Thursday, October 6, 2016

31 Days of Horror #6 House on Haunted Hill *** (1959)

Vincent Price is clearly having fun in William Castle's House on Haunted Hill, the campy story of a mischievous millionaire's challenge to five strangers: they must survive a night in a locked haunted house to win $10,000. His guests include test pilot Lance (Richard Long), gossip columnist Ruth (Julie Mitchum), psychiatrist Dr. Trent (Alan Marshall), typist Nora (Carolyn Craig), and the skittish owner Watson (Elisha Cook). 

Price is throwing the party for his fourth wife, although the reasons for it are never clear. Her birthday or a wedding anniversary? They have an interesting relationship, one based on suspicion and deception, "What husband has never thought of murdering his wife?" he playfully asks the camera.   

Price offers all his guests loaded guns as party gifts - and everybody plays it straight! Intrigue ensues as the scares pile up.

Director Castle may have invented the jump scare in this film, check out this clip. 

Castle wanted to make the movie going experience interactive to counter the threat posed by television, so movies like House on Haunted Hill were made to pack theaters, including shaking seats, people in costumes, even some pyrotechnics.  Many horror films still copy the camera style of fast and slow zooms.

Elements of horror aside, Robb White's script parodies Agatha Christie's And Then There Was None.  As each twist in the story gets more ridiculous, riding the the fine line between comedy and horror, the movie only gets better. 

Unfortunately the Horror genre has no Vincent Price today, few modern actors can switch from charming to menacing with such ease.

So sit back, make some popcorn, and enjoy some antiquated entertainment with House on Haunted Hill.

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