B-flick or not, House on Haunted Hill is one of the greatest horror movies of all time. It’s also one of Vincent Price’s finest moments. It’s one more piece that shows the importance of classic movies. Rather than being over worn by unnecessary violence, special effects and sex, this black and white classic relies on storytelling and acting to grab and hold the audience’s attention. The storytelling itself is perhaps the most interesting factor in House on Haunted Hill. Being that this story is an ensemble piece, one would automatically think that it will have its share of problems, story-wise. But somehow the planets aligned just right for writer Robb White.
The mood is expertly set from the story’s opening moments, with both Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) and Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook, Jr.) setting the stage. Pritchard is up first, telling audiences the ghost story centered on the mansion to which Loren has invited his guests, Pritchard included. Loren makes the story even creepier with his delivery, explaining why each one of the guests has been invited to stay in the house. Price’s delivery as Loren will send chills up any first time viewer’s spine. Of course, the reality of why everyone has been invited is revealed at the end, making the ghost story a little less scary. It’s only a little less scary because the door is left wide open for audiences to wonder about the house, even as the credits roll. Could it be that the house really is haunted? That’s up to the audiences.
Writing is at the base of every good (and bad) movie ever written. That writing doesn’t just include dialogue. It also includes little nuances such as lighting, acting, etc. Those nuances were captured equally well through the direction of William Castle and William Malone. The entire cast’s acting kept the scare factor on the high end throughout the movie. The entire cast plays off of Pritchard and Loren perfectly, some of them believing Pritchard’s story. Some not so sure. The mixed reactions serve to make the story that much more believable. Their reactions to things such as the organ playing and the lights going on and off make it all the better. And best of all is the screams of Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig). At first her screams are believable. But the more she does it, the funnier it gets. And it’s not the only comedy to the story, either. Audiences will have to find out for themselves what other silliness is in store. What the inclusion of all this funny business means is that while the movie has a good scare level, it has enough comedy to keep it from being too scary at the same time.
House on Haunted Hill has even more that could be discussed among any classic film buff or even a film studies class. Keeping in mind that it has so much going for it, it goes without saying that B-flick or not, it’s still a great horror flick that everyone should see at least once in their lives.
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