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House on Haunted Hill

Yipes!

House on Haunted Hill (1958)

     It has happened at last: I have issued the dreaded Yipes! rating to a movie. Ryan and I had planned to see a showing of House on Haunted Hill Saturday at Columbus, Ohio’s historic venue (that started as a movie house), the Ohio Theatre. We got a bit bogged down with dinner and were not going to make it on time so we watched the film at home instead. Ryan warned me the movie would be bad, but golly it is a disaster.

     Aside from poor acting on the parts of everyone except maybe Vincent Price, House on Haunted Hill has more plot holes than anything I have ever seen. As I rambled the next day to the tune of “…and what about when…” Ryan responded with, “Don’t try to analyze it.” And perhaps that is the only way to take House on Haunted Hill — with a grain of salt knowing the picture is an absolute wreck.

     Instead of engendering fright, this flick only induces laughter. Possibly the only moment a viewer might find frightening is the sudden appearance of an elderly, crazy-haired woman with milky eyes who stands with claw like hands raised before one of the characters. If only the woman had not stayed in that unmoving position long enough for the viewer to conclude how absurd she is. Then one might be scared. My favorite bit of dialogue comes from Richard Long. Upon being informed by the young woman that she is the sole breadwinner for the family because they were all in a horrible accident, Long opens a door. “It’s a closet,” he says before opening another door, “Bottles.”

     Ryan informs me that to his knowledge House on Haunted Hill was the first picture to use the plot scenario of “if you can stay all night in this haunted house I will give you X dollars.” Possibly everyone has seen some movie or show using that plot basis (I seem to recall a cartoon episode of some sort. Scooby Doo maybe?) and, coincidentally it was even part of the story for the TV special “Scared Shrekless” that aired last week. So if nothing else, the movie world would be deprived of ripping off that theme if House on Haunted Hill had not been made.

     House on Haunted Hill is not worthless. It is great for a laugh, but do not attempt to analyze it, as Ryan advised, because you will only end up frustrated.

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6 Responses

  1. You should have another category — Movies that I first saw as a kid that scared me to death, but which make no sense and make me laugh as an adult. Kind of a long title, but this one falls into that category.

    It is truly a terrible movie — full of talk about ghosts, but no ghosts actually appear anywhere. I love Vincent Price in anything, but this was a real stinker that I still have a soft spot for, nostagically speaking! Now my grandkids are scared by it, and they have not yet matured enough to see the holes….and a really bad movie marches on……

  2. I remember getting through about 40 minute of this film when I was a kid. I decided that it was not going to deliver the goods, so I went outside and rode my bike.

    Much more thrilling than House On Haunted Hill!

  3. Wha wha wha? How can anyone not enjoy The House on Haunted Hill? It’s tongue-in-cheek, campy fun! While I can’t praise the bland leads, the supporting cast play their parts perfectly-at the very least have a heart and give some love to Elijah Cook, Jr., for another in his long line of pathetic patsies. The film was made for kiddie matinees back in the days when that was one of the main target demos for horror films, before Night of the Living Dead traumatized unsuspecting kids who were dropped off by their parents and left to watch a film aimed squarely at adults alone. Castle never intended this to be a terrifying film, it’s meant to be more like a haunted house, where people jump out and yell boo but it’s all in good fun.

  4. Now Professor, even though I adore William Castle’s movies, it isn’t for their quality plots and screenplays. I will always love them and watch them and have fun seeing my kids and grandkids have the same reactions I did at a young age. Wonderful Elijah Cook, Jr. made a fun career out of his roles, didn’t he? My favorite Castle movie is “Mr. Sardonicus”. I loved the gimmick of voting on his fate at the end. I wish I had been old enough to have seen these at their first runs with the Castle gimmick touches a the theatres.

    It is a real shame that those kind of movies are gone now, and kids don’t have anything but pretty horrible stuff to watch as scary movies. You wouldn’t dare just drop them off at Saw II or Hostel! Gross stuff!

    • Well, I didn’t say the plot or screenplay were amazing, they’re just good fun. Sadly Mr. Sardonicus is still on my “to see” list. I, too, would have loved to have been in theater for some of these gimmicks.

      I think that some of the PG-13 ones might function that way, though none are as fun as this is….we dubbed the Prom Night remake “My First Slasher Flick” for its lack of any real scares.

  5. Just teasing you, Professor. Oh you’ve GOT to see Mr. Sardonicus! It’s a good one….one of the scariest faces ever!

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