Sunday, November 9, 2014

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959) Blu-ray Review

House on Haunted Hill (1959) d. William Castle (USA)

This classic fright-fest frivolity from producer/director Castle stars Vincent Price as eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren, offering $10,000 to five diverse guests if they can spend the entire night in the titular haunted house; thrills and chills ensue.

Castle has never been more adept at creating straight-faced spooky atmosphere, and Robb White’s snaky screenplay provides characters and mystery adequate to hold our attention through the film’s zippy running time. Doors creak open and slam shut, decapitated heads appear and disappear, and vats of acid bubble deliciously in the cellar, with a wonderfully cheesy skeleton topping off the delightful buffet.

The mental (and sometimes physical) tug-of-war between Loren and willful wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) provides an additional layer of tension to the proceedings. Their beleaguered guests include Richard Long’s dashing jet pilot and cute Carolyn Craig (a great screamer, though not much more should be asked of her). Elisha Cook, Jr. is top-drawer as a frightened mouse of a man, alternating between shots of whiskey to ease his frazzled nerves and doom-filled warnings to anyone who’ll listen.

This is the film where eternal showman Castle revealed his classic “Emergo” stunt of flying a skeleton on wires over theater patrons, but even without gimmicks the film stands strong on its own, supplying equal measures of eerie jolts and campy fun. (Favorite moment: the floating servant woman.)

House on Haunted Hill is available now on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory as part of their excellent The Vincent Price Collection II, and is the showcase piece of the pie, with three featurettes on the star ("Vincent Price: Renaissance Man," "The Art Of Fear," and "Working With Vincent Price") and a delightfully informative audio commentary by noted film scholar Steve Haberman. You're not going to get all these extra goodies on your public domain 50-pack, so consider upgrading today. If you're short on cash, I'm sure Mr. Loren would be happy to offer you a place at the next gathering.

--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine

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