House on Haunted Hill
The term “Classic” gets thrown around a lot. In my experience thus far, I think its usually applied correctly. Of course, there is always the danger that sometimes a film acquires a reputation for being a classic, and then rides that reputation to seemingly eternal sunny reviews when really it’s just not any good.
Such is the case with today’s film, the 1959 Vincent Price “classic” House on Haunted Hill. It’s revered as a campy but chilling horror masterpiece. In reality it is campy, but it’s certainly not chilling, and while I suppose it fits in as a horror film, any feelings of terror are totally subverted by the time it meanders to its conclusion. What this film is is a boring whodunit mystery with a creepy theme that shouldn’t be able to mask plot holes that you could drive a cement truck through.
Price collects a paycheck for appearing as Frederick Loren an eccentric millionaire who rents a supposedly haunted mansion and invites 5 strangers, (including the house’s owner,) to spend the night, with the promise of $10,000 to anyone who survives the night. I say that he collects a paycheck, and by that I do mean to imply that he seems to be phoning in his performance here. Of course, its entirely possible that he just seemed to be phoning it in because he’s basically the only member of the cast doesn’t spend the entire film over-acting as much as their role will allow.
I know that this film was never intended to be anything more than a campy, gimmicky, popcorn movie, and I suspect that were I able to go back to 1959 and see the film in a dressed-up theater with a glow in the dark skeleton flying through the air on a wire at the climax, I’d have enjoyed it thoroughly. But I’m afraid that it hasn’t aged well at all. The beginning of the film does a great job of establishing the scenario and setting a creepy tone, but then the film just sort of meanders around, and takes on the format of a whodunit. It does have a pretty great premise, but the execution starts campy, takes a turn towards implausible, and just winds up stupid.
This isn’t to say that the film is terrible. The premise is a good one, Price is eminently watchable, and there are one or two decent moments of dark humor, but at the end of the day it’s not worth seeing.
[House on Haunted Hill (1959) – Directed by William Castle – Unrated]