To live is to be haunted.
-Phillip K. Dick
“The following is a contributor post by the Midnight Mystic Mage.”
Ok guys so I am in the middle of inventory month and scrambling trying to finish a game but it is looking more and more like I will not be able to complete one in time. I like to try to contribute to TWRM at least once a month so that leaves me with the solemn duty of talking about an old movie that I seriously loved watching and would like to recommend to each of you. That film is House on Haunted Hill starring Vincent Price.
There was a 1999 remake of this movie that I enjoyed when I was younger and have not seen since. Looking through some things now I saw that they changed the name of the eccentric millionaire from Frederick Loren to Stephen B. Price in the newer version. No doubt a call out to the man who played the character so well years before, Vincent. In fact I am now seeing that there was even a sequel to the 1999 version that was released in 2007 that was titled Return to House on Haunted Hill. It was not very well received by critics, but still looks like it might be worth a watch.
I can’t help but see many parallels between these two films and two others titled The Haunting, which were based on the novel called The Haunting of Hill House. The names are strikingly similar and the more I dig in, the more eerie the parallels become. Both the book (The Haunting of Hill House) and the unrelated original movie that I’m reviewing (House on Haunted Hill) were released in 1959, and later both remakes of either film were released in 1999.
It is hard to understand how the movie could be influenced much by the book which was released at the same year, but everything certainly points that way including the similarity in titles and plots. Both stories include a very rich man inviting over unsuspecting people to what is supposedly a haunted house while offering them a large sum of money to participate. These men in both stories have ulterior motives and keep the participants locked in overnight, leading to dire consequences.
The point of the original novel which all of these adaptations seem to owe much to is to leave the reader wondering whether it was all a trick by the host or if there were really supernatural elements at play. That of course is only to my understanding based on some articles I have read because I have not yet been able to read the original book. The movie in question does a great job of leaving you with the quandary of not quite being able to put your finger on if it is all a hoax or part of it is while other parts are due to supernatural occurrences. I know that many other installments focused far more heavily on it actually being a supernatural presence and leaving no room for doubt, so that is one way that I believe this version was able to do a superior job with the story.
Don’t watch this version expecting to be chilled to the core, it can be very campy at times. There are moments of terror that have a bit of shock factor and leave you taken aback however. Usually these are cleaned up later as something done to scare the guests, but that is not always the case as things begin to get a little too real later in the film. Let’s just say that between the millionaire and his wife, there is more than a little trouble in paradise, and things take a turn for the worse.
Well I am ready to dig into the particulars with the patented 8-bit Review and see what really made this movie tick. I hope that I am able to articulate what makes it so enjoyable, and maybe you can have your own experience with it in the future.
The 8-Bit Review
I loved the story and it was so well portrayed by the cast & crew. The psychological aspect makes the film so intriguing: not knowing what is real and what has been set up to entertain the dastardly millionaire, Frederick Loren. The lack of this feeling of being unsure is likely what made the newer films be received so poorly. I however enjoyed the ones that I have seen, but I can understand how it loses a bit of what makes the story so deep and complex when you remove this element from it.
There were some very creepy moments especially for a movie so old where the intended frightening scenes are usually laughable. That being said the overall campiness makes it a bit less scary overall. The idea of so sadistic of man with so much wealth and power is unnerving, and there are moments with shock factor that really stick with you such as when the guests find a person hanging. I will leave who and why for you to find out if you watch for yourself, but I think for an old movie, especially all the way back in the ’50s, it was very scary for its time and probably gave more than a few youngsters nightmares and left them peaking inside their closet.
I can’t begin to explain what made the casting so impeccable without first mentioning the incomparable Vincent Price. What the movies he starred in lack in modern-day camera quality, special effects, and costumes he made up for with charisma and being able to own the character that he portrayed with a suave and sophisticated air unlike any actor I have become familiar with thus far. His co-star whose name I have regretfully failed to mention until now was named Carol Ohmart.
She played the wife of the eccentric millionaire who has grown tired of his ways and is a bit of an antagonist to him throughout the film. This of course would make her more of a protagonist as she is against the villain, but how could I consider someone good who goes against the great Vincent Price? These two do spectacular at their portrayal of an embattled couple who are attempting to get along with a plan that was previously set in motion, and the rest of the attendees are done very well by the respective actors and actresses as well. This is undoubtedly one of the shining points of the film that makes it a classic and still fun to watch today.
I do not personally put any faith into the supernatural in reality, so many movies that have to do with hauntings or possessions are hard for me to find a real meaning in. That is what makes movies like this that make you question whether it is the ghosts or the people and presents valid reasons for both easier for me to find some type of moral within. There is greed, competitive nature, judgments being passed, and many other things that you are able to take away from the movie. Usually in a movie about those types of things it comes down to the skeptic being like “Oh but all of that stuff is baloney!” to them then having some terrifying first hand experience and us as the audience just going “Ohhhh well you believe in ghosts now!” Not much more to take away many times, but luckily that was not the case with this old gem.
It is always hard for me to judge the visual appeal of older movies. It doesn’t look great when matched against today’s standards, obviously, but what about it made it good for its time? They did a wonderful job making the spooky old mansion look the part with cobwebs and some costume design and makeup such as the creepy old lady pictured below were done very well. Other things like the skeleton were pretty cheesy and did not deliver the desired effect. I do love the scene with the skeleton, but the skeleton itself was kind of goofy looking.
There is plenty of suspense in the movie between the feuding couple who are seemingly both always one step ahead of each other, to the participants who are there to try to get the 10,000 dollars. There is an air of tension, nobody knows who they can trust, and it is hard to tell what might happen next. There is definitely an unexpected turn or two that is taken along the way.
This version is done very well as I have mentioned with the plot and leaving the truth open-ended for you to decide. However I am unsure why this movie and the works directly based on The Haunting of Hill House are not quite openly connected. It leads me to believe that one of them has to be derivative in some sort of way, but I will admit my knowledge on the topic is a bit limited and I will suffice it to say that something is strange about it not being considered an adaptation of sorts. Please enlighten me if you happen to have more information on this topic, the connections are very intriguing to me.
My Personal Grade: 8/10
I love a good horror movie, new or old, and I love the work of Vincent Price in every role I have seen him play. Put the two together and I have got to give it up for this one, it is an all around horror classic and anybody who enjoys an old scary movie should seriously give this one a look. Hopefully my review has done it justice and I can hear your opinion of it when you get the chance to watch it! Thanks for reading and for your continued support.
Check out my other reviews of movies starring Vincent Price on TWRM ~ The Last Man on Earth (1964) and The Haunted Palace (1963) as well as the books from which they were adapted I Am Legend (1954) and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (1941).
Aggregated Score: 7.6
The Midnight Mystic Mage is the resident writer of sublimereviews.wordpress.com, a reviewer of games, books, and film, and a fan of all things horror and spooky. Follow the link… if you dare!
Did you enjoy this post? Consider becoming a Warrior of Light and join us in restoring integrity and quality to games writing. We specialize in long-form, analytical reviews and we aim to expand into a community of authors with paid contributors, a fairer and happier alternative to mainstream games writing! See our Patreon page for more info!