House on Haunted Hill (1959)
US (dir. William Castle)
Cast: Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Carolyn Craig, Elisha Cook Jr.
Synopsis: Frederick Loren has invited five strangers to a party of a lifetime. He is offering each of them $10,000 if they can stay the night in a house. But the house is no ordinary house. This house has reputation for murder.
Review: “House on Haunted Hill” is one of my favourite 1950’s era horror movies. It’s got Vincent Price, a “haunted” mansion, and a plastic skeleton! What more could you ask for? By today’s standards this would be laughed at, but back in the ’50s this was probably a scream! Apparently, during theatre showings of the movie, they would fly a skeleton above the audience – fun!
The movie is focused on the going-ons of a house party in an allegedly haunted mansion. The host? An eccentric millionaire and his money hungry, cheating wife (the fourth!) The guests? A hodge-podge of characters ranging from the nervous brother of a man murdered in the mansion to a money-hungry gossip columnist with a gambling problem. The premise of this haunted house party is to have the guests “survive” the night in order to win $10,000. The house turns out to not really be haunted; the millionaire’s wife sets up a series of hoaxes with her lover (one of the guests) in order to freak out one of the guests to the point that they accidentally shoot her husband (yes, shoot – all the guests were issued party favours consisting of miniature coffins containing loaded guns).
One of the great things about this movie is that the hoaxes work out perfectly. Some are a bit corny, and some are downright creepy. It’s hard to believe that, near the end of the movie, the hauntings were all “staged”. When the wife finally thinks she has bested her eccentric husband and sent him to his death, we discover that he knew what was going on all along and he stages one final trick that will “accidentally” kill of his wife and her lover. It’s a great finale scene where the cheating wife gets freaked out by an obviously fake plastic skeleton rising out of an acid pit. She ends up walking backwards in fear (instead of running AROUND the skeleton to safety) and falling into the acid pit herself. The funny thing about it is that she literally walks like 25 feet before falling in and she could have easily avoided dying. This movie is a great one to check out during a Halloween party, and the remake isn’t too shabby either!