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I’ve got some fond memories of Vincent Price. It was watching him host PBS’s “Mystery” with my mom that began my infatuation with Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett’s Holmes, of course). The guy oozed spookiness with his voice and that on-screen presence, and to this day he’s one of my favorite actors of the 50s and 60s.
House on Haunted Hill bills itself as a high-tension thriller, and I suppose for the time it probably was. Watching it today, however, the flick comes off more as an episode of The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. There are a few spooky moments, sure. But most of the effects feel like something you’d find at your local haunted house run by the Jaycees, if you get my meaning.
Price plays Frederick Loren, an eccentric millionaire who invites five strangers to the old haunted house promising $10,000 to all who manage to stay (and stay alive) through the night. It’s immediately apparent that Loren and his wife have some…issues. During their first conversation, their distrust is discussed and it’s obvious that not only are they not happy with one another, but they may even want to see each other dead. It’s a bizarre exchange and most viewers will see where this is going.
The cast is rounded out by a doctor, a nervous young lady, an airline pilot, a woman with gambling problems, and an crazy drunk played wonderfully by Elisha Cook (easily recognizable as the hapless “tough guy” The Maltese Falcon) who spends the entire movie stumbling around and creeping out the rest of the group.
House on Haunted Hill is a fun little spook classic with a bit of murder-mystery mixed in for good measure. If you’re a fan of the oldies, give this one a shot.