1950s

The House On Haunted Hill (1959)

the house on haunted hill

The House On Haunted Hill is another 1950s low budget horror film from director William Castle (Thirteen Ghosts, The Tingler) which along with Thirteen Ghosts was remade into a film bearing little resemblance in the late 1990s/early 2000s. The House On Haunted Hill has a simple premise, five people are invited to spend the night in a haunted house for $10,000 (approximately $80,000 in today’s money) – if they stay there until the next morning. Whilst I have no problems with this as an idea, it doesn’t stack up with the fact that everyone is locked in the house at midnight meaning nobody can leave, the only way out is through a steel door and all the windows have maximum security bars on (Why? There are many such questions in this film, don’t look too closely at it). Why add the proviso that you have to stay until morning if there is no physical way to leave?

The five people invited to the house are all unknown to one another and vary from test pilot Lance Schroeder (Richard Long, The Big Valley) through to psychiatrist David Trent (Alan Marshal, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) along with newspaper columnist Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum, Hit and Run), Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig, Giant) who works for their host and the house’s owner (as in the film’s contemporary The Bat the hosts are merely renting the mansion), Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook, Rosemary’s Baby ) The party is hosted by Frederick Loren, played by Vincent Price (House of Wax and numerous other horror films in the 50s and 60s), although he keeps insisting that it is in fact his wife’s (Carol Ohmart, Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told), party. It soon becomes clear that there is a lot of bad feelings between the Lorens and it is a distinct possibility that Mrs Loren will meet a similar fate to Frederick’s previous three wives who mysteriously died.

Whilst the ghosts make an appearance at the start of the film with falling chandeliers and decapitated heads appearing then disappearing it is never quite explained if they are real ghosts or merely props in the web if deceit. I would guess at the latter for some are revealed to have human origins, such as the floating old woman who Nora meets in a pitch black room who turns out to be the elderly blind housekeeper (although why she seemingly glides across the floor rather than walks is again unexplained).

The House On Haunted Hill is undeniably sexist with much talk of ‘hysterical women’. Ignoring this fact the film doesn’t deliver what the title promises. There is only a slight nod towards the supernatural which is completely discarded by the end of the film. As previously mentioned, there are many inexplicable plot devices, such as the guests receiving a loaded revolver each to defend themselves from the ghosts. The worst and most grating feature, however, is the vat of acid strong enough to dissolve flesh in minutes in the basement revealed by a trapped door. The explanation of the vat is equally weak; it was a previous owner’s from experimenting on different types of wine (and coincidently where his wife died).

Unless you are a particular fan of 1950’s mystery thrillers or Vincent Price I wouldn’t recommend The House On Haunted Hill there are simply too many grating plot points.

Rating: 2/5

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The Bat (1959)


the bat

Set primarily in “The Oaks”, a large mansion rented by murder mystery author Cornelia Van Gorder played by Agnes Moorhead (Bewitched, Citizen Kane), The Bat is a quintessential 1950s murder mystery film containing a masked serial killer and a million stolen dollars hidden somewhere in the house. When arriving in the small town, Cornelia learns that a masked serial killer known as the eponymous “Bat” a faceless man who kills women by ripping their throats out with steel claws and unfortunately for her, the crimes were committed in and around The Oaks. Cornelia is undeterred and stays in the house, however she loses all of her servants except her faithful maid, Lizzy, played by Lenita Lane (The Gay Deception – I wonder what that is about!?). The relationship between Lizzy and Miss Cordy as she calls Cornelia is very close and more like an old married couple than employee/employer, indeed when scared there is much clutching of one another and sharing the bedroom.

On a routine visit to the bank we are introduced to the remaining characters in the play including Victor and Dale Bailey, the vice president of the bank and his wife, played by Mike Steele (The Rockford Files) and Elaine Edwards (Curse of the Faceless Man) respectively and Lieutenant Andy Anderson (Gavin Gordon, The Bride of Frankenstein), the local law enforcer. In this unfortunate scene we learn that the president of the bank and owner of The Oaks has stolen $1 million (over $8 million in today’s money) and has headed off to the forest with Doctor Malcolm Wells, played by horror aficionado Vincent Price (House of Wax). Victor Bailey informs Anderson of this not in a private office but in the middle of the bank separated from the rest of the office by a hip-high wall, this strikes me a very silly as surely people would overhear and start a riot on the bank? Only Dr Wells returns from the forest alive and soon the serial killer is back to his old tricks, searching the house for the missing money and killing anyone who gets in his way.

There is a decent stream of dead bodies and mystery with several curve balls thrown in as to the identity of the killer. Indeed, it kept me guessing and changing my mind as to who I thought it was. I also liked the portrayal of women in the film, it definitely passes the Bechdel Test, that is; 1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it who talk to each other about something besides a man. Unlike many films the killer is fallible, making a huge racket and alerting people when looking for the money, but equally The Bat is not inept. One thing that did irritate me about The Bat though was the method for killing, the steel claws are incredibly impractical and whilst it makes an effective silhouette, a faceless man in a suit and hat with these giant curved claws I feel it would have restricted a lot of his movement. Although there are a lot of murders in the film there is not a single drop of blood on screen, indeed in one of the cases I wasn’t sure if the victim had been killed or just knocked unconscious! I would recommend The Bat to any fan of murder mysteries.

Rating: 5/5

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Fun Fact: This 1959 offering is not the first time The Bat has been on screen, in fact it is based on a 1920 Broadway play and had been adapted into a film of the same name in 1926 and as The Bat Whisperers in 1930.

 

The Mole People (1956)

The mole people

The Mole People opens with an introduction from real-life Professor Frank C. Baxter on past views on the idea of a hollow Earth, which provide both a great context to the film and a very interesting side point. Baxter mentions two very famous theories by John Symmes and Cyrus Teed although what is not clear is these have any relationship to the underground chasm in the film. The film proper is set in nondescript ‘Asia’, although given the propensity of Sumerian is likely to be Iraq. It follows a group of Indiana Jones-type archaeologists led by Dr Roger Bentley and Dr Jud Bellamin played by John Agar (Revenge of the Creature, Invisible Invaders) and Hugh Beaumont (The Human Duplicators) respectively.

A series of clues unearthed during earthquakes points to a previously lost civilisation on top of the mountain where they settled after the great flood (think Noah and his ark). The archaeologists trek to the top of the mountain along with Professor Lafarge (Nestor Paiva), Dr Paul Stuart (Phil Chambers) and a local guide, Nazar (Rodd Redwing) where they find the ruins of an ancient temple. After a series of unfortunate events, several of which could have been prevented if wearing sensible safety gear and taking sensible precautions, the archaeologists find themselves deep underground where they discover the remains of the ancient civilisation, including a race of white skinned, black eyed people still practicing the ancient ways. There is another race, the eponymous mole people who are slaves to the humanoids, who, after 5,000 years can they truly be called human? The archaeologists arrival throws the underground realm into disarray causing a rebellion from the subjugated Mole People.

The Mole People is a good example of films from the 1950s, like all films of the era the men are ‘manly’ and the main hero gets the beautiful damsel in distress, a slave girl played by Cynthia Patrick who is Marked as she shows none of the genetic mutations to survive in the darkness. The special effects in The Mole People are typical of films from this era, with large caverns with exquisitely painted but unrealistic backdrops and too regular boulders and rock faces, and the disfigured mole people are obviously people in rubber masks. The film has a lot of dark shots, lit only with a spot light and handheld torch which is refreshing, as one of my biggest bug bears of films is the overuse of lighting when it apparently takes place in darkness.

The director, Virgil Vogel (The Land Unknown, The Big Valley) plays fast and loose with scientific fact and practice and there are a few glaringly obvious scientific falsehoods and malpractices, for example the Sumerians are described as albinos but all have black hair and the team manage to break a tablet that had survived 5,000 years and don’t seem to care. Despite the leaps of faith required, I enjoyed The Mole People immensely, it was very reminiscent of the original Star Trek and I would recommend this film to anyone who enjoyed the adventures of James T. Kirk.

Rating: 4/5

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