House on Haunted Hill begins with Elisha Cook Jr. and Vincent Price, each speaking directly to the audience, setting the mood of the movie and the evening to one of creepy horror. Adding to the spooky atmosphere are shots of the exterior of the haunted house — Ennis House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright a prime example of his Mayan Revival architecture.
House on Haunted Hill is all in good fun. The guests show up to the party each in their own individual hearse. Each person is supplied with a gun for their own protection. There is a vat in the basement filled with acid. Ghouls and ghosts appear to be on hand to help each of the guests into the netherworld. When the film was first released, director William Castle (The Tingler, Homicidal, The Old Dark House) used a gimmick called "Emergo" in theaters to further scare the audience — a skeleton was made to fly over the audience at a key moment during the film. It is rumored that Alfred Hitchcock, after seeing the success of the low-budget black and white horror movie, applied similar principles to his next film, Psycho. It is true that the sets and design of House on Haunted Hill do share the same production values as Hitchcock's television series, which may be the more direct ancestor of both films. Although dated, and undeniably goofy, thanks to the always wonderfully eloquent Price, House on Haunted Hill is still great Halloween viewing.
|A disembodied Vincent Price, "Welcome to the House on Haunted Hill"|
Frederick Loren (Price), "I am Frederick Loren, and I have rented the House on Haunted Hill tonight so that my wife can give a party. She's so amusing. There'll be food and drink and ghosts, and perhaps even a few murders. You're all invited. If any of you will spend the next twelve hours in this house, I will give you each ten thousand dollars, or your next of kin in case you don't survive. Ah, but here come our other guests."The five, presumably greedy "guests" are good-looking test pilot Lance Schroeder (Richard Long), newspaper columnist Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum), the house's owner Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook, who is spookier than most of the spooks), suave psychiatrist Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal), and pretty young thing Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig), who works for one of Loren's companies. Also in attendance, besides the host, Frederick Loren, is his wife, Annabelle. The two aren't exactly a loving couple.
Frederick Loren, "Don't let the ghosts and the ghouls disturb you, love."
Annabelle Loren,"Darling, the only ghoul in the house is you!"