House on Haunted Hill (1959)
 
This is one of two great old William Castle movies starring the legendary Vincent Price.  This time out Price plays millionaire Frederick Loren.  Loren offers five strangers ten thousand dollars each to spend the night in a haunted house.  The only person other than Loren that is invited to the party is Loren’s wife Annabelle.  The two of them are at each other’s throats because Frederick believes she has already tried to kill him once for his money, but can’t prove it.  This makes for an interesting evening, especially after Annabelle appears to have been killed by one of the ghosts.  Are the ghosts trying to off them or is it one of the other guests?  Pay attention carefully or you just might miss some of the clues and twists.  
 
I’m a big fan of William Castle and of the gimmicky movies that he directed.  This is one of the stronger and more enjoyable films that he made.  The plot is very tight and wastes no time getting to the good stuff.  All of the twists and turns that it makes are believable, while at the same time silly and fun.  The cast is great with Vincent Price in the lead role of Frederick Loren.  He is both victim and aggressor in this movie and plays both quite convincingly.  Most of Price’s villains are sympathetic in some way and here you will find yourself empathizing with Frederick as he struggles with a beast of a wife.  This makes the ending all the sweeter.  Also pretty good in the movie, though not given much to do, is Elisha Cook.  His character spends the entire movie drinking and telling everyone they are doomed, but still manages to make the character interesting.  
 
I don’t think that fans give Castle the credit that he is due for his movies.  House on Haunted Hill is a very well made movie that creates atmosphere and tension thru the skillful use of the camera and lighting.  The sets are light in such a way that there are plenty of shadows, which Castle uses very well.  There are a couple of killer jump scares, including the creepiest old lady I’ve ever seen on camera.  The movie also makes good use of a simple trick to create an illusion of a woman floating along the floor (darkly light scene with a platform on rollers!) to add to the creepiness.  Also there is a simple trick with a skeleton that only exists in the movie as a tie in for the theaters that were showing it.  I also dig the opening of the movie where Castle has the Price character break the third wall and address the audience, setting up what is going to happen later on screen.  
 
If you haven’t seen this movie then I must say you have been missing out.  This is one of the best horror films to come out in the 50s and is still a blast to watch today.  So do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of House on Haunted Hill.  You won’t be disappointed.
 
Before I finish up the review I wanted to mention how I watched the movie.  I’ve seen House on Haunted Hill many times, but never in color.  The DVD that I’m reviewing is from Legend films and contains on it both a black and white and the colorized version of the movie.  As far as the technology goes I’ve never seen a movie colorized as nicely as Legend has managed to do.  That said I prefer to watch these old movies in black and white, especially something that uses shadows and lighting like House on Haunted Hill.  That said I still recommend the Legend films version of the DVD because of how beautiful the movie has been cleaned up.  It looks better than ever.  For more information check them out at www.legendfilms.net  
 
3 ½ out of 4
 
reviewed by John Shatzer
 
© Copyright 2008 John Shatzer