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Millionaire Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) gives a party in his wife Annabelle's
(Carol Ohmart) favour and thus invites fiove total strangers from
different walks of life - pilot Lance (Richard Long), typist Nora (Carolyn
Craig), psychiatrist Dr Trent (Alan Marshal), society reporter Ruth (Julie
Mitchum) and scared shitless alcoholic Pritchard (Elisha Cook jr) - to a
supposed haunted house, offering each of them $10,000 in case they should
dare to spend the night in the house. Of course, the whole bunch is either
in desperate need of cash or just plain greedy, so everybody stays on when
the whole gang is locked in, even though spooky things have started to
happen before that.
Especially young Nora seems to be in the center of
all the horrors, as she stumbles over ghostly apparitions again and again
... and then Annabelle is found hanged in the staircase. Of course,
everyone suspects Frederick as it was no secret he and his wife didn't get
along, and since none of the others even knew her, he was the only one
with a motive - but at the same time this also relieves him of suspicion,
because why would you commit a murder in a house full of people when
you're the only suspect?
When the ghost of Annabelle appears to Nora,
that drives her over the edge and she runs through the mansion screaming,
and a loaded gun in hand. Doc Trent persuades Frederick to go after her,
but when Frederick finally catches up with her in the basement right next
to an acid vat, she shoots him dead ...
Here's the twist though,
Annabelle was never really dead, she and Doc Trent are lovers, and they
have planned to get rid of Frederick like this in meticulous detail - and
want to later dismiss his death as a party gag gone terribly wrong. After
they hear the gunshot announcing Frederick's death, Trent goes to the
basement to drop the corpse into the acid vat (though I don't know why).
follows Trent a short time later ... to see a skeleton rising from the vat
that comes after her and eventually pushes her into the vat to her death.
skeleton was of course nothing but a marionette controlled by none other
than ... Frederick himself. He has long anticipated Annabelle and Trent's
plans to murder him and commit the perfect crime, has loaded Nora's gun
with blanks, and has then turned the tables on his would-be murderers by
pushing him into the vat instead of being pushed and later scaring her to
death (in a way).
This accomplished, Frederick agrees to give himself up
to the police, but is convinced he won't be charged with anything but self
First and foremost: Among William Castle's gimmick
flicks, this is the one with the skeleton floating over the audience's
heads (I'm sure it's easy to guess at which point in the story), and if
you have to know, yes, I have seen it in its intended, gimmicky form once
- and no, I'm not that old (not by a longshot), it was at some
retrostpective somewhen in the 1990's.
Having gotten the
gimmick-side of the film out of the way, let's talk about the actual film
though, which is ... actually pretty good. Now don't get me wrong, House
on Haunted Hill is not a genre classic in the traditional sense of the
word, but it's a nicely told old dark house mystery with horror
undercurrents, in which atmosphere is created in an old-fashioned way and
the scares are onbt he traditional side, but Castle does know how to
deliver an enjoyably chlichéed spooker and by doing so he expertly irons
over his somewhat cumbersome story and elegantly hides many a plothole.
And several shots in this film seem almost iconic thanks to their expert
In all, not the best film ever made, but great genre