Fredrick Loren (Vincent Price) is an eccentric millionaire that people have never seen. On a dark and stormy night, Loren invites 5 different people to the house on Haunted Hill for a party and to spend the night. Supposedly no one has ever been able to spend the night in the house and Loren is offering each person that does $10,000. Each of the 5 guest he has invited have never met before, but in some way they have all had contact with Loren, though they have never seen him. Things take a somewhat spooky turn when a chandelier falls from the ceiling almost killing one of the guests. Then they discover that the servants have left early and that they are locked in with no way to escape until morning. A vat of acid in the cellar, secret passages, and shrunken heads all have their place on THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL.
The movie is often categorized as a horror film. However, it's more of a mystery than anything else. There are moments that are kind of spooky and the eerie tone of the movie makes it easier for one to get the chills. However, there isn't a whole lot that is scary about the movie. When a key character is involved in an "accident", the audience is not frightened, but is intrigued, wondering how it happened, why did it happen, and what is the purpose behind it all.
Most of the actors are relatively no names, with only Price and Elisha Cook, Jr. (as Watson Pritchard) being the only truly memorable actors. The rest of the cast does a decent job and it's a shame that so many of them died early deaths (often from heart attacks). It would have been interesting to see what kind of career Richard Long might have had, for instance.
THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL has become a cult classic, largely because the movie stars Price and also because the film was directed by William Castle, a director who used gimmicks to get people into the theatres to see his movies. In THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL a device called "Emergo" was used--which was basically a skeleton in a box that emerged and hovered across the audience on a wire as the skeleton in the film appeared. The movie is also notable because of the Ennis Brown House in Los Angeles, which was used for all the movie's outside shots. The Ennis Brown House was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and build in 1924 and is now on the National Historic Register. It is also rumored that the success of THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL inspired Alfred Hitchcock to create his own horror mystery, PSYCHO.
**** out of **** I had no idea that the concepts of Camp had originated from so far back in cinematic time, but "House on Haunted Hill" proves, furthermore, that such things existed even way back in the good old 50's. It was directed by William Castle; who got his reputation for making cheesy but entertaining and well-executed camp classics such as this. He also had an eye for the atmospheric, the genuinely creepy, and the morbidly humorous; which I kind of admire. Plenty … more
There's not much to say of House on Haunted Hill that hasn't been reiterated ad infinitum. Briskly paced, the proceedings of this twisted parlor party are as exciting as they are totally unpredictable to the first-time viewer. Just as the plot's vulpine twists distract attention from its few holes, so Price's devilish performance and gigantic presence cover for the few mediocre players of a colorful supporting cast. Among all of William Castle's collaborations with Price, this … more
William Castle's gimmick-laden comic thriller is not so much a horror movie as a fairground funhouse come to life. Vincent Price stars as a deliciously silky millionaire married to a greedy gold digger (Carol Ohmart) who refuses to divorce him. When he turns his wife's idea for a haunted-house party into a contest--$10,000 to whoever will spend the night in "the only truly haunted house in the world"--it seems he may have found an alternative to divorce. Five strangers gather to test their stamina, Price hands each of them delightfully twisted party favors (loaded handguns, delivered in their own tiny coffins), and the spook show begins. Blood drips from the ceiling, zombielike apparitions float through rooms, severed heads and skeletons suddenly appear, and then a guest is found hanging in the stairwell. Full of screams and things that go bump in the night, House on Haunted Hill isn't particularly scary and often makes little sense, but, like a Halloween haunted house, the spectacle of spook-show clichés is quite entertaining, and Price makes a sardonic master of ceremonies. The original theatrical presentations featured a typically outrageous Castle-engineered gimmick: Emergo, which was nothing more than a skeleton that appeared to fly out of the screen and over the audience on a guide wire.--Sean Axmaker