This blog is devoted to all those pieces of 20th century culture too often pooh-pooh'ed by the so called 'high brow' crowd. The stuff that conjoures words like 'vibrant', 'garish' and 'lurid'. Cheap paperbacks, b-movies, exploitation, fantasy, horror and hokey sci-fi - all have a place on this blog where the trash of yesterday is recognised as the classics of today.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Movie Review: House on Haunted Hill (1959)

I picked up this DVD in a bargain bin for virtually nothing. Now I know why. I was expecting something along the lines of The Haunting (1963), or at least something on par with most other Vincent Price movies, but this is pure hokey haunted house nonsense on a minuscule budget. Having said that, it's actually pretty entertaining and packed quite an impact at the time.

Directed by William Castle (who also directed other Vincent Price shlocker The Tingler the same year and the original 13 Ghosts in 1960), the plot revolves around eccentric millionaire (Price) and his sultry wife (Carol Ohmart) hosting a 'haunted house party' in an old mansion where a series of murders took place. The rub here is that both husband and wife may be trying to kill the other off with the party and ensuing ghostly shenanigans providing an elaborate cover. Oh, and there is a ten-thousand dollar reward for each guest that stays the whole night.

Enter the guests; Naturally there is the obligatory hero and heroine of the piece, in this case big-lunged Nora (Carolyn Craig) and Lance (Richard Long). There's also a doctor (always handy to have around for pronouncing people dead) called Dr. Trent (Alan Marshall). Then there's Ruth Bridges, a newspaper columnist with a gambling problem (played by none other than Robert Mitchum's big sister, Julie) and finally Watson Pritchard played by Elisha Cook Jr, the go-to man of this era for short, worried looking fellows. Now Watson apparently has a family connection to the old house and serves as the voice of warning throughout the film, doing nothing but mope about and tell everybody that they're all doomed whilst knocking back enough whisky to put a horse into a coma.

The plot is so full of holes that it is barely worth going into. It honestly feels like they were making it up as they went along with ghostly goings on being unmasked as hoaxes and sometimes vice versa as the night progresses. Its never really established whether or not the house is indeed haunted but it is clear that one or several people are up to no good. There's even a few scares which livens the film up a bit, most notably the old floating lady in the basement that has gone down as one of the scariest moments in cinema. What is it about children and old ladies? This is laughably dismissed as 'just the caretaker's wife'. Who the hell walks around like that anyway? Not to mention the floating which everybody conveniently forgets about.

After much finger pointing and double-crossing we finally arrive at the climax. Now I won't spoil it for anybody who hasn't seen it, but suffice to say that it is something of a let down. Perhaps walking skeletons were considered creepy stuff back in 1959, but these days you can see more scary things on the Disney Channel. Incidentally, this film originally used a gimmick in theatres called 'Emergo' where a skeleton would soar over the heads of the audience at the required time.

So, all in all, not that great. But a there's a few cheap scares to be had and Vincent Price is always worth watching.

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