I remember looking forward to the arrival of the spring county fair. The crowds, the smell of the deep fried meat by-products and the eventual sugar coma I got from the elephant ears. Traveling down the row of colorful tents, the carnies would try to hussle you and you’d inevitably fall victim to spending $50 for a $2 stuff animal. Well worth the cost to impress your date with your amazing athletic ability to toss an oversized softball into a fruit basket (it really is harder than it looks.) Of course the big attraction were those crazy rides of the midway. Suspiciously held together by just a rusty bolt and a lock pin, your life hidged on the safety expertise of the greasy haired guy operating the speed dial below. You know, the guy with the two missing front teeth and bottle of Jack Daniels in his front pocket laughing maniacally as he spins you around to unconciousness. Tilt-a-hurl…the Toboggan Run to the Bathroom… all with their own blaring hard rock sound tracks. Midway rides were your quickest way to both deafness and dizziness so my favorite ride had to be the fun house. Sitting in that little two seat metal death trap that resembled those old motorcycle sidecars you’d experience the combination of dread and excitement as a chain driven track would drag you away to it’s mysterious dark world. Warnings sprawled in dripping neon paint telling you to “turn back now before it’s too late” or “beware of vampires” as you were greated by plastic skeletons popping up via air hydraulics and creepy things dropping and buzzing from the ceilings. You’d be ducking from side to side as lumbering zombies and giant styrofoam demon heads would lurch at you as you passed by until you finally emerged back safely into the real world. Sure it wasn’t exactly blood curdling terror but it was a fun goofy ride that put a smile on your face.
1959’s House on Haunted Hill had this same sort of campy horror charm of a funhouse ride. An eceentric millionaire Frederick Loren played by Vincent Price invites 5 strangers to stay locked in a haunted house. If they make it through the night they’ll get $10,000 each which was a pretty good chunk of change back then. His wife Annabell (Carol Ohmart) is his cold hearted back stabbing wife who suggested the idea to throw his little haunted party. Why he’d listen to someone who tried to poison him earlier in their marriage is beyond me but this is his 4th marriage so he’s probably already used to parting with his money. The greedy guests not fearful of voluntary imprisonment from a stranger arrive at the home which resembles more a roadside motor lodge than a haunted house. There’s the quintessential hero test pilot, Lance, a fragile nerved typist, Nora, a uptight psychiatrist, Dr. Trent and Ruth whose a chain smoking gossip columnist with gambling addiction. Aren’t all gossip columninst chains smoking gamblers? Watson Pritchard The owner of the house is also in the contest. He’s a bug eyed little man whose love of alcohol can only be matched by his absolute fear of the supernatural as he constantly whines about how the ghosts in the house are going to kill them all. As the evening festivities begin which mostly consists of a lot of scotch drinking and cigarette smoking, Fredrick gives everyone a handgun in their own limited edition collector coffin holster. Always a good idea to give paranoid drunks some loaded guns in a haunted house. What could go wrong?
Pritchard proceeds to tell heart warming bedtime stories of how countless people were butchered in the house and pieces were found everywhere except the heads. I sometimes can’t find my car keys so I could see how that could happen. Curiousity gets the best of Nora and Lance as they start snooping around the basement where they encounter dead flattened rats, an in-ground swimming pool of acid and a creepy old witch who glides around on roller skates. They return to their rooms only to find that Annabell supposedly committed suicide swinging from the rafters like a pinata. Later on she makes a cameo outside Nora’s window performing her vegas magic show of levitation and rope tricks. Ceilings start dripping blood, severed heads start popping up in closets and people get accidentally shot. It’s just another typical typical night in L.A. There’s a few interesting plot twist along the way but the movie degrades down into a kill by the numbers murder mystery. It’s capped off with a dissapointing ending that makes you feel like you were told you’d be getting a free dessert after a good meal only to find out they ran out of pie and it was closing time.
Whether House on Haunted Hill deserved its status as a frightful cult classic by today’s standards is debatable but for the time it was a campy funhouse style film that used some great gimmicks both on and off screen to give it’s audiences a few good jumps. The director, Mr. Castle was known for doing this sort of schlock-o-rama movie liked rigging electrical buzzers to the theater chairs for a nice jolt during “The Tingler” or in the case of “House on Haunted Hill” had plastic skeletons on wires to float mysteriously above the audience during the humorous walking skeleton scene coining the term emote-o-rama. Special nominations go to Elisha Cook Jr. who plays the house owners for uttering the obvious lines ”These guns are no good against the dead, only the living” and to the immortal Vince Price who had such great lines as “Remember the fun we had when you poisioned me?” Vince you were a fine wine in a horror film surrounded by cheese. You will be missed.
-Blood oozing ceilings
-Gratutious scotch drinking
-Disembodied floating head monologues
-Creepy witches on rollerskates
-Coffin gun holsters
-Gold diggin’ pinatas
-Acid bone cleaner
-Skeleton puppet shows
rated 7.6 out of 10
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Check out the trailer for House on Haunted Hill