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.