House On Haunted Hill (1959) – William Castle

William Castle’s horror classic, House on Haunted Hill is the next film in DK Canada’s Monsters in the Movies book as I delve deeper into the chapter on ghosts.

A group of strangers are summoned by Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) to have a party for his wife, Annabelle (Carol Ohmart). The location is a house atop Haunted Hill (honestly with an address like that, you must know what you’re getting into).

The property owner, Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook jr.) knows the history of the house, and shares it in the opening minutes of the film. There have been countless murders, and he insists that it is haunted by dark spirits.

Loren offers a hefty sum to each guest if they can stay locked in the house until sunrise (the house has other ideas and locks them in before they get a chance to leave).

Is the house haunted? The low-budget scare film leaves that question open for most of the film, even as there are hints of possible supernatural occurrences, and the possibility of murder looms over all of them.


Of course as the film progresses it definitely seems like the place is haunted and lots of death and mayhem ensue, but Loren is also a skilled effects artist, so not everything we and the guests see is supernatural.

Loren is conniving, and his wife equally so, both believing that the other is planning to kill them, but only one of them will succeed. If the house is haunted, which of their spirits will haunt the house?

Price is awesome, as always, and his supporting cast is fairly reliable in the Saturday matinee horror movie kind of way. The visual effects are pretty good for such a low budget film, with the walking skeleton from the poster becoming an iconic image, and a fun moment in the film.

Are there ghosts on Haunted Hill? The name seems to suggest it, but who knows? It’s definitely up to the viewer as they weigh the incidents that happen to the people stuck in the house.

Castle has a great and fun history with films and with movie houses, and there is definitely a sense of that in this story. This is best illustrated in the sequence before the opening credits, which must have been something to experience in a darkened theater with big sound – there are screams, mutterings, maniacal laughter… all coming from a darkened screen (as well as a skeleton that came out into the theater during a climactic moment).

It’s a spooky and fun touch.

The exploration of ghost movies continues with DK Books’ highly enjoyable Monsters in the Movies book. There are more to come, laughs, scares and spectral delights of all forms. Pick up a copy of John Landis’ book and find something macabre to watch tonight!



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