By Daniel Anderson
At a certain point, any time you bring Vincent Price and Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture together in one spot, I’m in. Period. But thankfully, that’s not all “House on Haunted Hill” has.
Set at a spooky (and supposedly haunted) house, this old school classic delivers a terrific atmosphere and some genuine thrills. Price plays Frederick Loren, an eccentric rich guy who invites 5 guests over to the house on Haunted Hill (the exterior shots of which are of the iconic Ennis House, built by the aforementioned Wright) for a party with him and his (fourth!) wife. He offers to pay them 10 thousand dollars each just for staying overnight at this place. Apparently it’s that creepy (Remember that in 1959 10 grand was basically a scrillion dollars).
It very quickly becomes clear, however, that more than just the supernatural is at work here. Each character has a backstory (obvi), and has been invited to the house for a specific reason. There’s a test pilot, a columnist, a psychiatrist, the house’s owner (who probably ought to spend more time with the psychiatrist), and an employee at one of Loren’s subsidiary companies.
What makes this movie so good is that it combines a gen-u-wine mystery and a ghost story so well, playing tricks on the audience who are as desperate for answers as the guests themselves. That is not to say the film is without its plot holes. Let me assure you, there are plot holes a-plenty. Email me after you watch this movie and we can have a nice long conversation about all of the plot holes. But the rest of the movie is so good that you don’t particularly care too much about them to not enjoy yourself immensely.
Filmed on a remarkably low budget, House on Haunted Hill nonetheless found ways to create a terrifically foreboding atmosphere. A multitude of cinematic techniques that each viewer will recognize as scary movie staples today, are present in this movie in a way that I’m sure was cutting edge and remarkable at the time.
The Verdict: Watch it! And enjoy yourselves. Halloween comes but once a year.