaning. The giant superimposed head of Watson Pritchart talks how the ghosts are restless. The next giant head is Frederick Loren (Vincent Price, the rest of the movie will refer to him as Vincent…) tells us how he rented the house of Haunted Hill for a haunted house party for his wife. He offered $10,000 to each of the guests provided they stay the night.

Each of the guests is driven up to the house in a funeral car. Lance, the manly test pilot, is the first guest and needs money. Ruth, gossip columnist, needs the money to pay her gambling debts. Watson, the first superimposed giant head, needs money, too. Dr. David Trent, a psychiatrist studying hysteria, needs money, also. And, Nora, breadwinner for her whole family, works for one of Vincent’s companies. The cars pull up to the house. They’re waiting until the door is opened.

Entering the dreary house, Watson is spooked, the ghosts will get them. None of the guests know each other or have ever met Vincent. The door closes itself. Lance pushes Nora out of the way of the falling chandelier.

Upstairs, Vincent and his lovely but acidic wife, Annabelle, are having a discussion. She refuses to go down to the party, since Vincent took it over and invited the guests. This is his idea of a psychological test. Vincent offers to give her a million dollars if he can get a divorce. Too bad, he never heard of a prenuptial agreement. She refuses, wants all his money. She tried poisoning him earlier. Annabelle stays in the bedroom as Vincent heads downstairs.

The wild-eyed Watson finds the knife that killed his brother. His brother and sister-in-law’s heads were never found. Dr. Trent thinks Watson is in need of a Prozac big gulp. Lance is skeptical, too. Vincent arrives and greets his guests. Watson tries to convince him to cancel the party before it’s too late. Vincent explains the rules. The caretakers leave at midnight and lock the house until 8:00 AM. The house doesn’t have any power or telephones. And, if you leave, you won’t get the $10,000.

7 people have been killed in the house so far. Watson takes them on a tour of where the murders happened. On the ceiling is a dried bloodstain, it lands on Ruth’s hand. Watson claims she’s been marked by the ghosts. They go to the cellar next. A previous owner filled the wine vat built into the cellar floor with acid and threw his wife in it. Guess what? The vat is still filled with acid.

Lance and Nora stay behind exploring the cellar. They start to talk, both plan on staying the night. Looking around, Lance enters a room and the door slams shut. Nora can’t get the door opened. She sees the creepy witch-ghost-woman and runs upstairs to tell everyone what’s going on. Back in the cellar, the room Lance is in the door has opened. Apparently, he fell. Watson is still doing his creepy routine for Ruth. Everyone heads upstairs.

Vincent is told by Nora about the ghost. Dr. Trent thinks Nora didn’t see anything.

Nick and Lance head back to the cellar. Lance is sure he saw something in the room. They discover that there is a missing room. Lance is in a side room and, Nora is in another when she finds the witch-ghost-woman again. While Nora is screaming, the ghost woman glides away. Lance rushes to her rescue but didn’t see the ghost leave. He teases her about the ghost and, Nora storms away angry.

Upstairs, Nora meets Annabelle who shows her to her room for the night. Annabelle demands to know why Nora was picked for the party. She tells Nora everyone is in danger and leaves.

She meets Lance, too. She asks him what’s going on. She asks for his help. Annabelle can play the helpless damsel part fairly good. Lance is told that Vincent wants to kill her. She’s the 4th wife. The 1st mysteriously disappeared. 2nd and 3rd died of heart attacks in their twenties. She heads back to her room.

Vincent comes back to his wife’s room. Some more catty comments ensue. Vincent orders her to go down to the party. He leaves. He stops by Nora and then Lance’s rooms to tell them to go downstairs. Nora opens a suitcase and finds a severed head inside it.

Severed head in a bag for killers on the run...
She runs from the room. A man grabs her but, she manages to break free. Downstairs, Nora wants to leave. The caretakers appear. The caretaker’s blind wife is the ghost witch woman. They let a blind woman roam a cellar with a vat of acid in the floor. People complain about we need more safety laws nowadays.

Annabelle arrives to enter the fray. While Vincent goes over the rules one last time, the caretakers leave early and lock up. Everybody is staying until the next morning. Party favors are passed out to everyone, handguns in little coffins.

Everybody is good and liquored up and packing heat. Nora wants to show everyone the head in her suitcase. They follow her to her room. But, the head is gone and Nora is hysterical. They all leave. Ruth will keep an eye for Nora. Dr. Trent thinks that Vincent is disturbing Nora. Lance looks for Nora but finds the severed head. Watson claims the ghost s have her. They hear a scream.

See a woman hung fro the rafters. Lance and Dr. Trent let the body down. It’s Annabelle. Vincent sees the body for himself.

Lance finds Nora who wants to hide. Someone choked in her in her room. Nora thinks it was Vincent. Nora discovers that Annabelle has died. Lance thinks that Vincent killed her. Knock on the door, Dr. Trent tells Lance they have a meeting. Lance has Nora stay in his room with a gun.

Vincent sees Lance leave his room. He enters where Annabelle’s body is and forces Watson from the room.

At the meeting, Dr. Trent, Ruth, Lance, Watson, Vincent discuss things. There isn’t a way out of the house. Has everything that’s happened been accidents? Annabelle was murdered. There wasn’t anything for her to climb up where her body was found. The only person who would want Annabelle dead would be Vincent. They have to protect themselves until the morning. Everyone will stay in their rooms until it’s time to leave. Watson rants how it still isn’t over.

Watson sits in his room with the gun pointed at the door. Dr. Trent is writing something when his doorknob starts turning. Ruth has a gun on a nearby table. Blood drips on her hand again and, she wipes it off. Lance checks on Nora. She isn’t sure that it was Vincent anymore. Lance is positive Vincent killed Annabelle. She asked for his help. Lance will try to get out of the house to contact the police. Nora is staying behind. Lance finds a hidden passage.

Nora is waiting. Outside, a thunder storm rages. Suddenly a rope wraps itself around her feet. Annabelle is floating outside the window. The rope unwraps itself from Nora’s feet. Nora is pretty hysterical from this and packing a pistol, too. She runs from the room. Annabelle is hanging from the spot where she died. A hand tries to grab her, but, she escapes. We see the organ playing itself. Nora runs away screaming.

Vincent sees Dr. Trent leave his room. They search the house. Vincent heads downstairs. Dr. Trent goes to the room where Annabelle’s body is. She’s alive. The conniving minx…They planned for Nora to kill Vincent. Dr. Trent and Annabelle are a couple and start swapping spit.

In the cellar, Nora is waiting…The lights flicker and Vincent arrives. Nora shoots Vincent. She runs away, screaming. Dr. Trent opens the cover for the wine vat to dispose of Vincent’s body. The lights turn off. We hear a body fall into the vat of acid. Annabelle heads to the cellar. The doors close. She looks in the wine-vat. A skeleton rises from the acid. She cannot open any of the doors. The skeleton speaks in Vincent’s voice. She keeps backing away form the skeleton until falling into the vat of acid herself.

Vincent emerges from the shadows wearing some kind of control harness for the skeleton.

Ruth, Watson, and Nora find Lance. They see Vincent is alive. Nora’s gun had blanks in it. He reveals Annabelle and Dr. Trent were trying to kill him. He will let the justice system decide if he did anything wrong and leaves. Watson tells that the house now has 9 ghosts. They’ve marked him and maybe you, too….End of movie…

What I say:

Elisha Cook Jr, crazy drunk, warning of impending doom. Check. Hysterical girl to be protected by the rugged man, check. Rugged man, named Lance, when Lance was a manly name in the 50s, check. Evil seductress female type for what it's worth. Creepy caretakers....check. This pretty much takes every haunted house and horror cliché into this movie. Well, no bats. That's the only thing that needed to be included that I can think of. None of the so-called Scream rules.

This movie belongs to Vincent Price. The man personifies sinister charm. Just watch the scenes where Annabelle is acting catty towards him. Vincent Price could play a hella-cool villain as Cartman might say. He wasn’t trying to kill anyone that did him wrong. Annabelle had previously tried poisoning him. You can't call him a hero either. And anti-hero is Dirty Harry. How about Anti-villain?

William Castle directed this movie. Granted, his attitude towards movies seemed more like low budget horror movies with cheesy gimmicks. House on Haunted Hill was filmed in Emergo; a 12 foot glow in the dark skeleton would coast on a wire between the screen and projection booth at certain times in the movie. That was probably one of his milder promotions for his movies. If you’ve seen Matinee with John Goodman, you’ll realize he plays a William Castle type director. But his newest movie has every possible gimmick worked into it.

Mini Rant time, this was made as a goofy 50s horror movie. 1999 saw not the release of Moonbase Alpha but a remake of House on Haunted Hill. I’ve seen the remake but it didn’t impress me. Geoffrey Rush didn’t do a bad job. But, I kept thinking Vincent Price did it first and did it better. If you think the original had a house of card premise, the remake was even a thinner plot.

Some directors are talented enough to remake older movies. Screw the term “re-imagining.” John Carpenter made a version of The Thing that certainly can’t be really considered in the same thought as the original version. David Cronenberg’s Fly may have been gory and not had Vincent Price in it. But, it could stand on its own. I can’t say they’re better than the originals. But, at the very least, they are enjoyable in their own right.

What about the Gus Van Zandt version of Psycho? Who in the health class I was trapped in high school oh so long ago thought this guy had the ability to remake Alfred Hitchcock? Unmitigated gall would be a better term, for anyone trying to remake Hitchcock. Bad Hitchcock is better that a lot of directors. Which is better Family Plot or Joel Schumacher well anything he's ever done? A scene for scene remake with some retooled nude scenes and modern morality. Now, we’ve had a remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre which in the end came from the diseased mind of action director Michael Bay. Can anyone think the Tobe Hooper version deserved it? It was so successful by being so original in the mid 1970s. 20+ years later, Hollywood tries milking the cash cow off of it one more time.

You don’t remake Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Alien… They are classics in the sci-fi and or horror genres. A lot of the remakes I’m opposed to on principle. Edward Norton starring in Red Dragon loses to Manhunter starring William “C.S.I.” Peterson. He played a more believable Will Graham. Can you picture Ed Norton as a retired FBI serial killer profiler? Not I said the fish, not I. I think I better end this mini rant.

If you think of gory horror movies of the past 30 years or so, House on Haunted Hill comes up short. It’s very low budget, but not Ed Wood budget. We have a lot of creaking doors. Fake severed heads. A lot of cheap scares, before they were as cheap as they are today. People randomly grabbed and dragged into the dark. But, at the time, it worked. We've been jaded by so many pathetic horror movies to appreciate the ones that shaped the field so long ago.

This movie is a lot like a house of cards. Any attempt to analyze it will cause it to fall apart. If Vincent picked the guests, how did Annabelle and Trent realize Nora would be the perfect one to “Gas-Light?” Who knocked Lance out? Who would keep a vat of acid in their cellar, shouldn’t it have been drained? Think I have written before the point is not to assassinate a movie with logic. Acknowledge the good, curse the bad, and enjoy the B-movie-ness of House on Haunted Hill and more than that watch what Vincent Price can do to what would be the tired rich sinister guy...


Quotable Dialogue

"Don't you see a touch of greed around the eyes and the mouth?"
"You remember the fun we had when you poisoned me?"
"The funny thing, the heads were never found."
"These are no good against the dead, only the living..."

Morals of the Story

Rats are excellent test for acidity.
When in scary situations, liquor makes it better...
Hysterical people should be good and liquored up and packing guns, too.

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