House on Haunted Hill

by Evan ODell 5/18/09

(1959) Directed by William Castle. Written by Robb White. Starring Vincent Price, Carolyn Craig, Richard Long, Elisha Cook Jr., Carol Ohmart, Alan Marshal, Julie Mitchum, Leona Anderson, and Howard Hoffman.

I achieved a greater appreciation for William Castle this year, when I saw SPINE TINGLER: THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY at the AFI Film Festival back in April. He was one part producer, one part director, and part carny cryer it seems and had some magnificent methods of putting butts in seats. Like Forrest Ackerman with the debut of Famous Monsters in 1958, William Castle helped feed the need for monster mania. He even had his own fan club and toured the country on behalf of his fans. For this movie, Castle sailed inflatable skeletons over the theater when the big reveal came at the end. William Castle met Vincent Price after he had been passed over for a part and told him of this role. His collaboration with Price would extend to 1959's THE TINGLER.

The exteriors were of the Ennis Brown house. The Ennis House was designed from concrete block to resemble Mayan architecture by architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. The house has made notable appearances in film, serving as Harrison Ford's house in BLADE RUNNER, and Angel's on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin off, Angel. The Ennis House was cited by safety inspectors in 2005 because the rains collapsed a retaining wall. Work has been done to restore the wall, but a total restoration could cost upwards of 10 million.

This is a classic. Though the sinister old house was kind of cliche by the time James Whale's THE OLD DARK HOUSE came out in 1932. This film helped reinvigorate the genre by mixing in a crime plot. Alfred Hitchcock took notice of the box office this film generated and made his own low budget horror with PSYCHO. It was originally shown in 3-D.

I watched the colorized version from Legend films. Legend continues to crank out colorized classics, releasing THE DEVIL BAT, BRIDE OF THE MONSTER, and LAST MAN ON EARTH just recently. I think colorization has come a long way since I first saw TREASURE ISLAND colorized. People's hair and clothes still don't look quite realistic. There isn't realistic color highlighting or shading either in these colorized movies. Though it isn't really distracting. Each of the Legend dvds also has a restored black and white copy. The b&w is a lot clearer than I'm used to seeing this picture played in. Nice job, really. A nice bonus is a comedy track by Mike Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Though like the movie they featured in The MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: THE MOVIE, THIS ISLAND EARTH, this is a decent genre flick on its own, if perhaps a little dull, and doesn't benefit much from a comedy track.

Vincent Price is a little restrained here compared to the genre persona he would go on to refine. Not my favorite Price role. Not a whole lot happens here and you have to rely on the suspense and the actors to carry the story. I honestly prefer a whole host of other Vincent Price movies. This doesn't hold a candle to Price's earlier film, House of Wax, but it does have its appeal. Haunted houses are the stuff of childhood nightmare and more and more the interest is transcending childhood. Ghost-hunting is on the rise on the internet and television. When times are tough, it seems more and more people are eager to accept tales of things that go bump in the night. The story in the film is at once familiar, stay the night in a haunted house, it has even been used as the basis for a reality show. Remade in 1999 with a cast that includes Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, and Jeffrey Combs. This movie itself was a remake of 1933's Mystery of the Wax Museum, which was based on an earlier play. This version easily tops the more recent remake. That one recently spawned a direct-to-video sequel which is not to satisfying.

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Frederick (Vincent Price) and Annabelle Loren (Carol Ohmart) are hosting a haunted house party. He's invited 6 strangers and promised each of them $10,000.00 if they can remain alive in the house from midnight to 8:00 am. As party favors, he's given each member of the house a loaded handgun. There is the cynic, the true believer, a hysterical female, and a handful of others to keep things interesting and a number of events to keep the guests guessing.

 

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