House on Haunted Hill

House on Haunted Hill. William Castle Productions 1959.
House on Haunted Hill. William Castle Productions 1959.

Before watching the movie:

What’s more Halloween than a haunted house? A haunted house owned by Vincent Price. Well, it’s probably not so much haunted as the scene of seven deaths and soon more, but “haunted” is in the name. Suspense, horror, death, probably jump scares, but I doubt much gore.

I hadn’t known the more recent movie of the name was a remake until I came across this in the collection of classic movies loaned to me by my grandparents. I haven’t seen the remake either.

After watching the movie:

The House on Haunted Hill was the site of seven murders through its life, including the current owner’s brother. Years later, millionaire Frederick Loren rents it for an evening to throw a “night in a haunted house” Halloween party for his greedy fourth wife, with the challenge that everyone who stays the entire night will receive $10,000. He invites five strangers whom he knows need the money, and once the door is locked, there is no escape from the spooky happenings, and soon, murder.

While there are seven characters in the party (five guests and the Lorens), only six really get focus. Frederick and Annabelle are the couple hosting the party, Lance and Nora are the hero and heroine, Mr. Pritchard is the owner and expert on the house, and Dr. Trent assumes the lead among the guests in the proceedings of the evening. The newspaper writer Ms. Bridges is essentially a bystander in terms of plot. I suspect this is because, while there was really only enough story for six, the writer liked the parallel between the number of guests and number of murders too much to drop it, and seven is a much more resonant number than six.

The effects are pretty much all at least as convincing as a film of that time could achieve. Some shots with an animated rope I couldn’t say with any certainty how they were done. There’s a walking skeleton that’s clearly a marionette, but very well done, and fully appropriate for the scene. The only effect I really found cheesy to the point of losing the immersion was the “ghost woman” who is meant to appear to be floating, but is quite obviously on a hidden dolly, and aside from that, doesn’t seem to move at all.

The plot structure of the film was not quite as tight as it should have been. The film opens with Mr. Pritchard expositing directly to the camera about the history of the house, and then Frederick doing the same about his party plans, as if they were doing not the beginning of the movie, but the trailer for it, as trailers were sometimes done in those days. Then once the guests arrive, there’s some time to get to know them and the house, some haunting scares, and then there’s a stretch that sags where hardly any new information is being delivered, but the characters are just talking to each other about the scares had and their trepidation about the evening, until the point about halfway through the film where the first murder happens.  From there, the pacing and storytelling methods were satisfying to me.

 

Watch this movie: like a trip or ride through a haunted house with a bit of plot added on.

Don’t watch this movie: for excessive shock violence.

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