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House on Haunted Hill (1959) - 30/31 Days of Halloween

We're winding down now, kiddies. There's only one day left of our month-long fright fest. Hmm... how should we finish this year off? Feel free to leave a suggestion in the comments. Who knows? You might just pick our final film.

This morning I realized, to my horror (see what I did there?) that I haven't reviewed any classic black and white films this year! At first I considered doing Dracula since I recently acquired the Dracula Legacy Collection on DVD, but I know you're all probably sick of vampires at this point, so I'll spare you the bloodsuckers until next year.

I also realized I hadn't reviewed anything starring Vincent Price this year, and I knew that needed to be rectified immediately. Luckily, Tubi came to my rescue with a film I hadn't ever had the pleasure of watching before. I've seen its 1999 remake, but that doesn't really count, does it? Hell no! Vincent Price is simply not outdone. So without any further ado, let's venture up to 1959's House On Haunted Hill.

As the film opens, we're treated to an introduction from the floating heads of Watson Pritchard, the owner of the eponymous house, and Frederick Loren, a millionaire who has rented the notorious haunted house to throw a party on his fourth wife's behalf. Loren has invited five people to the party, including Mr. Pritchard, and has offered them $10,000 if they manage to stay an entire night in the house... and stay alive. None of the guests know Loren personally, but they all have one thing in common... they need the money.

Once the guests have arrived, Pritchard leads them on a tour of the house, including an acid pit in the wine cellar where a previous occupant was murdered. Pritchard insists there are seven ghosts that haunt the house, but nobody takes him seriously, that is until Loren's wife Annabelle is found dead upstairs, swinging from a noose. Trapped in the house until morning with no way to summon help, the party guests arm themselves for a long night in the House on Haunted Hill.

I'm sure by 1950s standards, this film was positively terrifying, but today it comes off as a quirky mystery with some cheap scares. Don't get me wrong, I'm not putting the film down, but like many classic films, audiences have outgrown its more horrific elements. I found the first half of the film to be far more frightening and suspenseful than the latter half. When Nora encounters the "spectre" in the cellar, those were genuinely some of the best scares I've seen in a black and white film. After the doors are locked, the movie becomes less of a ghost story and more of a whodunnit. I do have to commend the filmmakers for putting severed heads in the movie, though. I'm surprised that got past the censors in 1959. 

The subplot of Loren's and Annabelle's martial problems irritated me at first. My initial reaction to the film was that this was all a needlessly convoluted way to... let's say, work out their marital issues. I really can't say much without spoiling the entire film, so forgive me for being vague here. But upon ending the movie, I can appreciate the acrobatics of it all. I can't say I'm entirely satisfied with the "haunting," and the film's climax is downright silly, but that's part of the winking charm of a Vincent Price movie.

Overall, while House On Haunted Hill is severely dated, it's still a worthwhile thriller and murder mystery. There's plenty of chills and intrigue to keep fans of classic horror on their toes. Just don't put too much stock in Pritchard's drunken ramblings, particularly his grim warning at the end about you being the ghosts' next victim. I mean, there's no such thing as gho-- WHAT WAS THAT!?

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