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



13 Ghosts (1960 and 2001)

13 ghosts

The 2001 remake directed by Steve Beck (Ghost Ship) bears very little resemblance to the 1960 original by William Castle (House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler) other than there is a house haunted by twelve ghosts left to the central family by a creepy uncle with an obsession with the occult.

In the original, the house is left by Dr. Plato Zorba to his nephew and family; Cyrus Zorba (Donald Woods), his wife Hilda (Rosemary DeCamp) and their two children Medea (Jo Morrow) a flirty young woman or indeterminate age, and Buck (Charles Herbert) a ghost obsessed ten year old.  In the 2001 remake, the names are changed, the creepy uncle becomes Cyrus Kriticos (F. Murray Abraham) and the nephew and family now consists of Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub) and his two children Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Bobby (Alec Roberts), Mrs. Kriticos having died in a house fire six months previously. In both films the family are having financial problems and the offer of a large house seems too good to be true (and it turns out is!)

In both there are two other characters (not counting the ghosts) common to both films, the lawyer after the hidden fortune – Benjamin Rush (Martin Milner) and Benjamin Moss (JR Bourne) in the 1960 and 2001 films respectively, and the housekeeper/nanny who changes from the inherited housekeeper ‘witch’ played by Margaret Hamilton (the wicked witch of the west in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz) to a nanny with an attitude played by Rah Digga. In the remake there are several additional characters including the psychic Dennis Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) and ghost hunter Kalina Oretzia (Embeth Davidtz).

In the 2001 film the house is a work of art, a giant glass jigsaw of sliding walls that release ghosts from the basement and in one memorable scene, cuts the lawyer in half. The house is controlled from a secret room at the top of the house from which the ghosts are released one by one by pulling levers on what looks like a giant old fashioned cash register. At the centre of this house, which turns out to be a machine is a series of concentric rings that begin to rotate from the centre as the film progresses. In contrast, the original house is the usual sprawling mansion and the only remarkable thing is a descending canopy on a bed that was used to smother people.

One thing the two films do have in common is that the ghosts can only be observed through a special pair of glasses. In the original this was used to great effect with Illusion-O, in which a ghost viewer being handed out to audience members featuring a blue and a red cellophane sections. To emulate the ghost viewer I used a handy pair of old fashioned 3D glasses but it is possible to view the film without it. William Castle appears at the start of the film and explains that when the screen turns blue (from the usual black and white) that, if you believe in ghosts to look through the red and if you don’t, to look through the blue section. The ghosts are shown in red with the rest of the scene in blue. The red filter intensifies the ghosts and the blue filter ‘removed’ them. It was very entertaining to play ghost-no-ghost by closing the relevant eye for each filter.

The ghosts in the two films are very different and play a greater role in the film’s plot in the remake. In the original the ghosts consist of four burning ghosts and a cartwheel of fire, a chef and his murdered wife and in-laws and a headless lion tamer and lion. In the remake the twelve ghosts make up the black zodiac and each has a back story. The ghosts range from the first born son (a child dressed as a cowboy with an arrow through his forehead) to the torn prince (a 1950’s jock with a baseball bat) to psychotic killers known as The Jackal and the Juggernaut.

These two films are both good films in their own right but I would not call the later film a remake of the 1960 film, rather that it was inspired by it. Neither film are particularly scary, but have different factors recommending them, the Illusion-O in the 1960 version and the amazing set design in the 2001 version.


Apartment 143 (2012)


Apartment 143, or Emergo as it was originally titled, follows a team of ‘ghost hunters’ from an (unnamed) institute specialising in parapsychology who are investigating a haunting at the eponymous apartment which belongs to the White family. The White family’s life has recently taken a nose dive, with the loss of Alan’s (Mr White) job and the death of the mother in a car crash leading to the family downsizing into the shabby apartment in an almost empty block of flats. Since the death of Mrs. White strange events have been occurring to the family and Benny, the four year old son, insists that his mother is neither dead nor alive. The final member of the family is Caitlin, a sullen teenager who is predictably uncooperative with the incoming team.

The team of paranormal investigators ticks all the diversity boxes, consisting of a white middle aged man, Dr. Helzer (Michael  O’Keefe, Frozen River) a blonde Irish female assistant named Ellen (Fiona Glascot, Resident Evil ) and Paul, a cocky, Hispanic techie (Rick Gonzalez, Coach Carter). The investigators are equipped with the expected array of gadgets, including multiple still and video cameras (with the obligatory scene of the cameras being put up) and various probes.

The largest negative of the film the amount of pseudo-science used in the film to explain away what the researchers were doing and the ensuing supernatural events. The film relies too much on vaguely scientific long words and pop psychology to explain and link a series of gratifying frights.

The jumps start early into the film (only six and a half minutes in to be exact) and continues to build throughout the film. The narrative is fast paced and straight forward with an obvious beginning middle and end. Apartment 143 is filmed in the typical low budget hand held camera style, from both hand held cameras and cameras in the side of Ellen and Paul’s head. The director, Carles Torrens, uses almost all the well-known cinematic techniques (including night vision and strobe lighting) and plot devices (the  use of a medium to contact the ghost, hidden secrets in the family and so on) to great effect and produces a variety of scenes to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat. In fact, Apartment 143 is a very good candidate for supernatural horror film bingo!

Whilst the plot of the film is unoriginal and the techniques used to generate scares are well known it is a well-made and well thought out 80 minutes and delivers the desired jumps and shocks throughout the film. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a decent ghost film and I look forward to seeing what Torrens does next.