Monday, October 19, 2015

13 Films Of Halloween:
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL

This year we're going to look at Vincent Price movies, since he passed away a few days before Halloween in 1993... and is usually associated with Horror Films, even though he was a classically trained actor who is in a pile of great films from the Golden Age including one my favorites - LAURA. But he's remembered for his horror films from the 50s and 60s, so we're going to look at 13 of them this year, beginning with...



THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959)

Starring: Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Richard Long, Elisha Cook jr, Carolyn Craig.
Written by: Robb White
Directed by: William Castle
Produced by: William Castle


William Castle was the king of gimmicks, and this film featured “Emergo” - which was nothing more than a plastic skeleton on a wire that shot out at the audience at a point in the film near the end...



The movie opens with screams over a black screen, and then Pritchard (Elisha Cook jr) says, “The ghosts are moving tonight, restless... hungry. May I introduce myself? I'm Watson Pritchard. In just a moment I'll show you the only really haunted house in the world. Since it was built a century ago, seven people, including my brother, have been murdered in it. Since then, I've owned the house. I only spent one night there and when they found me in the morning, I was almost dead.” Which sets the stage for the story without showing a single ghost or dead body. Haunted house movies often begin with the legend of the house, and both HELL HOUSE and THE HAUNTING have scenes where we hear about all of the terrible things that have happened in the house previously so that we fear for our new guests.

After Pritchard is finished, we get Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) introducing the situation in voice over as we see our guests approach, “I am Frederick Loren, and I have rented the house on Haunted Hill tonight so that my wife can give a party. She's so amusing. There'll be food and drink and ghosts, and perhaps even a few murders. You're all invited. If any of you will spend the next twelve hours in this house, I will give you each ten thousand dollars, or your next of kin in case you don't survive. Ah, but here come our other guests...” And we get an introduction and brief bio of each character. In a movie that isn’t even 75 minutes long, using voice over to introduce the characters and basic situation gets us right into the story without wasting valuable film stock on all of those introduction scenes.



This is an interesting haunted house, because despite Pritchard saying it’s 100 years old, it is ultra modern on the outside... a spooky cobwebbed set on the inside. The guests: brave test pilot Lance Schroeder (THE BIG VALLEY’s Richard Long), broke secretary Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig) who works for Loren’s company, gossip magazine columnist Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum), skeptical psychiatrist Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal), and the house owner Pritchard... none have ever met each other or Loren, even though Nora works for his company. All are interested in getting paid $10k for 12 hours work... except Trent who is more interested in debunking the legend of the house.

Moments after they meet, a door slams shut (on its own) and the chandelier begins moving... then crashes down at Nora... but Lance saves her.

Upstairs the charming Loren is waiting for his fourth wife Annabelle (sexy Carol Ohmart) to get dressed for the party. He knows she’s cheating on him; but she counters by saying he can’t prove it, can he? Loren knows she’s a gold digger and suspects she is going to try to kill him and inherit. All of this in fairly witty dialogue between them, before Loren goes downstairs to meet his guests.

Pritchard pulls a giant knife from a secret compartment and shows it to the other guests, “This is what she used on my brother and her sister, hacked them to pieces. We found parts of their bodies all over the house, in places you wouldn't think. The funny thing is the heads have never been found, hands and feet and things like that, but no heads.” So there are two loose heads floating around somewhere in here?

Loren enters and mixes drinks for everyone - the caretakers will leave at midnight and the doors will be locked. No phones, bolted windows, no way out. Pritchard says that four men and three women have been murdered in this house, and Trent quips that there are four men and three women here now - that’s a ghost for each of them.



Pritchard leads them on a tour of the house - pointing out a huge blood stain on the ceiling, and when Ruth stands under it... fresh blood drips on her hand! “It’s too late - the house has marked you!” They go into the massive wine cellar, where a past resident filled a vat with acid and tossed his wife in. “There’s been a murder almost everyplace in this house.” When Nora almost falls into the vat, Lance saves her again. Pitchard tosses something into the vat to show that there is still acid in there.

When the tour moves on. Lance and Nora stay behind - our romance story (to counter the anti-romance of Loren and Annabelle). They poke around in the wine cellar until Lance finds a door that leads... somewhere. Once he gets through the door it slams shut and Nora can’t get it open! Then all of the lights go out and she sees the ghost of an Old Woman appear for a moment on the other side of the room, she races to get out of there! Nora gets help, says we’ll have to break down the door - it’s locked. Except it’s not locked... it’s open. Lance is on the other side, unconscious - hit in the head. Who could have done that? All of the others were together.



Lance and Nora go back to the wine cellar to search for secret passages and when Nora is alone, the Old Woman Ghost zooms past her - scare moment. She screams and Lance runs in... but there is no trace of the ghost.

When Nora races upstairs she bumps into Annabelle - who warns her not to go anywhere in the house alone... she is in danger. When Lance comes up stairs to look for Nora he bumps into Annabelle as well - and she makes the moves on him, and warns him that Loren is planning something... something sinister. The three wives before her died under mysterious circumstances.

About 33 minutes into the film, Loren knocks on all of the guest’s doors to announce that it is almost midnight - last chance to leave the house before the doors and windows are locked and bolted for 12 hours. Nora tells him that she will be staying, then goes back into her room and discovers one of those missing heads when she opens her suitcase. Nice shock moment. She runs out of the room, takes a wrong turn, ends up in a strange hallway... dark, spooky... she is lost in the strange house. Then a hand grabs her from the shadows! An Old Man says, “Come with us before he kills you!” She escapes from the Old Man and races downstairs to the living room... where everyone else is. Screaming that she doesn’t want to stay here.



A door blasts opens and the Old Woman Ghost and Old Man stand there!

Loren introduces them as the Caretaker and his Wife... who will be leaving at Midnight and locking the doors. Nora wants out - she doesn’t care about the $10k. Then a wind blows through the room, rattling everything. Weird! When they turn back to the Caretaker and his Wife - they are gone! They have left and locked the door behind them! Now Nora is trapped in the house for 12 more hours like everyone else.

At about 37:30 (the halfway point) they are locked in the house.

Loren provides them all with *guns* (in cute little coffin shaped boxes), and Pritchard exclaims: “These are no good against the dead... only the living.” Trent thinks the guns are a bad idea - fear is likely to have them shooting each other. Annabelle says she doesn’t need a gun, and it goes back in it’s box.

Nora drags them all upstairs to look at the severed head... but it is no longer there. Is she crazy?



Lance goes to Nora’s room to comfort her (if you know what I mean) and finds her door unlocked and Nora isn’t there... but the severed head is hanging in the closet! He grabs the head and races downstairs to the living room... where Pritchard tells him that it is too late - the house has her now. They will never see her again.

A scream from upstairs! Lance runs to the staircase where he sees... a woman dangling from a noose! Has Nora killed herself? Trent comes down the hallway, sees the hanging woman, and they take her down... and *without showing us her face* take the dead woman into a room and place her on the bed. Trent checks her pulse - pronounces her dead. Loren runs in, asks if Nora is alright, and Trent says, “She’s dead... your wife is dead” and we see the dead woman’s face for the first time: Annabelle!

Lance leaves the room, notices curtains blowing at the other end of the hallway... an open window? A secret passage? Just as he gets to the curtains Nora pops up behind him and pleads, “Hide me!” Lance takes her to his room, where Nora claims that Loren tried to strangle her and then left her for dead. It was dark, but she’s sure it was Loren. Lance tells her that Annabelle is dead - and he thinks someone killed her.

Pounding at the door. Lance opens it carefully - Trent on the other side of the threshold says he doesn’t believe Annabelle hung herself and he wants to meet with everyone (except Loren) downstairs.

Loren is looking down at his dead wife, not exactly mourning, when there’s a noise behind him - Pritchard. “Your wife isn't there anymore. She's already joined them!” Loren says he’s drunk and throws him out of the room.



In the living room (where most of this film takes place) Trent takes charge - and we are in AND THEN THERE WERE NONE territory as he explains that there are no ghosts, but one of them is a murderer. There was nothing Annabelle could have stood on before hanging herself. Loren says he believes she was murdered... by one of you. Lance chimes in that to want to murder someone, you must know them... but we were all strangers to Annabelle except Loren. He is the only logical suspect. The problem now is that one of them is a killer and now they are trapped with each other for 6 more hours. The plan: since all have guns, they will all stay in their rooms alone for the next 6 hours, and if anyone comes into their rooms - shoot them!

At 56 minutes they are all locked safely in their rooms...

Trent sees his doorknob moving, but when he opens the door - no one in the hallway.

Blood drips on Ruth’s hand - the blood pool has appeared on her bedroom ceiling.

Lance goes into Nora’s room (hormones) to make sure she’s safe... then goes exploring in that mystery hallway where the curtains were blowing before. Finds a secret passage in the wall and enters.

The lights go out due to the convenient storm, and Nora thinks she sees a rope crawling through her window like a snake and coil itself around her legs! Floating outside the window - Annabelle’s ghost! When Nora grabs the gun, Annabelle floats away taking the rope with her. Nora freaks out, runs down the hallway with the gun... right into Annabelle’s hanging body near the stairs! She backs against a door... and a dead hand reaches around the door to grab her! She runs downstairs... where a dusty old organ begins to play a funeral dirge by itself! She screams and runs away.

Upstairs - Trent knocks on Loren’s door and they aim their guns at each other. Trent heard a scream and running, thinks they should search the house: Loren downstairs and he will search upstairs. When Loren is gone, Trent goes into the room where Dead Annabelle lays on the bed, says to her corpse: “It’s almost over, darling. Every detail was perfect.” Then Annabelle’s eyes pop open, and she begins to rise! “Get me out of this hanging harness.” And at 65:20 minutes we get the scheme - Trent and Annabelle are driving Nora crazy, making her believe that Loren has murdered his wife and is now trying to kill her; and just waiting for Nora to find Loren and shoot him dead... so that Annabelle inherits everything and can run off with her lover Trent. “When you hear the shot, come down to the cellar”, Trent tells her before he goes.

In the cellar: Nora and her gun search the darkness... as Loren enters from the shadows behind her. She lifts her gun and shoots him!

Trent enters from a secret passage, opens up the vat of acid, drags Loren’s body to it as the lights flicker out again. In the darkness: A man’s death scream!



Annabelle goes into the cellar looking for Trent, can’t find him. But the doors slowly creak closed one by one trapping her in the cellar. Trapping her in the darkness! Shadows everywhere! She creeps up to the vat of acid... bubbling... and a skeleton emerges from the depths... and *keeps* emerging! It comes out of the vat, and starts moving across the room towards her! (Emergo - and zips at the audience!) “At last you have it all, everything I have. Even my life, But you’re not going to live to enjoy it. Come with me murderess, come with me!” says Loren’s voice from the skeleton! She tries to open the door - locked! The skeleton grabs her - freaking her out. Then the skeleton slowly walks towards her, backing her into... the vat of acid! She falls in... and her body is dissolved.

From the shadows Loren emerges - with a marionette rig - the skeleton was just a puppet. He tosses the rig and skeleton into the acid and all of the evidence is gone. When the others finally make it into the cellar, they find Loren standing over the bubbling acid. He tells them that Annabelle and Trent plotted to kill him - using Nora as an unknowing assassin - but he discovered their plan and filled her gun with blanks. When Trent tried to throw him into the acid, Loren struggled and Trent fell in. When Annabelle came down, she stumbled and fell into the acid. Loren is more than willing to turn himself over to the authorities and see that justice is done.

The doors pop open and everyone is free to go.

Pritchard looks at the bubbling acid - bones and skulls bobbing - and says, “Now there are nine. There’ll be more, many more. They’re coming for me, now... and then they’ll come for you!”

Tomorrow we'll look at one of the great Corman adaptations of Poe starring Vincent Price.

- Bill

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