75 Min. | Horror – Mystery | Feb. 1959
IMDB Rating: 6.9
Director: William Castle
Staring: Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Richard Long
House on Haunted Hill Review: William Castle liked to promote his films with gimmicks, and the gimmick for House on Haunted Hill was Emerg-O, at the peak of the action, a glowing skeleton “emerged from the screen” and flew out over the audience on a wire. By most accounts Emerg-O caused more laughter than chills, but fortunately Castle never relied on gimmicks alone, he also liked bona fide stars, and for Haunted Hill his star of choice was none other than the legendary horror star Vincent Price. Like most Castle films, Haunted Hill’s plot reworks a well-worn theme. Millionaire Price and his wife Carol Ohmart give a “haunted house party” for five strangers chosen at random and promised ten thousand dollars if they last the night.
In House on Haunted Hill, the doors lock at midnight, after which there is no escape until the caretakers return in the morning. While the story itself doesn’t hold many surprises, the script is unexpectedly witty, and Price plays it in a slightly prissy, very high-camp manner with a tremendous dose of the black humor for which he was so famous-and the little-known Carol Ohmart is every bit his match, snapping out memorable lines (“Darling, the only ghoul in the house is you!”) in every scene. Together they elevate the film well above what you might otherwise expect, and when combined with the largely wooden supporting cast and some of the silliest this-is-supposed-to-scare-you effects imaginable the result is a cult classic with plenty of camp appeal.
In addition to Price and Ohmart, House on Haunted Hill is also surprisingly atmospheric. Shot in and around one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s more famous structures, the grainy “late show” look of the film (due more to accident and age than deliberate intent) is very entertaining, the cinematic devices (everything from disembodied heads, irises, and jump-cuts) are very appealing, and the sound track (which sounds like a mix of piano bass keyes, synthesizer, and soprano vocals) is exactly what you’d want for this obvious but extremely entertaining flick. Of all the Castle films, House on Haunted Hill is my favorite, and it should rate very high with fans of cult, camp, and Vincent Price. And I’ll go further than that, of all his memorable appearances, believe this was among Price’s best. A great choice for both family movie night or a sophisticated Halloween howl-very recommended.