The House on Haunted Hill is classic Vincent Price. Eccentric millionaire Fredrick Loren (Price) and his 4th wife, Annabelle, have invited five people to the house on Haunted Hill for a haunted house party. Loren rented a real "haunted house" (a house that had seen seven murders at various times) from the owner, also one of the guests. The guests arrived in funeral cars and were given party favors in little coffins. Any of the guests willing to stay in the house for one night will earn ten thousand dollars each. As the night progresses, all the guests are trapped inside the house with ghosts, murderers, and other terrors. There are falling chandeliers, vats of acid, ghosts literally coming out of the woodwork, etc.
There are very good suspense and horror flicks on the market right now, but many of them still can't hold a candle to old films that require you to use your imagination to round out the details. The House on Haunted Hill is certainly one of those. It's all a bit campy but the suspense and twists are still there; it's full of ghosts, murder, mayhem, betrayal and greed. The guests include Loren & his wife, a young employee of Loren's (that girl certainly had a pair of lungs on her!), a psychiatrist, a pilot, a columnist and of course the owner of the house. There is tension between Loren and his wife (whom seems very reluctant to be there), the typist is very nervous and wants to leave almost immediately (but is kept from doing so by the caretakers leaving early), the owner that keeps relating the gory history of the house and moaning the ghosts are coming for everyone, and then there is the psychiatrist who very emphatically doesn't believe in ghosts. There is supposedly no connection between any of the guests besides them all needing the money rather badly (except the psychiatrist whom is there to investigate the supernatural although he doesn't believe in it so it makes one wonder what else he's up to) and none of them know the others at all although, a few twists at the end reveal otherwise.
They did a great job with the atmosphere of the house but I was little frustrated that they used an art deco mansion for a haunted house supposedly over a hundred years old. Once you were in inside it didn't matter though. Price has one of those distinctive voices (voices that are immediately recognizable and you listen just for the sake of listening) that work admirably for horror and suspense. He brought the creepiness to the party and it added just the touch needed as the guests suffer through their frightful night. Price as usual delivers his lines with a hint of his dark almost comedic timing. There are a couple of quotes of his that I loved. One, when he confronts his wife about serving him "arsenic on the rocks". Or "Don't sit up all night thinking of ways to get rid of me, it makes wrinkles." There is clearly no love lost between those two.
When Carey and I watch a movie, we often drop in on IMDB to check out ratings of the movie, learn odd bits of trivia, etc. One of the questions posted was "Was the house really haunted?". That was certainly a valid supposition; it really could go either way. Some say the nervous typist was having hallucinations other than just the few tricks that are being played on her to twist her to the needs of two of the guests. Others believe there really is a malevolent core about the house and the machinations of the other guests were twisted into it's reality. The feeling I got was that it was actually a bit of both. There was the foundation of a house with a very macabre past. Houses really can take on a personality although it's often just a feeling that can send shivers. Add to it a very nervous personality, a psychiatrist to push & pull at just the right moments and an atmosphere of tension and terror and you have a house full of the supernatural.
Some more fun, campy, good suspenseful movies you could watch:
- Terror in the Haunted House from 1961
- The Devils Hand from 1962
- The Mummy from 1932
- The Mummy from 1959
- The Carnival of Souls from 1962
- The House of Long Shadows from 1983
- "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" (Anything from Hitchcock really; he was the master of suspense.)
- The Haunted Palace from 1963
- The Comedy of Terrors from 1963
- Clue from 1985 (I had to; it's just so much fun!)
This of course is just a small smattering of suspenseful out there. In the early to mid part of the twentieth century, the masters were quite prolific. We will not see their kind again.