House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Vincent Price stars in 1959’s House on Haunted Hill. Price plays a rich man who invites five strangers to a reportedly haunted house he’s rented, which seven people have been murdered in, for a party. He offers them ten thousand dollars (worth eighty-eight thousand dollars compared to 2020 dollars) if they can survive through the night.

As the guests begin to arrive, strange things start to happen. Doors shut and lock by themselves, a chandelier falls from the ceiling, mysterious objects disappear and reappear. Some of the guests do not cope well with the strangeness. Each guest having received handgun for protection seems more and more like a bad idea as the night progresses.

I very much enjoyed this movie. I like the Dr. Phibes movies a bit more, but this is one of Price’s better films. Price is charming yet sinister as the host depending on the situation, of course. “Remember that time you poisoned me?” he says to his wife at one point. Elisha Cook Jr. is great as the owner of the house and who is convinced that it’s haunted. As the film progresses, his hold on sanity slips and he says things about the horrible ways people were murdered in the house.

This movie was directed by William Castle, who was known for gimmicks used in promoting his films. For the Tingler, which also starred Price, some chairs in theaters were wired to give moviegoers a shock.  For the release of his first movie, Macabre, which he financed by mortgaging his house, he sold fright insurance and had women dressed as nurses in the lobby of the theater. (I doubt they were real nurses.) Castle produced Rosemary’s Baby with hopes that a big project like that would get him out of making low budget movies, but it didn’t.

You can find the 1959 version of House on Haunted Hill and so many more classic horror films on the Kanopy app. Use your McAllen Public Library card, create a username and password, and you’ll have access to thousands of movies, documentaries, and educational courses for free!

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