Friday, December 4, 2009

'House on Haunted Hill' is home to campy fun

House on Haunted Hill (1959)
Starring: Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Elisha Cook, Carolyn Craig, David Long, Alan Marshal, and Julie Mitchum
Director: William Castle
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren (Price) and his wife Annabelle (Ohmart) invite five cash-strapped strangers to spend the night with them in "the world's only truly haunted house"; if they stay locked in house from midnight to sunrise, they (or their heirs, should they not survive), will earn $10,000 each. Once the seven people are sealed in the house, the killing starts. Is it the ghosts, or are the visitors to the House on Haunted Hill being stalked by someone of flesh-and-blood?

"House on Haunted Hill" is a movie that scared the bejeezus out of me when I first saw it as a little kid... and as a kid, the twist-ending seemed like the coolest thing ever. When I saw it again as an adult, I didn't find it scary anymore, but I did find it entertaining and fun. This may not be much of a horror film, but it is great fun to watch, particularly since the film is self-consciously cliched and over-the-top--with the aforementioned twist-ending being the most spectacular example of this.

The five principal players in the film all portray stock horror/thriller characters--Price is the suave yet slightly batty millionaire; Ohmart his scheming, two-timing, greedy wife; Long is the heroic, square-jawed man of action; Craig is the damsel who is always screaming in terror and always in distress; and Cook is the doom-saying coward--and they all seem to be having lots of fun with their parts. The ghostly activities in the house don't make a whole lot of sense--nor are any of them even possible in the light of some facts we learn at other times in the film--if you think about them, but there's a sort of wink-and-nod atmosphere throughout that it really doesn't matter.

"House on Haunted Hill" is good, cheesy fun...and that seems to be exactly what the filmmakers were shooting for when they made it. If you like haunted house movies, you may enjoy this one. Just realize that it doesn't take itself all that seriously. (It's a film that young kids may find thrilling and scary--the giant vat of acid in the basement seemed particularly cool to me as a kid--but adults will spend their time viewing it smiling.)