|House on Haunted Hill|
Original theatrical release poster
|Directed by||William Castle|
|Produced by||William Castle
|Written by||Robb White|
Elisha Cook Jr.
|Music by||Richard Kayne
|Cinematography||Carl E. Guthrie|
|Editing by||Roy V. Livingston|
|Distributed by||Allied Artists|
|Release date(s)||February 17, 1959|
|Running time||75 minutes|
House on Haunted Hill is a 1959 horror film B movie directed by William Castle, written by Robb White, and starring Vincent Price as eccentric millionaire Fredrick Loren. He and his fourth wife, Annabelle, have invited five people to the house for a "Haunted House" party. Whoever stays in the house for one night will earn $10,000 each. As the night progresses, all the guests are trapped inside the house with ghosts, murderers, and other terrors.
House on Haunted Hill is the tale of five people invited to stay the night in a haunted house by an eccentric millionaire, Fredrick Loren, who is throwing the "party" for his fourth wife, Annabelle, with the stipulation that the power will be out and all doors will be locked at midnight, allowing no accessible escape. Anyone who stays in the house for the entire night, given that they are still alive, will each receive $10,000.
The five guests all arrive in separate funeral cars with a hearse leading, which he explains may be empty now, but they may be in need of it later. He explains the rules of the party and gives each of the guests a .45 calibre pistol for protection. Loren's wife tries to warn the guests that her husband is psychotic, causing them to be very suspicious of him, especially Nora Manning, who becomes convinced that he's trying to kill her when she keeps seeing mysterious ghouls, including the ghost of Annabelle, who had hanged herself after being forced to attend the party.
After being driven into a fit of hysteria by the ghosts haunting her, Nora shoots Mr. Loren, assuming he is going to kill her. Dr. Trent, another guest, tries to get rid of the body by pushing it into acid, but the lights go out, and when they come back on, both of the men are gone. Annabelle emerges, having faked her death with the help of Dr. Trent, and having apparently tricked Nora into killing Loren. Suddenly, a skeleton emerges from the acid accompanied by the voice of Loren. The spectre approaches Annabelle as she recoils in terror. In this panic, the screaming Annabelle accidentally backs into the acid herself. The real Mr. Loren walks out of the shadow, holding the contraption that he was using to control the skeleton of Dr. Trent. In his triumph, he watches Annabelle disintegrate.
Nora tells the other guests that she's shot Loren in the cellar, and they all rush down there. When they arrive, they see that he's actually alive, and he explains to them that his wife and Dr. Trent were having an affair, and that the "haunting" was just a joke planned by him with the help of the caretakers. He also tells them that they'd planned to trick Nora into murdering him so that they could get away with his money. He had not loaded Nora's guns with bullets, but blanks. Just when everyone thinks the trauma is finally over, Mr. Pritchard, the house owner, looks up, a terrified expression on his face, and announces that the ghosts are finally coming for them.
The theatrical trailer promoted the film as The House on Haunted Hill, although all advertising material, and the title on the film itself were simply titled House on Haunted Hill. The film is best known for a famous promotional gimmick used in the film's original theatrical release called "Emergo": William Castle placed an elaborate pulley system in some theaters showing the film; allowing a plastic skeleton to be flown over the audience at the appropriate time. In the late 1980s, the Film Forum in New York City had a revival of the film (along with several other Castle pictures) that included the original gimmicks.
Thanks to Castle's gimmickry, the film was a huge success. Alfred Hitchcock took notice of the low-budget film's performance at the box office, and set out to make his own low-budget horror film, which became the critically acclaimed hit Psycho (1960). Castle was himself a Hitchcock fan, and would try to imitate Hitchcock's work in later films such as Homicidal (1961).
House on Haunted Hill was originally released by Allied Artists Pictures Corporation. The film has since become public domain, and is available in a number of issues. Two major studios have released the film in remastered versions. Warner Home Video released the film on DVD as a tie-in to promote the release of the 1999 remake. In 2005, the film was colorized by Legend Films. The color version was released on DVD the same year by 20th Century Fox. Extras prepared by Legend Films for the Fox DVD release included an audio commentary track by comedian Michael J. Nelson, of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame, two versions of the trailer, and a slideshow of images from the film's original press book. Johnny Legend released a 50TH Anniversary DVD containing a whole slew of Extras such as both Original Theatrical Trailer and TV Spot plus several William Castle and Vincent Price Theatrical Trailers, A Carol Ohmart profile and Golden Age TV Shows starring Vincent Price. A DivX file of the colorized version with the commentary embedded is available as part of Nelson's RiffTrax On Demand service. In 2009, a newly-recorded commentary by Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett was released by RiffTrax.