Time to drift back to the shadowy Halloweens of Yesteryear when this Catgirl was nothing more than a wee lil smidgen of a kitten watching all those classic black & white horror movies that dominated television around this time of year. What would Halloween be without some nostalgic memories to make one feel young again? Our theme this year is Haunted House movies… and we’ve got perhaps the best of those old horror movies on tap, William Castle’s 1959’s “House On Haunted Hill” with the great Vincent Price.
The synopsis goes as follows: “Vincent Price stars as millionaire Frederick Loren, who resides in a sinister mansion on a sinister hill, where seven murders have occurred. He makes a proposal to several strangers, offering $10,000 to any one of them if they can last the entire night. Without being killed before dawn, of course, by either man or spirit…”
Yep… a true “haunted house” classic… and the fabulous Vincent Price to boot. What more could you want? So.. Gentle Visitors, without any further adieu let’s all indulge in these warm childhood memories together as we remember this great old movie. Ah… nostalgia, isn’t it wonderful? 😉
So unless you aren’t the sort of goofy horror movie fan that this wee Catgirl is, (And if you’re a regular visitor here at the ol’ Litterbox what are the chances of that?) you’ve no doubt already seen this one like a jillion times before. We’re talking a simple old style chill-fest the way they almost never make them anymore.
Yep. “House on Haunted Hill” uses the old plot in which we find a group of strangers locked in a haunted house with both a murderer among them as well as the angry spirits of the restless dead eager to have all intruders join them beyond the veil of death… forever. Leading our cast as the sinister millionaire Frederick Loren was the legendary horror star Vincent Price… but the film also starred many other memorable actors of the era as well such as Carol Ohmart, Richard Long, Elisha Cook Jr., and even Robert Mitchum’s big sister Julie. Add genre director William Castle with his big bag of crazy movie marketing ideas and there’s just no way this one couldn’t become a classic.
Like most old suspense films of the time, the basic notion behind the scares was the idea that most of the haunting stuff was nothing but hokum… just the tools to be used by the real killer lurking in the midst to confuse and terrify the others, helping to confuse and misdirect the heroes from solving the mystery too darn easily. Note… I said most of the haunting… but not all of it.Therein lies the fun.
We get all the neat Hollywood “special effects” tricks mixed together with some stage magic and a good dollop of downright con-artistry to scare our cast. Funny noises… secret passages… sinister creepy domestic help.. and the odd assault on folk to sell the scheme as millionaire Frederick duels with his grasping evil two-timing wife Annabelle to see which one can murder the other first… and get away with it of course.
By today’s standards… this one is pretty tame. No gore whatsoever… no over-the-top violence… lots of innuendo about infidelity, but no nudity or sex shown or even implied… and even the ghosts are quiet and restrained when they do decide to come out play. Not to mention that you’ll figure out the film’s twist ending long before it happens… but back in the day it worked amazingly well. 1959…. it really was a different time.
I first saw this one as a wee lil’ lass on Saturday morning TV sometime in the late 70’s… or early 80’s, it’s hard to remember exactly when…. but even then it still had the magic. Many of you who grew up here in the US at the same time as me will remember those Saturday morning creature features and the fun we kids had riveted to the TV for a double feature of these old films, but for the rest of you, well… you’ll just have to take Neko’s word on it. 😉
Over the years, I’ve probably seen this film hundreds of times. It’s one of those that you can watch almost every time it comes on. Sure you know how it ends…. but darn it, it’s always fun seeing it all over again. It’s just that kind of movie. It’s even been remade…. the sure sign that the original got things right. Regrettably, all the high-tech effects and updating to that version of the story really lost a lot of the charm that has me even talking about the original some 54 years after it was made.
So without any hesitation, I can give 1959’s “House on Haunted Hill” 4 “Meows” out of 5 for it’s chills, it’s thrills, the wonderful Vincent Price doing what the man did best, and all the great memories I have of it all these years later. Want a copy for yourself? Easy… being in the public domain, there are about a hundred different DVD releases available at all kinds of prices and in practically every Region and subtitle combination imaginable. If by some freakishly inconceivable reason you haven’t already seen this one…. well shame on you!! A certain crazy Catgirl suggests you remedy that as soon as possible…. 😉
Trailer? Heck… with a little searching this old classic in the public domain can be watched in full on YouTube, but here at the Litterbox, just for you, your Favorite Catgirl has the original theatrical theater Trailer just to whet your appetites to hunt down this classic for yourselves this holiday season… 😉