“The ghosts are moving today,…restless… hungry. May I introduce myself? I’m Paulie Marino. In just a moment you can watch a movie about the only really haunted house in the world.” You’ll find it in William Castle’s 1959 cult thriller, House on Haunted Hill. It stars Vincent Price as Frederick Loren, an extremely wealthy, middle-aged man hosting a party at a mansion that he & his beautiful wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) have rented for a night. The mansion, rumored to be haunted, was the site of 7 murders over the years – 4 men & 3 women.
It’s so spooky there that the 5 invited guests are being offered a reward of $10,000 each if they come to the party & stay overnight. None of the guests have ever met Frederick, come from different walks of life, and have nothing in common except that each needs money. There’s Watson Pritchard, played by Elisha Cook Jr. (billed as Elisha Cook) who owns the house. Cook was a noted character actor who’s been in hundreds of television shows & movies, including Rosemary’s Baby, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and Stanley Kubrick’s film noir classic The Killing. Test pilot Lance Schroeder is played by Richard Long, best known as Professor Everett in the early 70’s TV show Nanny & the Professor. Julie Mitchum plays Ruth Bridges, a famous journalist with a gambling problem. Psychiatrist Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshall) needs money to fund his research into hysteria. And the beautiful, youthful Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig). She supports her whole family on the salary she makes as an employee of Mr. Loren’s. A haunted mansion…the site of 7 murders…4 men & 3 women…inhabited overnight by 4 men & 3 women!!!
House on Haunted Hill contains many of the traditional characteristics of horrors films: A haunted mansion on a hill; a clock striking midnight; it takes place only at night; there’s murder; ghosts & skeletons; no lights, no phone & no way to escape; shrill female screams; and a rich, eccentric man. The major themes of the movie are obvious after seeing it, but to discuss them here would effectively be a spoiler.
There are a number of interesting facts surrounding House on Haunted Hill. The Frank Lloyd Wright designed Ennis House in Los Angeles is used for the exterior shots of the mansion. Even though it was made on a budget of just $200,000, it was a big box office hit in 1959. The great Alfred Hitchcock took notice and it inspired him to make his very first horror movie released the following year: Psycho, made for just over $800,000, went on to receive 4 Academy Award nominations. House on Haunted Hill was also the inspiration for Robert Moore’s 1976 comedy, Murder by Death, whose original screenplay was written by Neil Simon. And in 1999, a bad remake of it was released & it spawned 2 sequels. Carolyn Craig, who had not yet turned 24 during the 2 weeks of filming, apparently shot herself to death when she was 36. Julie Mitchum is listed as playing Ruth Bridgers not Bridges in the end credits, and a prop, Skeleton, is also credited as being played by By Himself. See if you can catch it. When the film was released in theaters, it came with a lighted plastic skeleton attached to a wire in a box. It was stored beside the screen and, at the appropriate time, lifted & maneuvered above the audience. When the word got out, the effect was pulled from many theaters because kids began shooting at it w/ their slingshots.
House on Haunted Hill is a cult horror classic, not a great movie, but not to be missed. It’s the haunted house equivalent of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. The 2 Stars I’m giving it do not begin to tell its spooky story. “If I were gonna haunt somebody, this would certainly be the house I’d do it in.”