(dir. William Castle)
*First time viewing
While I strongly believe that everyone needs at least one dose of Vincent Price in their Halloween festivities, House on Haunted Hill is probably not your best option. The film follows an eccentric billionaire who invites five guests to a supposedly haunted house for his wife’s birthday. Whoever can survive a night in the mansion will be rewarded with $10,000. While the plot and eventual twist are decent, the film drags whenever Price isn’t on the screen. Even the film’s campiness and admittedly entertaining low-budget gags can’t inject enough life into the film to keep the mere hour and fourteen minutes from inching by.
As a horror fan however, the film does offer an interesting look at the evolution of the genre. Despite the film’s silliness and overacting, the gimmicks that excite most audiences (flickering lights, loud noises, distant spectral figures, and gruesome death scenes) haven’t changed much in the past 50-plus years. Directors have access to better special effects, but the basic tropes of the genre remain. The film provides a rather interesting look at the execution of scares.
Scare Factor: 1/5 House on Haunted Hill hasn’t aged very well, and what may have been shocking to audiences in 1959 is more likely to induce chuckles and grogginess from modern viewers. Still, if you’re a film history buff invested in horror, it’s certainly worth a watch if only because of the impact it’s had on the genre and its marketing.
**Available to watch on Netflix Instant.