Review: House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Review: House on Haunted Hill (1959)

A 50s B-movie that turned into a cult classic


The House on Haunted Hill may not be one of the best horror films you’ll ever see, but as far as being a classic of the B-horror genre, it well earns its place.  It even managed to generate a remake in 1999, albeit the story in the modern telling is far different than the original.  If you’re a collector of old horror flicks (particularly those of the infamous William Castle), this is one that can’t be missed and since it only comes in at 75 minutes, it’s an easy watch.

The general storyline follows a crazy millionaire and his trophy wife as they host a spooky party at a house renowned for being haunted.  The party is the wife’s idea, though the husband (played by the almighty Vincent Price) seems to be far more interested in making the affair something to remember.  Five guests are carefully chosen, including one man that lost family in the house before - two of the house’s “victims.”

The point of the party is that the five guests are required to stay in the house through the night, the windows barred and the doors locked from the outside.  Each person that can make it gets an equal share of $50,000 - no small amount in 1959.  Even though one of the party guests wishes to leave, the doors close a little too early and so all five, including the millionaire and his wife, are stuck for the duration.

Even before the doors lock, strange happenings begin to take place.  Heads appear in boxes, lights burn out, creepy old ladies go floating across the floor inexplicably and the party-goers are introduced to a random pit of acid located in the basement.  All-in-all, a pretty great selection of campy horror gags.

I won’t ruin the end for you, just in case you haven’t seen it, but the strange occurrences turn out to be explainable (at least as far as the story is concerned).  I will say these words, however - dancing skeleton on wires.  It’s worth watching the entire film just for the last, cheesy “special effect”.

It’s easy to point out the many bad things about this movie, such as the teleportation of characters from one place to another at the writer’s convenience, the fact that noises, no matter how loud, are only heard by a character when they need to be, and that everyone seems to split up at every opportunity.  The good things are pretty much the same as the bad.  This movie is simple and goofy and fun to watch despite the ridiculousness of it.