Many horror fans will likely recall the original House on Haunted Hill (1959) film, as good flick from William Castle, who lead the industry for both his independent productions and known as ‘The King Of The Gimmicks’ and another one also from The Tingler (1959). He ran the gambit of stunts for movies, from life insurance policies in case you died and nurses on hand, jolt buzzers under chairs to either an ambulance or a hearse parked out front of the theater, each time generating longer and longer attendance lines. Robb White penned the script his later contributions to the horror genre well-known 13 Ghosts (1960) and Homicidal (1961) both Castle films. William used one of the oldest sub-genres in the horror genre, ‘the haunted house’ quite cliché nowadays, yet still effective today, whether in horror-comedies or sheer terror rides, regardless this slightly black comedy vehicle swiftly moves at scant 75-minutes using classic set-pieces and wastes no time in telling the story cleanly. Remember, its 1959, a different culture and style, but the atmospheric design still works on this black-and-white classic movie, made for then an estimated $200,000 ($1.7 million in 2019) and distributed by Allied Artists Pictures, however fate played a cruel card, the film fell into the public domain after the original copyright holder forgot to properly renew the rights to production. The premiere for the film held in San Francisco, California on January 14, 1959, the film was shot in just 14-days, in September completed and likely obtained copyright certification in 1958, a minor footnote, Rosemary Horvath co-directed the movie, in an uncredited manner, her credit in the film industry, but now let’s visit the creations 60-years later.
White’s premise of the story simply a group of individuals gathering together at this house, with a promise of earning $10,000 each (in 2019 equals $86,611), while a veil of mystery covers all who enter, deceit lurking around the corners and a hail of screams galore. It starts with house’s owner Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook (Salem’s Lot ) who lets the audience know that all is not well within the house, it’s not a home sweet home, then Frederick Loren’s (Vincent Price (The Oblong Box ) face appears superimposed on the famed house who gives sly introduction and trademark devilish gaze. The story gives the customary introduction to the cast (Richard Long) Lance, a test pilot, a psychiatrist named Trent (Alan Manning), a newspaper columnist Ruth Bridgers (Julie Mitchum, which became her last screen appearance), then an employee of Loren’s named Nora (Carolyn Craig) and reason they all need the money. In addition, to these individuals is Annabelle (Carol Ohmart), who clearly is shown as an unhappily married woman to Loren and quickly enough the audience learns how much turmoil exists between the couple. However, one more made character exists in the house’s history, 7-murders on the grounds, missing heads, creepy staff, and a cellar with acid destroying everything except bones. Everything leads to complete package for fans of classic cinema to enjoy, though never achieving the level of gothic scares like that of The Haunting (1963) it stills holds a solid place with the fans. But Why?
The answer, comes from maestro of the horror acting at the time, Vincent Price, who had an incredible career up to 1950s with dramas, switched over to success with The Fly (1958). Both Vincent Price and William Castle had a great sense of sinister humor, and anyone who has seen interviews of Price, is easily aware of his ability to turn on the charm, and mix it with diabolical attitudes, made wonder and question his intentions. A bit of a side note Price strangely starred in 8-movies with “house” in the titles (with the high percentage chance only actor to accomplish this feat) and of them only a few rose to the level of significant importance. The other seven The House of the Seven Gables (1940), House of Wax (1953), House of Usher (1960), House of 1,000 Dolls (1967), The Hilarious House of Frightenstein (1971), Madhouse (1974), and House of the Long Shadows (1983).
One knows by watching the film, the beautiful cinematography occurring on the screen, the scenes all suggestive, and waiting for the tripwire to spring a scare or a mere fright. Shot by cinematographer Carl E. Guthrie, who previously worked with Castle on Macabre (1958), making sure the casting shadows on the sets spoke volumes, along all the set-pieces, though done on a set at times during the film appears as if an actual home. The illusion achieved by using the exteriors shots of the famous Ennis Brown House, located in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. The home designed by extraordinary architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1924 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in the past tours available of the location. In addition, it all comes back to William Castle, using a stylization now long since forgotten in cinema due to the advancements in sound productions, but the technique originally called “Scare Trick” of ghouls and rattling of chains all heard on the blackened screen before the film started, actually lead to ‘haunting records/CDs’ of today that contain all of these sounds used for Halloween parties, and other similar events. The soundtrack remained orchestral, instead of actually song from Richard Kayne and Richard Loring, and over the countless viewings the straight music conveys more sinister tones. Lastly, the gimmick for the film, ‘Emergo” lighted plastic skeleton on a wire appeared from a black box next to the screen to swoop over the heads of the audience, this occurring when the Skeleton arose on the screen. Sadly, the feature didn’t last long as local theaters reported incidents of boys using slingshots to firing objects at the skeleton harming viewers, thereby ruining this harmless gag, to quote dear friend Rayzilla “The reason we can’t have nice things.”
Therefore, while the movie couldn’t scare any modern audience, and is loaded with silly moments, it still holds everlasting charm, with Price strolling the halls, his devilish manner and tone lingering, and the supporting cast filling in properly. The impression of the movie and techniques carried over to both Matinee (1993) and Popcorn (1988), it led to a big-budget remake called House on Haunted Hill (1999) then a sequel on DVD Return to House on Haunted Hill (2007) which left the door open for visitors to venture to a potential part 3, which thankfully never came to fruition. Over the history of horror, one learned that Elvira on the Larry King Live that this movie was indeed her favorite as well Vincent her favorite villain. Alfred Hitchcock (Castle’s Idol) found inspiration from seeing the growing lines at theaters and increasing grosses for horror films, led him to show others how to create a lasting scary horror film, known as Psycho (1960). Finally, the movie serves as fun way to remember the past with fondness and tribute the macabre works of Castle, Price, and White, turn off the lights and enjoy the screams at House on Haunted Hill.
See it with someone with warm hands!
The doors are locked at midnight.
The 13 greatest shocks of all time!
Consult your doctor! Bring your seat belts!
First Film With the Amazing New Wonder EMERGO: The Thrills Fly Right Into The Audience!
The 13 Greatest SHOCKS ever seen!
Acclaimed The Super-Shocker Of The Century!
IMDb Rating: 6.9/10
Baron’s Rating: 7.0/10
Curious about those lyrics for the theme song:
There’s a house on Haunted Hill
Where everything’s lonely and still
Lonely and still
And the ghost of a sigh
When we whispered good-bye
And each night gives a heart-broken cry
There’s a house on Haunted Hill
Where love walked there’s a strange silent chill
Strange silent chill
There are memories that yearn
For our hearts to return
And a promise we failed to fulfill
But we’ll never go back
No, we’ll never go back
To the house on Haunted Hill!