House on Haunted Hill (1959)

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*. Wait. That’s the House on Haunted Hill? The Ennis House in L.A.? Best known for its appearance in Blade Runner? Talk about an odd choice of location.
*. Something about the title has always bothered me. The hill is haunted, not the house?
*. William Castle. Being a low-budget producer should give one a certain amount of creative license. I still believe that, but it’s also the case that most producers in such situations stick with what they know is going to make a quick and easy dollar.
*. Castle was a kitsch showman with an odd penchant for theatre gimmicks. This movie was released in some locations with a mechanical skeleton dubbed “Emergo” that by all reports was about as convincing as the plastic-and-wire contraption that scares Annabelle to death. Children were even reported to have thrown things at it.
*. Gimmickry aside, Castle’s films tend to be derivative and formulaic, as you’d expect. I mean, a falling chandelier? That goes back at least as far as the 1925 version of Phantom of the Opera. Squeaky doors mysteriously shutting on their own, and cobwebs on all the furnishings? (Speaking of which, why are there so many cobwebs? The house is being lived in and there are a pair of housekeepers, even if one of them is blind.) And when was the first time a film began in darkness with a woman screaming? I’m not sure when this bit of business began or where it came from.

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*. The basic idea isn’t all that original either. It’s just And Then There Were None re-jigged as a horror film.
*. That said, cheap schlock does have is attractions, and there must be some reason this movie is still watched aside from the inherent fun of watching Vincent Price camping it up. Unfortunately the rest of the cast has little to do, with Elisha Cook in particular being wasted.
*. I think it would have worked better if some of the guests had actually been killed, and can’t think of any convincing reason why Castle didn’t up the body count. At 75 minutes he had plenty of time.
*. What a remarkable wardrobe for Annabelle Loren (Carol Ohmart). Her first get-up looks like some kind of velour bathrobe-with-pants combination, And the second outfit with the piratical sash is equally bold. Meanwhile, everybody else in the movie is dressed conservatively. Perhaps Annabelle just has a flair for the dramatic.

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