When someone mentions old horror films, Hitchcock and the Universal monsters usually come up first but how do you forget about the melodramatic legend himself, Vincent Price? To be perfectly honest, my only previous encounter with his work was through his guest star spots on the occasional episode of the various Scooby Doo series. I know, that’s not saying that much, and I should be more familiar but any exposure, is good exposure to some degree, right?
Collectively, the internet told me the best Vincent Prince film was House on Haunted Hill and it’s not hard to see why once you start. Sure, it can be a little cheesy since it’s from 1959 but there’s a lot of great things about the film too. From the opening monologue to the twist of an ending, this classic written by Robb White and directed by William Castle, is a treat.
If you’ve never heard of this film, House on Haunted Hill takes place over the course of a single night at a reportedly haunted mansion rented out for the night by a millionaire who offers $10,000 to each of his guests who can survive locked in until sunrise. What transpires over the 75 minute run time keeps you on your toes, not because of any particular jump scares (at least by modern standards) but rather because you’re invested in unraveling the mystery of what is truly happening at the house. You may think you have it all figured out but don’t be fooled — nothing’s quite what it seems inside these walls.
For a haunted house film, the ghosts are not necessarily used to their full effectiveness. Perhaps this is just one part of the film that hasn’t aged well, but it’s easy to imagine how watching this during its original release in theaters would have been terrifying. Of course, there is always the idea that perhaps the ghosts aren’t meant to be that scary; the true horrors are sometimes the living, breathing humans you share a room with.
Worth noting is its brilliantly effective lighting. The use of shadows calls to mind Castle’s contemporary, Alfred Hitchcock, and Natalie and I often found ourselves commenting on the shot compositions and how much we enjoyed the overall aesthetic and cinematography of the film.
This movie caught me by surprise. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did because I was worried about it being too cheesy. I was certainly wrong. I have to admit though, I expected Vincent Price to be a little more over the top judging by the way people reference him as melodramatic actor. He’s got his moments, sure, but it was nothing like I had imagined and perhaps that’s for the best. Sure, his character creeped me out at times and I never trusted him, but he was fun to watch! I would be remiss not to mention though, the lady who really stole every scene she was in and was easily my favorite part of the film: Carol Omhart as Vincent Price’s wife, Annabelle Loren.
Aside from her incredible wardrobe, Annabelle Loren serves up many of the best lines of the films including the now iconic, “darling, the only ghoul in this house is you” which became the title of this post. She’s as conniving as she is beautiful and she certainly makes the film that much more enjoyable to watch.
Overall, House on Haunted Hill is a great time! I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it and I would love to add it into my permanent Halloween film rotation. If you’re looking for a classic film, definitely give this one a shot.