Plot – A millionaire offers $10,000 to five people who agree to be locked in a large, spooky, rented house overnight with him and his wife.
Director – William Castle
Released – 1959
Although the name is very close to that of Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House and despite sharing more than a couple of plot points, including having a varied group of people spending the night in a haunted house, House on the Haunted Hill couldn’t be further away in terms of story and quality. Whereas The Haunting of Hill House and subsequent adaptation The Haunting is filled with scary supernatural moments, almost everything that happens in House on Haunted Hill is easily explained away in rational terms and those few moments that aren’t, fail to be scary and eventually becoming nothing more than an elaborate set-up for a complicated murder scheme.
The film also suffers from a severe lack of logic starting with the house itself. Although supposed to be Victorian, the house shown is clearly one that’s newer and still would have looked modern when the film was made in 1959. If the film-makers couldn’t make the effort to get the basics right, you find it hard to take the leap of faith needed for the more unbelievable moments, with the problems with the film not ending with the architecture.
The entire plot is riddled with holes. for example, you never find out why Pritchard ever accepted Loren’s invitation to spend the night in a place he is terrified of and where he expects to die and more importantly, the storyline, involving two interlinked murder plots, is way too complex and confusing for you to believe anyone would plan it to happen that way, especially as one of the murderers doesn’t seem to care much about not getting caught.
Director William Castle does produce a couple of surprises during the runtime and creates some interesting visuals, although I can’t help but feel he had his hands tied by a low budget for special effects, which look incredibly dated today, especially the scene with the skeleton which I couldn’t help but find laugh out loud bad.
All things considered, there were some great horror films made in the ’50s and ’60s, this just happens not to be one of the them, though with the film now in the public domain, and featuring the late great Vincent Van Price, feel free to check the film out and see if you were able to enjoy it more than I was able too.