I’m not talking about the insanely crumby late 90s remake, with Geoffrey Rush at his most hammiest and Chris Kattan at his… well, it was Chris Kattan trying to be serious. It wasn’t good.
No, I’m talking about the 1959 B-film starring Vincent Price as a millionaire who rents an apparently haunted house for a party. In classic Scooby Doo fashion (before there was a Scooby Doo), he locks his few guests in for the night with himself and his wife, telling them that if they survive until the morning, he will give them each $10,000. Of course, creepy things start happening.
There are some very goofy stuff in this movie, but the big issue is that how much just doesn’t make sense. Now, there are some spoiler alerts coming, so understand that. There’s a scene when the young beauty has a paranormal experience involving a rope that moved on its own, a ghost floating at her window and then a moment later that same ghost hanging from a noose in the stairway where she died. Later, it’s revealed that it was a hoax, but except for the “ghost” hanging safely by the noose, there were no explanations for the other aspects of the plan. Honestly, how did they get the damn rope to loop around the girl’s ankles? And let us not forget the impossible to actually pull off twist after the twist and the incredibly not scary skeleton marionette that makes its way into the climax (in case you were wondering, the skeleton got in the cast listing as “himself”). Oh, and there’s blood dripping from the ceiling which is never explained. So yeah, these are pretty big plot holes.
So, what makes this movie better than most of the B-films of the time? Vincent Price.
Granted, Vincent Price was in plenty of B-films during his career – the majority of his roles were in low-budget horror films. But in House on Haunted Hill in particular, Price is just on the whole time. The dialogue might have gotten goofy and the plot contrived, but Vincent Price is really putting everything that’s great about his acting into this character. His Fredrick Loren is charming, but also has just the right amount of creepy. In a lot of ways, Price reminds me of Christoper Walken: he’s been in some awful movies, but his performance is always memorable. It’s all about the confidence in his very unique voice.
Easily the best scene is towards the beginning, when Loren goes to get his wife (played by Carol Ohmart) to come down to the party. There’s so much tension between them that even when the dialogue goes a little silly (“Do you remember when you tried to poison me?”), the tension still stays. There’s another scene later with Loren and his wife alone that keeps that tension as well. Even when I’m watching this movie with Rifftrax (which I suggest), these two scenes are ones that I enjoy in a non-ironic way.
Of course, the movie ends with Vincent Price holding a giant skeleton marionette, and Elisha Cook staring into the camera to tell the audience the non-existant ghosts will be coming “for yoooooou” next. So yeah, it’s mostly a silly B-Horror film. But if you can handle some ridiculousness, you’ll get to see Vincent Price in a few precious good moments.