Monday, October 5, 2015

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

House on Haunted Hill (1959)
YouTube viewing

The original House on Haunted Hill was better than I had remembered. We don't see any actual ghosts in the story, but the possibility that they exist isn't entirely ruled out, either. The plot doesn't quite hold up under closer scrutiny, but it's still entertaining. It's a William Castle movie, so you know it's meant to have an audience-related gimmick: in this case, it was "Emergo," a giant glow-in-the-dark skeleton that hovers over the audience during the film's climax. I can't say I missed its absence while watching the film on my laptop, but at least I've seen Emergo in action - even if it was for the wrong movie.

Later this month, I'll talk more about Vincent Price in general, but here I'll say that he's marvelous, as you might expect, in the kind of role that solidified his reputation as a master of the macabre. He and Carol Ohmart, who plays his wife, have a War of the Roses-kind of vibe between them; the way they trade pointed barbs at each other is a big part of the entertainment value.

The house itself is a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed edifice known as the Ennis House. Watching the film, I took note of its unusual facade and layout; it doesn't look like the traditional Gothic manor we tend to associate with haunted houses. It was built in 1924 by Wright's son Lloyd for retailer Charles Ennis, made of over 27,000 concrete blocks. It has quite a history in the movies. Besides Hill, it was first used in the Ruth Chatterton pre-code film Female. In more recent years, it has appeared in Blade Runner, Rush Hour, The Day of the Locust, and The Karate Kid Part III, among others, as well as such TV shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Trek: The Next Generation and also for commercials, fashion shoots and music videos. It's listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

It is said that the success of Hill is what inspired Alfred Hitchcock to make a horror movie, which would go on to be Psycho. We may bitch and moan about horror movies today, but perhaps the reason why we do is because not enough A-list directors, like Hitchcock, make them. Hill may come across as low-brow, especially with the Emergo gimmick, but it was a big hit, and if it's true that its success led, however indirectly, to the creation of a masterpiece like Psycho, then it kinda makes one wonder what a Blair Witch Project or a Paranormal Activity or an It Follows could inspire, if a big-name director was willing to take that chance. Just a thought, anyway.

As for the remake, all I'll say about it is that with his mustache, Geoffrey Rush is the spitting image of Price.


  1. Although I may jump in my seat a couple of times or involuntarily gasp, I'm never sure with "House on Haunted Hill" if Castle is really trying to scare me or if he just wants to share a giggle. Price is priceless.

  2. You've inspired me. I'm going to watch this tonight! I thought I had it in a box set of old horror movies, and it is indeed in there. I won't have a skeleton flying around my ceiling, but it'll still be a fun watch.

    I enjoyed clicking back and reading your post about William Castle, and wasn't surprised to see a link to John Waters there! He writes/talks about Castle in his book 'Crackpot' and his one man show 'This Filthy World.'

  3. If anyone would appreciate the work of Castle, it would have to be Waters. I find him a very mixed bag, but I did appreciate the things he said about Castle.


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