“House on Haunted Hill” (1959) is directed by William Castle and is an excellent B movie experience. Even though it was made with a low budget, the movie creates an enticing atmosphere that keeps the viewer interested, despite a few flaws.
The story can be described as typical but the depth of some characters can be surprising, especially when all expectations are lowered by the age and type of movie. Vincent Price (Frederick Loren) sets the scene with his mysterious voice, clarifying several times that his wife (Annabelle – Carol Ohmart) has a very specific type of humour, suggesting that it has something to do with the story.
It all begins with a party where five strangers are promised $10 000 each if they spend the night in a presumably haunted house. Long story short there is no escape from the house until morning, when the caretakers unlock it. What is stated very clearly by the dialog between Vincent and Carol is that they despise each other and are quite bitter with their marriage. Vincent also talks about his wife attempt at poisoning him in the past and makes it clear that one of them will perish in this haunted house that night. What follows are a few screams of terror, a severed head a blind floating lady and champagne that looks suspiciously like water.
As a major positive “House on Haunted Hill” has a very “Scooby-Doo” feeling about it. People in groups are running around a mansion, there is a suggestion of ghosts with squeaking doors and candles going out by themselves and yet the threat feels much more human and mundane than supernatural.
The house itself is also magnificent, a lot of artefacts are placed around the camera angles creating beautiful compositions and leaving you with a nostalgic feeling. The director also creates an excellent feeling of space and atmosphere and by the end of the film, the viewer knows exactly what every room contains.
What makes the film good and interesting as well is the lack of cheap scares and visual effects, everything is very well suggested and implied and the few scenes that contain special effects are actually quite tasteful. There is an excellent scene with a rope coming out of the window, like a snake and twisting around the feet of one of the actresses and it definitely looked as something that you could see in movies today, even though the film is 50+ years old.
The acting was not terrible for the most part, but the cheesiness of it could easily add to the overall feeling of the film. Perhaps the funny screams of Carolyn (Nora Manning) were a bit over the top but she was portraying someone possessed with hysteria so we would all expect a little bit of screaming anyway. The other actors were doing a good job, good enough not to make you stop and think too much about their performance and take away from the experience.
Perhaps the biggest plus however, was the twist at the end. Viewers are all led to believe that they are watching a story about ghosts, which ends up being a murder drama. In an hour and fourteen minutes the viewer is taken for a ride and at the end all is revealed with the help of a talking skeleton.In conclusion, “House on Haunted Hill” was a good watch and has the perfect length for that type of film, it is a little bite of horror in black and white that will leave any viewer with a nostalgic feeling