House on Haunted Hill

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This article is about the original 1959 film. For the 1999 remake, see House on Haunted Hill (1999 film).
House on Haunted Hill
House on Haunted Hill.jpg
Original film poster by Reynold Brown
Directed by William Castle
Produced by William Castle
Robb White
Written by Robb White
Starring Vincent Price
Carolyn Craig
Elisha Cook
Carol Ohmart
Alan Marshal
Julie Mitchum
Richard Long
Music by Richard Kayne
Richard Loring
Von Dexter
Cinematography Carl E. Guthrie
Edited by Roy V. Livingston
Production
  company
William Castle Productions
Distributed by Allied Artists
Release date(s) 17 February 1959
Running time 75 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $200,000 (estimated)
Box office $1.5 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[1]

House on Haunted Hill is a 1959 American horror film. It was directed by William Castle, written by Robb White and stars Vincent Price as eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren. He and his fourth wife, Annabelle, have invited five people to the house for a "haunted house" party. Whoever stays in the house for one night will earn $10,000. As the night progresses, all the guests are trapped inside the house with ghosts, murderers, and other terrors.

Exterior shots of the house were filmed at the historic Ennis House in Los Feliz, California.

Plot[edit]

Eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) invites five people to a "party" he is throwing for his fourth wife, Annabelle (Carol Ohmart), in an allegedly haunted house he has rented, promising to give them each $10,000 with the stipulation that they must stay the entire night in the house after the doors are locked at midnight. The five guests are test pilot Lance Schroeder (Richard Long), newspaper columnist Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum), psychiatrist Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal) who specializes in hysteria, Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig), who works for one of Loren's companies, and the house's owner Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook). Pritchard disapproves of Loren's use of the house for his "party," making it unclear how Loren acquired access to the house in the first place.

Arriving late at night in separate funeral cars with a hearse leading the procession, Loren's guests are told the rules of the party, and each is given a .45 caliber pistol for protection. Forced to attend the party, Loren's wife tries to warn the guests that her husband is psychotic, causing them to be very suspicious of him. Nora becomes convinced that he's trying to kill her when she keeps seeing frightening apparitions, including the ghost of Annabelle, who had apparently hanged herself some time during the night.

Almost as frightened as Nora is Watson Pritchard. He is convinced that the house is genuinely haunted by the ghosts of those killed there in the past, including his own brother, and that those ghosts have the power to "come for" (kill) anyone in the house. Schroeder is attacked in a basement room, but is convinced his attacker was real, and tries to calm Nora's fears.

It is eventually revealed that Annabelle, in league with her lover, Dr. Trent, faked her death in an attempt to frighten Nora so badly that she will be compelled to shoot Loren. After being driven into a fit of hysteria by the repeated frights she has experienced during the night, Nora, seeing Loren walking toward her in the basement with a gun in his hand, does indeed shoot him. After she flees the room, Dr. Trent slips in and tries to get rid of Loren's body by pushing it into a vat of acid there (which had been used by a previous resident named Norton to kill his own wife), but the lights go out, and the sounds of a struggle and splash are heard.

Hearing the gunshot, Annabelle rushes down to the basement to confirm that her husband is dead, but finds the room empty. Suddenly, a skeleton rises from the acid accompanied by Loren's disembodied voice. As the animated spectre approaches, Annabelle recoils and screams in horror, accidentally falling into the acid herself. The real Loren then emerges from the shadows, holding the contraption that he used to manipulate the skeleton. Triumphant, he watches Annabelle dissolve in the acid.

Nora tells the other guests that she has shot Loren in the basement, but when they all arrive there they find him alive. He tells Nora that the gun she fired at him had been loaded with blanks, and explains to his guests that his wife and Dr. Trent had been trying to kill him and that they have each met their end in the vat of acid, adding solemnly that he is "ready for justice to decide" his guilt or innocence.

Watson Pritchard, still an avid believer in the supernatural, looks into the acid and declares that Annabelle and Dr. Trent have now joined the ranks of the house's many ghosts. With a terrified expression on his face, he announces that the ghosts are now coming for him, then, breaking the fourth wall, he turns toward the camera and adds, "And then they'll come for you."

Style[edit]

The theatrical trailer promoted the film as The House on Haunted Hill, although all advertising material and the title on the film itself were simply titled House on Haunted Hill. The film is best known for a famous promotional gimmick used in the film's original theatrical release called "Emergo": William Castle placed an elaborate pulley system in some theaters showing the film which allowed a plastic skeleton to be flown over the audience at the appropriate time.[2] In August and September 2010, the Film Forum in New York City had a revival of the film (along with several other Castle pictures) that included the original gimmicks. This was the first time since the late 1980s Film Forum had done this.

Thanks in part to Castle's gimmickry, the film was a huge success. Alfred Hitchcock took notice of the low-budget film's performance at the box office, and set out to make his own low-budget horror film, which became the critically acclaimed hit Psycho (1960). Castle was himself a Hitchcock fan, and would try to imitate Hitchcock's work in later films such as Homicidal (1961).

Release[edit]

Vincent Price in House on Haunted Hill

House on Haunted Hill was originally released by Allied Artists. Two major studios have released the film in remastered versions. Warner Home Video released the film on DVD as a tie-in to the release of the 1999 remake. In 2005, the film was colorized by Legend Films. The color version was released on DVD the same year by 20th Century Fox. Extras prepared by Legend Films for the Fox DVD release included an audio commentary track by comedian Michael J. Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame, two versions of the trailer and a slideshow of images from the film's original press book.

Johnny Legend released a 50th Anniversary DVD containing a whole slew of extras such as both the original theatrical trailer and TV spots plus several William Castle and Vincent Price theatrical trailers, a Carol Ohmart profile and "golden age" TV shows starring Vincent Price. A DivX file of the colorized version with the commentary embedded is available as part of Nelson's RiffTrax On Demand service.[3] In 2009, a newly recorded commentary by Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett was released by RiffTrax.[4] The RiffTrax team performed a Live RiffTrax of House on Haunted Hill on 28 October 2010.

On 28 September 2011, the estate of William Castle released an annotated screenplay from House on Haunted Hill which is a copy of the shooting script along with Castle's "margin notes" and the leather-bound style in which Castle used for his shooting script. This edition includes introductions from Joe Dante and Castle's daughter Terry. It also features its own version of "Emerg-o" in which the skeleton appears to readers via a "flip page" method.

Critical reception[edit]

The film received critical acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes the film received a fresh 95% rating based on 22 reviews with an average rating of 7/10. [5] Allmovie praised the film, writing, "Campy and creepy in equal measures, House on Haunted Hill deserves its status as a horror classic."[6]

Remake and sequel[edit]

The film was remade as House on Haunted Hill (1999 film) and had a sequel called Return to House on Haunted Hill. Both the remake and the sequel received overwhelmingly negative reviews.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  2. ^ Hal Erickson. "House on Haunted Hill (1958)". Allmovie. Retrieved 7 July 2012. 
  3. ^ "House on Haunted Hill VOD". RiffTrax. Retrieved 7 July 2012. 
  4. ^ "House on Haunted Hill – Three Riffer Edition!". RiffTrax. Retrieved 7 July 2012. 
  5. ^ http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1010034-house_on_haunted_hill/
  6. ^ Fred Beldin. "House on Haunted Hill (1958)". Allmovie. Retrieved 7 July 2012. 

External links[edit]