It’s October, that time of the year when, with Fall in full…fall, we are sanctioned to gorge ourselves on a year’s worth of high fructose corn syrup. Knowing you’ll no doubt take care of that on your own, today the FAM provides you, instead, with a healthy heaping of camp and Vincent Price as we present House on Haunted Hill from 1959, directed by William Castle.
The setup is fairly simple: Eccentric millionaire Fredrick Loren (Price) has invited five strangers to attend a “party” for his fourth wife Annabelle at a supposedly haunted house. The power will be off and the doors will be locked at midnight. Each of the guests is given a .45 pistol for protection. Any guest that makes it until morning will receive ten thousand dollars. As the night progresses his guests will learn that there is more to fear than ghosts.
Two things really make House on Haunted Hill: Price, of course, at his schlocky best and the house itself. Say what you want about the acting or the special effects, but the atmosphere conjured up by those sets is strikingly foreboding, especially the wine cellar, home of perhaps the films most famous apparition, the old crone who twice scares the crap out of poor Nora.
Castle was well known for heavily promoting his films with a number of gimmicks, and this one was no different. House on Haunted Hill was marketing as being filmed in “Emergo” or “Emerg-O” in some theaters. What this meant was, during the film’s penultimate scene (in which the scheming Annabelle meets her demise) a glowing, inflatable skeleton would emerge from above the screen and float above the audience via wires. This was known to elicit more laughs than scares and the skeleton often became a target of flying confections.
House on Haunted Hill is a quintessential Halloween movie. It is a typical, haunted house experience put to film (it even starts out with a series of generic haunted-house-spooky sounds) hosted by Vincent Fucking Price. If you’re in the mood for some B-movie thrills, it doesn’t get much better than that.