House on Haunted Hill – USA, 1959

House on Haunted Hill is a 1959 American horror feature film produced and directed by William Castle (Strait-Jacket; 13 Ghosts; The Tingler; et al) from a screenplay by Robb White. The movie stars Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Richard Long, Alan Marshal and Carolyn Craig.

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 each $10,000 with the stipulation that they stay the entire night in the house after the doors are locked at midnight.

The guests are test pilot Lance Schroeder (Richard Long), newspaper columnist Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum), psychiatrist Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal) who specialises in hysteria, Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig) who works for one of Loren’s companies, and the house’s owner Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook). All are strangers to both the Lorens and each other, with their only commonality a desperate need for money…

Reviews [may contain spoilers]:

House on Haunted Hill might be dumb and corny and reliant to a ludicrous degree on Price’s withering sarcasm, but it not only knows what it is, it loves being what it is, and that’s enough to make it one of the very best “boo!” movies that I have ever seen.” Tim Brayton, Antagony & Ecstasy

” …it traffics in some psychological underpinnings in the way the Corman Poe outings often do, at least with regard to the obviously tumultuous marriage between Loren and Annabelle. If the Corman films exploit images that evoke a Freudian unconscious or even Jungian archetypes, in House on Haunted Hill, the Freudian element is pure Id, a raging, almost uncontrollable fury that seems to spark the characters.” Jeffrey Kauffman, Blu-ray.com

” …Castle seems to be spread thin even at 75 minutes, forced to rely on going over the same territory repeatedly until things move into the hokey payoff that largely discounts the entire premise of the film. Yet for all the structural foibles, it is fun to watch Price hold court, even amidst the heroic blandness of Richard Long or the bug-eyed line reads of Elisha Cook.” Rich Rosell, Digitally Obsessed

“Only a few scattered moments reach for ethereal effects, provided mostly by Von Dexter’s score and a quick exterior shoot of the Ennis Wright house atop a very un-haunted old-money residential hill in Los Feliz. Robb White’s idea of staging an unexpected suicide early on undermines our ability to guess what will happen, to the extent that even some of the cornier scares are enjoyably tense.” Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant

“William Castle set out to scare, and here is where he pulls it off the best. It doesn’t have his best extended scare sequence (that honor goes to The Tingler and the nightmare of the dumb lady), but it does have the best single scare (the old lady in the cellar), and it is consistently fun even when it doesn’t make sense.” Dave Sindelar, Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

“As far as haunted houses goes, one can do a lot worse than the one here on Haunted Hill. It’s a great B-movie fright-fest that’s both clever and spooky, full of both ghoulish sights and haunting sounds (Von Dexter’s score is a moody, b-movie complement).” Brett Gallman, Oh, the Horror!

“To me, this is the quintessential 1950s horror film, even though it comes at the end of the decade. It’s totally tame by today’s standards but has some fun, over-the-top performances, a bit of witty dialog and a large helping of cheese.” Jim Vorel, Paste magazine

“At a quick seventy-five minutes, the film is pretty lean and wastes no time at all getting right to the meat of the story. Once we’re there, a few memorable set pieces and loads of atmosphere keep us entertained throughout. The film has a bit of a reputation for being campy but there are a couple of truly creepy moments in the film that will stick with you.” Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop!

” …cemented Price as the man to go to for horror villains for the rest of his career, far more than one of his previous hits, House of Wax. It was scripted by Castle’s usual writer of such entertainments, Robb White, as a chiller, but what it really turns into is a murder mystery with a tricksy ending that reveals all has not been as it seems. Not that it is not ridiculous, but that is part of the fun.” Graeme Clarke, The Spinning Image

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“Another shameless William Castle shocker, this one simply can’t be dismissed due to the fact that it’s so much fun: bloody ceilings, trick doors, steel bars on the windows, tubs of acid in the basement… this is absolutely wonderful old school horror.” The Terror Trap

“As a plotted movie, House on Haunted Hill has the feel of a rough draft with a few loose trapdoors. It’s more than adequate as a horror film, delivering a few true shocks at perfectly unexpected moments. But these definitions can’t reach the heady thrill of effects that look all the more possible for being slightly fake, underscored with the flourish of internally consistent logic.” Zachary Wyman, Unsung Films

Choice dialogue:

Frederick Loren: “Of all my wives, you are the least agreeable.”

Annabelle Loren: “Darling, the only ghoul in the house is you.”

Cast and characters:

  • Vincent Price … Frederick Loren
  • Carol Ohmart … Annabelle Loren – The Spectre of Edgar Allan Poe; Spider BabyLights Out TV series
  • Richard Long … Lance Schroeder – Death Cruise; Cult of the Cobra
  • Alan Marshal … Dr. David Trent – Lights Out TV series; The Hunchback of Notre Dame 
  • Carolyn Craig … Nora Manning
  • Elisha Cook Jr. [credited as Elisha Cook] … Watson Pritchard – Salem’s Lot; Dead of Night; Messiah of Evil; Blacula; Black Zoo; Voodoo Island; et al
  • Julie Mitchum … Ruth Bridgers
  • Leona Anderson … Mrs. Slydes
  • Howard Hoffman … Jonas Slydes

Filming locations:

Exterior shots of the house were filmed at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed 1924 Ennis House in Los Feliz, California. The bulk of the film was shot on sound stages, depicting the interior of the house in a combination of styles, including 1890s Victorian, with gas chandeliers and sconces.

Running time and aspect ratio:

75 minutes | 1.85: 1 widescreen

Influence:

The film was remade as the 1999 film House on Haunted Hill. A sequel titled Return to House on Haunted Hill was released in 2007. Both films received mostly negative reviews.

Trivia:

The film is in the public domain and is free to view online.

There is a clip of House on Haunted Hill in Tales from the Hood 2 (2018)

Image credits: Wrong Side of the Art!

New and future releases

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The Tingler – USA, 1959

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