Sunday, October 14, 2012

Visiting the "House on Haunted Hill"

Have you ever been invited to a (haunted) house party? That's the main plot of House on Haunted Hill, a delightfully spooky fright fest from 1959. Produced & Directed by William Castle, the movie stars Vincent Price as a millionaire who invites five people to spend the night at a supposedly haunted house. He hands out fun party favors like handguns that are stored in little coffins! If you survive the night, you get $10,000. All of the attendees need the money he's offering for one reason or another. One of them is the house’s owner, Watson Pritchard, who warns everyone that there are angry spirits in the house, and that they shouldn’t stay if they want to live. In addition to Price, the cast includes veteran character actor Elisha Cook, Jr. as Pritchard and Richard Long (of TV’s The Big Valley & Nanny & The Professor), as another guest.

Director Castle was well known as a flamboyant showman who used unique gimmicks to sell his films. During screenings of The Tingler (1959), there were vibrators installed under the seats that induced shocks when the title creature was on screen; for 13 Ghosts (1960), patrons used special ghost viewers to see (or remove) the spirits from the screen. In House on Haunted Hill's theatrical showings, a skeleton seemed to float right out of the film at the audience in a process called Emergo. These ideas worked like a charm for Castle, who had a lot of financial success with his films. His movies were aimed primarily at teenagers, who ate them up like candy. His autobiography was called Step Right Up! I’m Gonna Scare The Pants Off America. 

A gathering of guests at the House on Haunted Hill
House on Haunted Hill is truly the kind of B film they don’t make anymore. The movie features ghosts, blood dripping from the ceiling, secret rooms, skeletons in the basement, and heads with no bodies as part of the scares & shocks. There may even be a non- supernatural reason for some of the weird goings on in the house....but could our host know more than he's telling? Price is at his smooth, witty best and gets most of the film’s best lines, though Cook gets to deliver a few, like "Only the ghosts in this house are happy we're here" and the film’s memorable closing line. This is a matinee movie for the ten year old in all of us; it sounds kind of old fashioned and goofy in the age of found footage horror films and endless sequels to films like Saw, but it’s great fun. 

The film was remade in gorier fashion in 1999 with Geoffrey Rush, but that version can’t hold a candle to the original. The movie is available in various DVD editions (including a colorized version) and for digital download as well. So warm up the popcorn, and settle in for some silly, scary fun. And here’s another piece of suggested viewing: The 1993 Joe Dante (Gremlins) film Matinee is about a B movie producer (played by John Goodman) who premieres one of his monster films in a small Florida town during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Goodman's character is an affectionate homage to Castle. Matinee is also worth a look, especially for fans of 50s & 60s sci-fi, horror & fantasy films. Here’s a link to the trailer for House on Haunted Hill

Next time: The Halloween terror continues as we visit The Cabin In The Woods (2012)

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