House on Haunted Hill (1959)
Dir. William Castle
Written by Robb White
Starring Vincent Price, Carolyn Craig, Carol Ohmart, Elisha Cook, Richard Long
One of the better-known William Castle gimmick films to feature Vincent Price, this one finds amoral rich guy Price offering a group of strangers $10,000 each if they dare spend one night...in a haunted house. This is a pretty lazy setup, and had a pretty lazy (although surely work-intensive) gimmick to it: Castle had theaters rigged so that at the appropriate time, a skeleton suspended on wires would fly over the audience. Since the movie doesn’t have a warning that you should set up your own skeleton pulley system at home before the movie starts, I didn’t get to have the full experience and hence the movie seemed a bit goofier and more tedious than one would think given it’s reputation.
Price, of course, is entertaining here like he always is, and he gets a great assist from Carol Ohmart as his equally amoral wife who makes no bones about her total hatred of him. Both of them have fun hamming it up and devouring the cheap castle (no pun intended) scenery, but unfortunately there are a bunch of useless and less enjoyable main characters to get in the way of our fun. Most of the scares are pretty tame and predictable, and even a bunch of dependably outrageous twists (involving a skeleton marionette, a rope tentacle, and a pit of acid) aren’t quite enough to build the kind of energy something this silly needs to sustain it all the way through. The film has it’s moments, but wastes too much time treading water with boring characters who don’t turn out to be important anyway. Maybe if I saw it with the skeleton it would have worked better, I don’t know. But as it is, this seems to be one which built it’s reputation more on it’s financial success than it’s inherent quality.
By the way, what’s the deal with this supposed castle/mansion’s architecture? Was it build out of giant legos by Aztecs? What the hell is that supposed to be?