House on Haunted Hill (1959) – 31 Days of Horror: Oct 15

by Jovial Jay

Do you dare enter the House on Haunted Hill? That’s what the trailer asks the viewer.

This post represents the start of a chronological two week marathon on Haunted Houses. The fun starts with this 1959 Vincent Price classic, House on Haunted Hill.

Before Viewing

It’s always fun to watch old trailers. Things that were considered shocking or scary in 1959, look a little less-so in 2018. What’s great about this trailer, is Vincent Price personally inviting the viewer to come to the House on Haunted Hill…to be murdered! But he’s so suave, you want to come!

The film appears to be about seven people invited to his house, for some reason. Maybe there’s a reward to the person who can survive? Or maybe he’s making human sacrifices. Who knows? But there’s little coffins, monster hands, a dancing skeleton, plus several women scared out of their minds. Let’s park the car and see what this particular haunted house has to offer.

Presented below is the trailer for the film.

Spoiler Warning - Halloween

After Viewing

House on Haunted Hill might feel like an old film (it is!) but that doesn’t hamper some of the basic tenets of the horror genre. The film opens with two narrations. The first is the floating, disembodied head of Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook, Jr.) warning the viewer about the ghosts and the murders that exist in the house he owns. The second is Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) introducing the premise: he and his wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) have invited five guests, each in their own funeral car, to spend a night in this haunted house, owned by Pritchard, which he rented. If they succeed they will each receive $10,000. Each person is unknown to one another. They are test pilot Lance Schroeder (Richard Long), newspaper columnist Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum), psychiatrist Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal), Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig) a secretary at Loren’s office and Pritchard.

Pritchard, who is convinced that ghosts actually haunt the house, gives everyone a tour, making sure to point out a pit of acid under a trap door in the basement. Strange things begin happening such as a chandelier falling and almost crushing Ms. Manning, or Schroeder getting hit on the head in a dark room. Annabelle is convinced that her husband is trying to murder her and warns the others, especially Ms. Manning. Nora also has some additional frights with a scary woman in the basement and finding a severed head in her luggage, but when other come to investigate no proof is found. Frederick reiterates the instructions and provides each guest with a gun, which Pritchard mourns will be no good against the dead.

Dr. Trent is sure that fear and hysteria is behind Ms. Manning’s visions, and he tries to convince the others of this, that is until they find Annabelle, hung by her neck on the stairs. Nora is now convinced that Frederick is to blame. Schroeder convinces Nora to stay in her room, and Trent agrees that everyone should wait out the night in their rooms. Nora has a vision of a ghostly Annabelle floating outside her window. This sends her over the edge and she races out of her room and into the basement, screaming the whole way.

Frederick hears the screams and he and Dr. Trent go to investigate. But Trent instead returns to the room with Annabelle’s dead body. She miraculously sits up and they discuss their plan to murder Frederick and be together. Having worked Ms. Manning into a tizzy, they think that she is so hysterical that she will end up shooting Frederick for them. She does, and Dr. Trent hurries to the basement to see what happened, but the lights go out when he reaches Frederick’s body and a struggle is heard.

Annabelle enters looking for the doctor, and instead sees a skeleton rise from the acid vat. And in a very Macbethian moment, she hears her husband’s voice accusing her of murder, as the skeleton drives her back into the acid pit, where she dies. Frederick steps out of an alcove, with a marionette apparatus on his torso, showing that he was moving the skeleton the whole time. As the others show up, Frederick admits to giving Nora a gun with blanks, as Pritchard laments the adding of to more ghosts to the legacy of the house.

Don’t let the ghosts and the ghouls disturb you, love.”
“Darling, the only ghoul in the house is you!” – Frederick and Annabelle

House on Haunted Hill was directed by William Castle, a director and producer known in the 1950’s for his gimmick surrounding his films. This film utilized “Emergo,” which had a skeleton fly over the audience during the final sequence in the film. His most famous gimmick was on The Tingler (1959), called “Percepto!” which had certain seats wired to vibrate when the creature appeared on-screen.

By far the best thing about this film is Vincent Price in the lead role as Frederick Loren. His calm menace creates an air of foreboding, in which the viewer cannot be sure if he is the guilty party. In the end, he is the one that kills Dr. Trent and leads his wife to her death, driven to do so by their sordid affair. But Annabelle and David’s plan to foster a sense of hysteria in Ms. Manning in order that she would kill Frederick is equally bad.

It is mentioned that Annabelle is Frederick’s fourth wife. The first disappeared, and the next two both died of heart attacks in their 20’s. Were they all gold diggers as well? Or does Frederick Loren have a much darker side than the viewer is led to believe? The film leaves several elements to the imagination, and doesn’t explain every weird thing that occurs in the house, but it seems that the majority of events were man-made, and not related to ghosts and spirits.

I don’t think the reveal at the end makes the events any less horrifying. Quite the opposite in fact. Some of the most chilling stories are not about unknown and unseen forces, but deal with the evil machinations of mankind and the evil that men do.

Assorted Musings

  • The film was remade in 1999, but dealt with real ghosts and demons rather than the inner demons of men.
  • For being married, neither of the Loren’s wear a wedding band.
  • Several questions after watching:
    • What is up with the monster/werewolf hand that almost gets Nora Manning? That’s never addressed.
    • It is mentioned several times that the guests are locked in until 8am the next morning. How was Annabelle able to appear outside Nora’s window?
    • For what reason did Frederick marry Annabelle? She at least seems interested in his money, but it’s never addressed what he saw in her. Obviously his current hate is driven by the fact he knows she’s cheating on him.
  • House on Haunted Hill

    House on Haunted Hill (1959) – The House itself.

    House on Haunted Hill / Blade Runner

    House on Haunted Hill (1959) – The same house was used as Deckard’s place in Blade Runner.

    The house used for the exteriors is a famous Los Angeles house built by Frank Lloyd Wright known as the Ennis House. It has appeared in many film and television productions including The Day of the Locust and Blade Runner.

  • The film, with its opening narration, is reminiscent of thriller radio shows from the 1950’s, which usually set up spooky events in haunted houses.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. Accept Privacy Policy