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House on Haunted Hill

USA 1959
produced by
William Castle for Allied Artists
directed by William Castle
starring Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Richard Long, Alan Marshal, Carolyn Craig, Elisha Cook jr, Julie Mitchum, Leona Anderson, Howard Hoffman
written by Robb White, music by Von Dexter

William Castle's gimmick movies

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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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).

Annabelle 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.

The 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 defense ...

 


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 setup.

In all, not the best film ever made, but great genre entertainment nevertheless.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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In times of uncertainty of a possible zombie outbreak, a woman has to decide between two men - only one of them's one of the undead.

 

There's No Such Thing as Zombies
starring
Luana Ribeira, Rudy Barrow and Rami Hilmi
special appearances by
Debra Lamb and Lynn Lowry

 

directed by
Eddie Bammeke

written by
Michael Haberfelner

produced by
Michael Haberfelner, Luana Ribeira and Eddie Bammeke

 

now streaming at

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Robots and rats,
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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
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a collection of short stories and mini-plays
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to the weirdly romantic,
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screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner

 

Out now from
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