House on Haunted Hill (William Castle / U.S., 1959):

Out of the darkness come a few of William Castle's favorite things: shrieks, cackles, chain-rattling, Vincent Price's disembodied, soliloquizing head. The eponymous manor is played by Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis-Brown House in the Hollywood Hills, inside it is a meticulous homage to Clovis Trouille embodied by Elisha Cook, Jr.'s tour de force of fear and trembling. "Food and drinks and ghosts" await the five guests invited to the phantasmagoric soiree, each promised $10,000 if they are still alive in the morning; Price as the opulent host has a thesis to prove on greed and infidelity, the characters arrive in a funeral procession and are presented with miniature coffins containing pistols. The juveniles are Richard Long and Carolyn Craig as a jet pilot and a dainty scream-machine, while Alan Marshal as the doctor and Julie Mitchum as the columnist provide the contrasting poles of pragmatism and cynicism. Each room is a memento from an ornate murder, a dried-up puddle of blood on the ceiling will start dripping if a hand is placed under it; Craig finds herself in a darkened, bricked-up room, a crone with blank orbs jangles the camera and then skates away. Overseeing the shenanigans is another couple, Price and his ample, scheming wife (Carol Ohmart), sharpshooters of contempt in need of a Bergman: "Don't sit up all night thinking of ways to get rid of me. It makes wrinkles." Castle understands that human venality can always trump the supernatural (Les Diaboliques, Perversion Story), and understands, furthermore, that if a tub of acid is introduced, then people had better topple into it before the credits. The self-reflexive climax dispenses with plastic skeleton, pulleys and strings -- the essence of spectacles of fright, Castle's tools of the trade. With Leona Anderson, and Howard Hoffman. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home