Spooktober: “House on Haunted Hill” (1959)

House on Haunted Hill” is famed horror director William Castle’s best movie. It’s got all the campiness of classic Castle, but with an intriguing, twisty plot that makes for a genuinely thrilling tale.

Vincent Price, who also teamed up with Castle that year for the horror thriller “The Tingler”, stars as millionaire Frederick Loren, who invites five people to stay overnight in a supposedly haunted house he has rented, along with his wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart). The seemingly random bunch includes pilot Lance Schroeder (Richard Long), columnist Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum), psychiatrist David Trent (Alan Marshal), the house’s owner Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook), and Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig), who works for one of Loren’s companies. A series of events begin to unfold in the creepy house, and the guests become increasingly suspicious of Loren when Annabelle starts warning them that he’s psychotic.

Carol Ohmart as Annabelle Loren in “House on Haunted Hill”

The film opens with a black screen accompanied by screams, moans, and evil laughter. It’s a chilling intro that sets the tone for the movie very well. Price, as usual, steals the film with his energetic portrayal of the eccentric Loren. He has some especially fantastically-written dialogue with Ohmart, such as this great exchange:

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.

But despite Price’s presence, the film is actually more famous for hosting Castle’s greatest theater gimmick (most of his movies were accompanied in theaters by some sort of interactive element to scare audiences even further), Emergo. At the same time in the movie as a skeleton flew through the air, a plastic skeleton rigged with a pulley would fly over the audience.

“House on Haunted Hill”, despite being a low budget film, was a big hit with audiences, and reportedly its influence extended even further. Alfred Hitchcock, after seeing what a success such a low budget horror film could be, decided to make one of his own. That movie was 1960’s “Psycho”.

“House on Haunted Hill” is streaming on Amazon Prime Video and Tubi TV. Runtime: 75 minutes.

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