House on Haunted Hill (1959)

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Genre legend Vincent Price stars in a movie about a murder (?) in an ostensibly haunted mansion that was directed by legend-in-his-own-right William Castle. That’s really all you need to know to take the plunge on this classic if you haven’t already, but if you’re on the fence and want some spoilery opinions first, check out what we thought by reading on or listen to what we thought by hitting that podcast button. Quick heads-up that you can also watch this one for free almost anywhere because it’s public domain. The barrier to entry might never have been lower. We’re just here to humbly facilitate and to provide ranting, drunken opinions. You know this by now.

Reviewed by: Jake

 
 


Also, this movie is public domain and you can just watch it here: 

 
 

Plot Synopsis

Vincent Price plays a super rich guy named Frederick Loren and he invites five seemingly random people to a party at an ostensibly haunted mansion because he apparently gets off on that sort of thing and also considers five people to be enough to rage…

 

(should have gone forward in time and invited this guy).

 

The party is supposedly for Frederick’s wife (his fourth wife) Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) which is swell because it becomes immediately obvious that they hate each other’s guts and in their dialogue we learn she’s actually tried to poison him before. Geez, man… Anyway, the guests arrive and exchange pleasantries and they are taken for a tour of the mansion. It’s… eccentric. There’s a giant vat of acid in the wine cellar for no reason whatsoever other than that there’s a story about a prior owner who had it installed to kill his wife. What a pain in the ass way to go about murder.

The guests are all being offered $10,000 a piece to stay in the house for the entire night, with the rub being that the doors all lock at midnight and there are bars on all the windows. Rendering it inescapable. That’s an odd feature for a haunted house. It’s much more fitting of a house where an eccentric rich dude would lure you to completely rip you limb from limb for his own twisted pleasure.

To spare the minutia of this plotline, because it’s entirely not worth it, this is basically a murder mystery disguising itself inside a haunted house setup. The characters bumble around the corridors of the house and are generally spooked by it until Annabelle is discovered hanged to death. Things unravel from there and it’s revealed that one of the guests is having an affair with Annabelle, and she had faked her death in order to arouse the fears of one of the female guests to entice her to kill Frederick, which would leave Annabelle with all his money. Frederick doesn’t fall for that shit though and he kills both Annabelle and her secret lover in the acid vat.


What the Movie Does Right

Vincent Price is in this movie. Vincent Price is the man. Therefore, it is a boon for this movie. Though he has a long list of genre credit to his name, this is one of his better known parts, and I think it must be because this is the movie where he pushes a woman into a vat of acid with a skeleton that he has attached to strings like a marionette and the skeleton belongs to another man he murdered and dissolved in the same vat of acid. What a boss.

 
 Pictured: Boss.

Pictured: Boss.

 

This movie also exudes the chintzy creepiness of a bygone era that just screams the innocent fun of the Halloween season. There’s very little going on in this movie that makes sense, and it doesn’t really need to. The whole thing is really summarized by the fact that William Castle directed this and tied into it’s release one of his ludicrous in-theater experiences; Emergo. The dude had skeletons rigged to fly across the theater when this was in circulation. How fun is that? Can we go back to that, please?

 
 Make Movies Fun Again

Make Movies Fun Again

 

What the Movie Does Wrong

This movie is both boring and annoying. Remember how I just mentioned how it gives off the type of fun creepiness you’d want for the Halloween season? Well a big caveat to that is that while that’s true and I defend it, most movies you’d throw on at a halloween party aren’t meant to be paid attention to or heard. Roughly half of the movie’s audio is just the character Nora screaming bloody murder. It’s fucking annoying and you’ll want to mute it to save yourself from sucking on an exhaust pipe. This is also not even to mention how the story treats the character of Nora within its overall proceedings. Let’s just say that it’s problematic and move on. The remainder of the movie is a lot of pointless dialogue related to whether the house is haunted and just how haunted it might be. You’ll go for your phone in this one, I guarantee it.

 
 Do you like being bored out of your fucking gourd, Mr. Loren?

Do you like being bored out of your fucking gourd, Mr. Loren?

 

Also, for a movie about a haunted house, or a house that’s on a hill that’s haunted (doesn’t matter), the definitive lack of anything being haunted is kind of a bitter pill to swallow. Yes, this is an old dark house format flick so it makes sense that it involves a murder mystery but holy mackerel I don’t care. This is basically like a feature-length Scooby Doo story minus the cute dog. This is yet another reason why this is better to have on in the background for the creepy vibes.


Ratings (1-10)

Story: 2.5 - I already said this but this is basically like Scooby Doo without the gang. Not a lot of groundbreaking work is done here and it doesn’t need to go to great story-driven lengths to do it’s thing, but it’s also not going to get points for not going to great story-driven lengths.

World-Building / Immersion: 3.5 - The charm of this one is a real thing and keeps it from being an abominably low score but this is a very unimmersive film. And I’m also really trying not to penalize it for its age, yet I’m still landing with a low score.

Scare-Factor: 2 - the more that I think about it, the skeleton marionette sequence is pretty fucked up. It’s not presented as such but it’s gnarly. This is still very not scary.

Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 4 - some of these sets are fucking bad. The audio is also a bit janky at times but I don’t want to penalize too much for that because of its age. This is also the only place where I can comment that stop-motion is cool looking even when it’s not done perfectly. This has that.

Overall: 4.5 - Just hit mute and play Monster Mash over it. It’ll be fine.