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House on Haunted Hill (1959)

A 1959 haunted house film starring vincent Price and directed by William Castle.

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Classic fright/camp film. I loved it.

  • Oct 25, 2011
Rating:
+5
**** 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 of filmmakers, even today, are reminiscent of people such as Castle; but none come quite close to mastering the artistry that is being able to craft pure fun. Castle was the kind of guy who understood that people need fun in their lives; be it through cinema, life experiences, or whatever else existence itself has in store for us all. And if fun itself is a high art, then "House on Haunted Hill" is a masterpiece, a true classic, and something to remember for years to come. It's a film so joyously over-the-top and ghoulish that I might revisit it a few times just to have the experience all over again, since it becomes apparent, over time, that it's less of a film and more of a visit to that titular house, which as the title suggest, is indeed on a hill; but about it being haunted, who knows?

What's not to like? Here's a film with an intriguing premise, some crazy and hilarious new gimmicks (which were short-lived, but at least the film invented...SOMETHING), and a leading role played by the legendary (and personal favorite) Vincent Price. It was already an appealing and seemingly worthwhile package, but this film actually surprised me in how good it was. I believe there is a side of cinema that is existent just to entertain ("Demons"), and then there's the significantly more...popular side, which most good films rest on. "House on Haunted Hill" deserves its reputation as a classic in horror cinema because it entertains through an intelligent, understanding approach to its subjects as well as the performances of its stars. I was quite charmed.

Five people are chosen at random and invited to stay overnight at a rich man's (Price) mansion. They arrive on time and expect the unexpected, as they have been told that the house is haunted by ghosts of the deceased. What the home-owner does not tell his guests is the fact that he shall lock the doors at midnight; and to get the large sum of money that each person has been promised (as they most certainly have), they must all survive through the madness and mayhem that is about to ensue. A few of the attendees start seeing ghosts; and one tells ghastly stories of the home's haunted history. This begins the night that we are about to witness; a night to remember, a night difficult to forget. All-in-all, it's also a pleasant and appropriately ghastly one; filled with surprises, scares, and plenty of unexpected laughs.

Of course, a good number of those laughs come from Price himself; a funny, charming, unique man of the genre. He brings often times snappy, humorous, and brilliant dialogue into a film that normally wouldn't have any of such a thing. That aside, "House on Haunted Hill" remains a standard, appropriately clich├ęd, but old-fashioned haunted house movie; and it's perfectly fine as it is.

I believe that sophistication and a deeper "meaning" would have ruined my movie-watching experience all-together. Sometimes, I complain when a horror movie lacks depth; and sometimes I'm fine with a focus for visual images and atmosphere. This film has such a focus; and it's admirable from beginning-to-end. Most of the audience will probably enjoy it; and die-hard genre fans might even love it. "House on Haunted Hill" has a seductive, uncanny, unfailing ability to capture our hearts through moments of humor and ghastly going-ons. One of my favorite scenes is the finale; where Price reveals both sides of the con. It's a pure B-movie conclusion; and I adored it.

The fact that it's a haunted house movie, and a good one at that, should tell you all you need to know about Castle's flick when going in. I'd say it's for most people; a very enjoyable, well-acted, and appropriately cheesy film that accomplishes just about all that it intends to, but alas, there is some seriously impressive work here; which elevates it to a personal genre favorite from just another solid haunted house film. "House on Haunted Hill" is delightfully diabolical and ghoulishly good; so gimmicky, so corny, yet so addicting. It's nice, once in a while, to have a horror movie that has its arms open; ready to be loved. Price is a presence that allows such a thing; and what his charm alone makes him a screen legend. There was nobody quite like him, and on his better days, he was able to take good films and make them great. Here's an excellent example of what I call the "Price Transformation". Now onwards to see more of these films. I have been intrigued.

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November 05, 2011
I just watched this on Turner Classics two weeks ago for the first time in years. Its still a fun movie to watch. Vincent Price is one of my favorites and I always enjoy watching him. Enjoyed your review of the film.
 
October 29, 2011
This is one of the true classic horror films, I also liked 'THE HAUNTING" (the original) I need to review that one...You are rocking the community with these horror movies, Ryan, keep them up!
 
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More House on Haunted Hill (1959 fi... reviews
Quick Tip by . August 04, 2011
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 …
review by . December 16, 2004
posted in Movie Hype
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 …
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #5
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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Wiki

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
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Details

Director: William Castle
Genre: Classics, Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Release Date: February 17, 1959
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Screen Writer: Robb White
DVD Release Date: October 26, 1999
Runtime: 75 minutes
Studio: William Castle Productions
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