Today I watched William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill (1959)
House on Haunted Hill is a classic black and white haunted house film starring the wonderful Vincent Price. Price plays a wealthy eccentric man who has arranged for a group of strangers to get locked in a haunted house with him and his wife. It sets itself part from many of its peers with a strange approach to the art design. Instead of the classic gothic style, the titular house is more modern in its architecture with strange geometry which is effectively off-putting and because it subverts my expectations visually, it helps the actual plot twists to affect me because I am already a little off kilter.
This movie keeps itself to the formula for the most part. It manages to keep the audience guessing as to whether the supernatural threats are for real or not, but the first big twist makes the third act somewhat predictable. The performances by Vincent Price and Carol Ohmart as the rich couple are the real draw here and they bring a lot more depth than the cookie-cutter script initially promises.
During House on Haunted Hill’s initial release, William Castle apparently orchestrated for a pulley system to swing a skeleton above the audience. This is the kind of camp appeal the film is going for and for the most part it succeeds, but I find myself disappointed. House on Haunted Hill is just a little too logical from a film making perspective, too calculated and commercial. I found myself wishing for more insane creative decisions which might have made the film objectively worse but it would make it more memorable and thought provoking. 3/5