House On Haunted Hill (1959)

Image Source: WellMedicated

Synopsis: Eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) is throwing a party for his young wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) in a sprawling mansion he’s rented from its jumpy alcoholic owner Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook, Jr.). Loren has invited five guests — Pritchard, Nora (Carolyn Craig), Lance (Richard Long), Dr. Trent (Alan Marshal), and Ruth (Julie Mitchum) — all from different walks of life, all total strangers to Loren and to each other. Anyone who stays the whole night in the locked mansion will receive $10,000 when the doors are opened the next morning. The catch? The house has been the scene of seven grisly murders, and the vengeful spirits of the dead are out on the prowl for new souls to join them in the afterlife.

Now, some of you may hate me for this, but in place of a new review of this film, I’m going to go ahead and re-purpose the joint recap/review we posted last Halloween over at Movie Dames. I didn’t have time to write my own giant sprawling recap of a film this time, but the one I did with Jules is about as good as it could ever get. This was the Movie Dames’ zenith, and I’m proud to have been half of the driving force behind it. I apologize to those of you who’ve read this before, but even though it’s a long one, I like to think it’s quite good.

House On Haunted Hill (1959) — Movie Dames Joint Review, originally posted October 31, 2009

J: Welcome to the first joint review of the blog, where Caroline and I review a film — TOGETHER. That means twice as much hilarity! You lucky stiffs! Oh, um, perhaps in the context of our first film choice, “stiffs” is not the best word to use.

C: For the very special occasion of Halloween, we have chosen a very special feature: House on Haunted Hill (1959), directed by WILLIAM CASTLE and starring VINCENT PRICE. Those names had to be in capslock. They just had to.

J: William Castle is usually pegged as a modern-day P.T. Barnum, what with his fondness for gimmicks (his article at Wikipedia has a list of them, PREPARE FOR YOUR MIND TO BE BLOWN) and for his just-shy-of-shameless self-promotion (he appeared in his film’s trailers, Hitchcock-like, and sometimes appeared in the movies themselves as a fiendishly grinning master of ceremonies), but I don’t think it’s entirely fair to lump him into the ‘schlockmeister’ category like that. Don’t get me wrong, he was a schlockmeister, he OWNED schlock films, but the title rather implies a lack of skills, and unlike some other cult directors I could name (*coughcough*Roger Corman, Ed Wood*cough*) he had a genuine aptitude and talent for direction, and almost always found ways to put a different twist on things rather than making a paint-by-the-numbers film. His films may have been made cheaply, but they are NOT amateurish–you only need to see one of his (almost gimmick-free!) Whistler films to see that. He was the second unit director for The Lady from Shanghai, for heaven’s sake!! That’s pretty much class incarnate. The great thing about William Castle movies is that they are really, really fun to watch. They’re atmospheric, spooky, funny (sometimes intentionally, sometimes…not so much), and frankly, I have NEVER seen a William Castle film where I could guess where the plot was heading. They always surprise me. William Castle could do a lot with a little, which is an excellent, excellent talent for any director to have. Basically, he was crazy smart. If Horror movies had a family reunion, there’d be a lot of crazy uncles, but William Castle would be everybody’s favorite crazy uncle. The one that does the ‘coin in your ear’ magic trick and you love it every time.

And any man who directed movies called The Fat Man and Zotz! deserves a special place in my heart.

And y’all already know who Vincent Price is. I mean. Really.

C: House on Haunted Hill was made in 1959 on a meager budget of $200,000. It was the first of a two-picture collaboration between Castle and Price, followed by The Tingler. I won’t come right out and say what Castle’s gimmick for the theatrical release of House on Haunted Hill was, since it would give away the ending (though it’s right there in the Wikipedia article) — but it was such a successful ruse that the low-budget film made huge money at the box office. Interestingly enough, the success of House on Haunted Hill was noted by a Castle contemporary, who was then inspired to make his own low-budget horror film. That contemporary was a man named Alfred Hitchcock, and the result was a little film called Psycho. WHAT AN INTERESTING BIT OF TRIVIA, HMM???

Luckily for all your cheapskates out there, this wonderful little gem now resides in the public domain, meaning you can watch it basically anywhere. If our commentary isn’t enough for you (WHAT?!? HOW DARE YOU!), it is also available as a DVD and a VOD (video on demand) from RiffTrax, the maniacal geniuses behind “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Although you might just want to download the audio version, if you don’t want to deal with their *gag* COLORIZATION. (Hi, I’m a snob.)

But never mind that! We know what you came here for. And so, on to our feature presentation…

Oh wait. Um, since this is a joint review, let me explain our INCREDIBLY COMPLICATED COMMENTARY PROCESS: things preceded by a C are comments from me (Caroline), and things preceded by a J are comments from Jules. DO TRY TO KEEP UP.

 


C: We start with nothing. Just… nothing. Then there’s some annoying shrieking, and what sounds to me like a man being sick. This movie hooks you in by simultaneously attempting to bore you, irritate you, and nauseate you within the first thirty seconds. Interesting approach.

J: I actually like this opening a lot (my favorite is the guy who’s laughing like a Sunkist Fun Fruit Tree–oh gosh, remember them? They haunted my dreams from 1987-1990!), because it gets you in the proper mood for GHOST STORY OOKYNESS. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if somebody found a hook on their car door handle.


C: AAAAAAAAAAHHHH! Oh, it’s YOU. You scared me. What with the forehead shine and the googly eyes. And, you know, the fact that you don’t have a body.

J: If Elisha Cook Jr.’s in a movie, it is automatically a GOOD MOVIE. End of story.

C: Creepy McGee here introduces himself as Watson Pritchard. He says he’s going to show us the world’s only “really” haunted house (there are other haunted houses – this one’s just REALLY haunted!), where seven people (including Pritchard’s brother) have been murdered. Now he owns the house. “I’ve only spent one night there, and when they found me in the morning, I was almost dead.” Ooo, scary. That makes me wonder what happened to you during the night. Which… I mean, you were there, right? Couldn’t you just tell us instead of making us guess?


C: Oh, uh, guess not. Well, TALK TO YOU LATER THEN! BYYYYYYYYYYE!

J: *woosh*


C: Yaaaaaaaaaaaay! *audience cheers* “I’m Frederick Loren.” No you’re not, you cutie pie. You’re Vincent Price! I’d know you anywhere! You cute little spooky master of horror, you. *pinches his cheeks*

Vincent invites us – yes, US, personally – to a haunted house party thrown by his movie-wife. “There’ll be food” – yum! — “and drink” – ooo! – “and ghosts” – uh? – “and perhaps even a few murders” – oh.

J: I would just like to point out that Vincent’s floating-head scene lasts 39 seconds (I timed it), and he doesn’t blink. Not once.

C: Now THAT’S acting, my friends. A true actor has no need for eye moisture. Anyway, then we’re introduced to a bunch of nobodies who we don’t care about because they’re not Vincent Price. We meet a test pilot, a journalist, a psychiatrist, a Quaker, a baker, a candlestick-maker – all who have agreed to spend twelve hours in the House On Haunted Hill in exchange for ten thousand dollars.


C: “Which one is it?” “Uh, I think it’s the one with the gigantic words on it.”


J: YES! WHOOHOO! *fist pump*

C: There’s a creaky door-opening sound, a pointed piano note, AND a woman going AAAAAHHHHH EEEOHHHHHH AHHHHHHHHHH right as Castle’s name appears on screen. Clearly this man is a god.


C: After about a million years of credits laid over ominous music that doesn’t go anywhere, they finally get inside the darn house. “It isn’t a very warm welcome, is it?” “Only the ghosts in this house are glad we’re here,” says Watson Pritchard. That marks Irrelevant Spooky Pronouncement #1 (not counting the entire introduction). Everyone just stares at him awkwardly.


C: Everyone prattles on mindlessly – we establish that nobody knows each other and nobody has ever met their host Mr. Loren – until a door closes by itself and a chandelier sort of starts to swing vaguely. BEHOLD the TERROR of AIR!

J: Hey. After seeing The Phantom of the Opera and Clue, I can’t NOT be terrified of chandeliers. Not to mention all those years of playing 1313 Dead End Drive.


C: Brave move, fly boy, but that falling chandelier would’ve missed the girl by a mile anyway.


C: O hai. Sry ’bout dat.


J: Mr. Loren, smirking to himself in that oh-so-fantastic Vincent Price way, goes to tell his wife (who is a total fox, incidentally) that the guests have arrived. “I’m not going to the party,” she says all snippy-snappy like. She objects to her husband inviting a bunch of gold digging strangers (I mean, the gold digging is clearly her department). “Why couldn’t you have invited some of our friends?” “Friends? Do we have any friends?” Mr. Loren sneers. Oh, Vincent.


J: You can totally sense the great love and admiration between these two. (That’s a champagne bottle, by the way, not a gun. The guns come later.) The wife, Annabelle, is played by Carol Ohmart, and she’s pretty darn great. She counters Vincent Price note for note, sleaze for sleaze. I’d say they have chemistry together, except that their characters clearly hate each other, so let’s call it anti-chemistry. Or alterna-chemistry. Or something.

C: They’re kind of like a Charles Addams cartoon couple, these two. They love to hate each other! And threaten each other with projectiles, apparently!

J: “Remember the fun we had when you poisoned me?” Mr. Loren asked. Annabelle laughs. Ah yes, good times, good times. “Something you ate, the doctor said.” “Yes,” Mr. Loren says suavely. “Arsenic on the rocks.” Words cannot express how awesomely Vincent Price read that line.

C: He positively growls it. Plus that is such a Charles Addams line.

J: “Don’t sit up all night thinking of ways to get rid of me,” Mr. Loren says nonchalantly as he leaves to see to the guests. “It makes wrinkles.” Ooh, snap-snap-snap.


J: Meanwhile, everybody else is just sort of, eh, milling about. That is, they are until Watson Pritchard pulls a giant knife out of a hidden compartment in the sofa.

C: I love the look on his face right before he does it. Kind of like when you’re throwing a party and you’re trying to determine just the right moment to break out the Parcheesi.

J: “This is what she used on my brother and her sister!” he declares. Yeah, um, who was that, again? “We found parts of the bodies all over the house, in places you wouldn’t think!” Yeah, there were lungs in the blender, fingers wedged in between the folds of those old-fashioned lampshades, and we even found a bit of anklebone in the smoke detector in the rumpus room. Never quite figured out she got that in there. WHOEVER ‘SHE’ IS. And by the way, I have a hard time believing that the police would just leave the murder weapon behind like that.

C: “Hey, yeah, listen, you know that knife she used to kill my brother? Can I have that?” “Well, I don’t see why not!”

J: “A funny thing is,” Watson Pritchard drones on in the uncomfortable silence, “The heads have never been found!” Ooga-booga-booga! “So there are two loose heads just floating around here somewhere?” Manly Lance the Test Pilot chortles. Lance is kind of a jerk, but I’ve got to side with him on this one. The reply: “You can hear them at night. They whisper to each other. And then cry.” Watson Pritchard is going to break into a song any moment now.


J: Mr. Loren comes in and announces the rules of the contest/game/party/whatever sick thing they’re doing tonight. Time for a round o’ booze! I see Watson Pritchard doesn’t need to be told twice.

Anyhoo, at midnight the caretakers of the mansion will lock everybody in, and whoever survives until morning wins Big Heap Moola. Easy as pie. OR IS IT???


C: “Once the door is locked, there’s no way out,” Mr. Loren says gleefully. “The windows have bars that a jail would be proud of, and the only door to the outside locks like a vault. There’s no electricity, no phone, no one within miles, so no way to call for help.” “Like a coffin,” says the ever-bubbly Watson Pritchard. Then Vincent Price makes this 0_0 face for like FIVE STRAIGHT SECONDS before not responding, and I die of the hilarity.

J: The psychiatrist (who, by the way, sounds EXACTLY like Daws Butler so I always think I’m listening to Loopy De Loop, only more smug) gets into some sort of “ghosts are only hysterical superstition” tirade, but Vincent Price just waves him off. “Pritchard has promised us REAL ghosts!” he says. “Seven now,” Watson Pritchard clarifies. He darts his eyes about the room a bit. “Maybe more before morning.” That part always makes me laugh. BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA!!

Mr. Loren then asks Watson Pritchard (and yes, we *are* going to write out his full name every time, FOR IT AMUSES US) to take everybody on a tour of the house, since he’s the only surviving victim and all.


J: “See that stain?” Watson Pritchard opens his tour with a BANG! Anyway, I expect that’s where he threw up after that one night of marathon tequila shots. “Blood.” Oh. (Besides which, after a zoom out we can see that the stain’s actually on the ceiling. Thanks for making that crystal clear, William Castle.)

C: Hey, if anyone has the ability to get drunk enough to vomit onto the ceiling, Watson Pritchard is that guy.


J: Journalist Lady (who is played by Robert Mitchum’s older sister, YES REALLY!) stands under the stain, and even though it’s bone dry, it drips blood on her. I have to admit, that’s pretty darn ooky.

“It’s too late, they’ve marked you.” says Watson Pritchard. I just love how completely nonchalantly he says this. Blah blah blah, marked for death, blah blah. Where’s the booze? “Who would want to haunt me?” Journalist Lady asks. “I should think any self-respecting male ghost,” Mr. Loren replies. He’s just being a gentleman. She’s hecka old. Trying to keep the party jumping (pun intended), Mr. Loren prompts Watson Pritchard into showing them the vat of acid in the wine cellar. Yes, really.


J: “All this belonged to a Mr. Norton,” says Watson Pritchard, Tour Guide. OMIGOSH, it’s Jack Norton’s secret booze headquarters!!


J: There’s the acid. It’s bubbling because Watson Pritchard threw in a dead rat for a visual. Ew. Mr. Norton threw his wife into it, of course. “She was supposed to stay down, but the bones came back up.” Watson Pritchard adds. That’s probably due to the porous nature of cancellous bone or something similar. Or, um, I mean – BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA!!


C: While everybody is standing around talking about how dangerous the acid vat is, Nora the Secretary almost falls into it, the first hint of her utter uselessness as a human being. “Thank God she didn’t fall in,” Watson Pritchard says in a way that doesn’t quite convince me that he really means it. “You mean there’s still acid in there?” I mean, yeah, it does seem kind of weird that they’d leave a big ol’ vat of acid just chillin’ in the basement, but when you think about how hard it must be to find a guy with an acid-resistant hose to drain the thing, it makes sense.

J: “It destroys everything with hair and flesh,” Watson Pritchard finishes. So, Golems? You’re cool. “Jus’ leaves the bones.” Dem bones dem dry bones.


J: And sure enough, the rat’s skeleton floats back up. Is it weird that I find this strangely adorable?

C: That wasn’t a rat, it was the world’s tiniest and cutest T. Rex!

J: “MY, IT’S DRY AND DUSTY DOWN HERE!” Watson Pritchard suddenly yells. Oh, great. He’s one of those happy drunks.

Everybody else leaves, having tapped out the entertainment to be had in Giant Pools O’ Acid (OR HAVE THEY????), but Manly Lance the Test Pilot and Jittery Nora the Secretary stay behind in the spooky and dangerous wine cellar to flirt, talk about what they’re going to do with the money they haven’t won yet, and explore around a little. SMRT.


J: Oh look, an unholy abyss. Better check it out.


C: As Manly Lance enters the closet, the door suddenly slams shut and all the lamps in the room blow out one by one! That menacing air strikes again!!!

J: There is some totally awesome music here, with the Piano of Doom we heard earlier and an electric organ, interposed with what I think are cicada calls. It’s like the music from a Peanuts special, only with, y’know, more Doom.

C: Suddenly, through another doorway, the visage of an old woman appears, then quickly vanishes. Nora, owing to her extreme, inexplicable gerontophobia, is terrified by this and makes a mad dash up the stairs.

J: Well, Nora *did* say that she had to support her whole family since they were all in a car accident. (Um, at least I think that’s what she said, she was kind of vague. Makes me wonder what kind of clown car her family has if every single one of them was in that crash.) Anyway, my point is, maybe she was afraid it was her grandma, butting in and about to ask just what are you doing in a cellar with a man you barely know, young lady? I’d bolt too. Screw Lance. Let him fend for himself against the revengeful grandmas.


C: Nora summons everyone downstairs, but the door that had previously been trapping Manly Lance inside is found to be unlocked – and there he is, lying on the ground with a head wound. “I must’ve bumped my head.” “The only way you could bump your head in here,” the psychiatrist proclaims, “is to run head on into the wall. You didn’t do that, did you?” DID YOU??????

J: Apparently the psychiatrist knows everything about everything, up to and including the most common forms of accidentally self-inflicted head wounds. Why are movie psychiatrists always so pompous?

C: Naturally, Watson Pritchard is there to make an obnoxious spooky pronouncement. “He didn’t hit his head. They hit him.” Wait, so the ghosts are just common thugs who go around knocking people over the head with blunt objects? WHAT’S THE POINT OF BEING A GHOST, THEN?!?

J: These ghosts seem pretty immature to me. They’ll probably be giving wedgies next.


C: Everyone goes back upstairs to treat Manly Lance’s head wound and resume boozin’. Nora says that she saw a ghost, and describes it, but the psychiatrist (what is that guy’s name, anyway?) concludes that because she was scared, the ghost was only a product of hysteria and therefore doesn’t exist. WAIT. How does that make any sense?

J: His name is Dr. David Trent, not that it matters. And I hate how he talks to Mr. Loren about Nora’s so-called hysteria while ignoring the fact that Nora is standing right there with them. What a jerk.

There’s a tiny, not-worth-screencapping scene here where the hecka old lady journalist (her name is Ruth Bridgers) is chatting with Mr. Loren (over BOOZE, of course), and there’s some hint-dropping about why *she* wants ten thousand dollars that’s written and performed so eloquently and subtly that it would give Anton Chekhov the shivers. (NOT REALLY.) She’s a gambling addict. There. Now that you have that info you need not bother with it again, because the movie won’t see fit to either. I only brought this whole irrelevant scene up because it’s the ONLY time Ruth will get any sort of a personality or motivation or suchlike foolish trappings. Poor Ruth. Mr. Loren, for his part, calls her “my dear” and is genuinely discreet about this, which I thought was rather sweet of him. See, it’s not all about making fun of drunks and popping corks at your wife’s head. Although that’s great too, of course.

C: Anyway, Lance steals two candles, and he and Nora sneak back into the cellar for some reason, possibly to make out.


C: Instead of attempting to make out with the only non-ancient chick in the place (since he doesn’t know about sexy Mrs. Loren yet), Manly Lance decides to play a little game of Randomly Knocking On Walls For No Reason, and convinces Nora to join him.

J: Richard Long, the actor playing Lance, gets a couple Watson Pritchard Ghost Cliché Points™ here as he mutters things like, “Someone or something was in here with me!” and “Whatever that was, it was no ghost!”. I suppose next he’ll say “This sort of thing just doesn’t happen…but it didthis time“. Ugggggghh. Nora’s input: “I don’t know, I was so scared.” Yeah, she’s helpful. Anyway, it must be said that Lance’s theory about there being a secret passage is perfectly reasonable. These kinda joints always have secret passages. Anyway, they go banging around up on the walls. (Um, that came out wrong.) “Tap lower down!” Lance yells. LANCE, I’M TRYING NOT TO GET FILTHY HERE.

C: But when Nora turns around…


C: AHHHHHHHHHHHH THE CRIPPLING EFFECTS OF ARTHRITIS!!!!!!!!!!

J: BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA!!!!!


C: Then the old lady, um… skateboards out of the room. I can’t think of a better way to describe it. Zoooooooooooooom!

J: I find that part genuinely scary, actually, because she doesn’t move a muscle while shoosting out of the room. YEEK. Although it’s so much like a similar scene in The Screaming Skull as to be HILARIOUS. Old lady ghosts are just good at hovering, I guess?

C: Really, you find that scary? I nearly peed my pants the first time I saw this scene, and not out of fear, I assure you.

J: Well, it *is* funny, but it’s creepy at the same time. Freepy? Crunny? Creeny? Frumpy? I’ll stop now.


C: Manly Lance somehow missed the whole creepy-old-lady-skateboarding incident and chuckles at Nora’s foolishness. So she leaves in a huff. Really! When a gal sees a terrifying specter of her inescapable future appear and vanish before her very eyes, she expects support, not questions!


C: Upstairs Nora immediately runs into Mrs. Loren, who shows Nora to her room. She starts off by being very nice to Nora, but immediately gets sort of hostile, then transitions into warning her about some vague danger in the house. Mood swings much, Annabelle?

J: She also makes a really catty, offhand remark to Nora about fixing her makeup before leaving. Why is everybody so mean to Nora? I mean, she’s no quiz kid or anything, but man.

C: I kind of enjoy the unwritten rule in this group that everyone must be as dismissive and condescending toward Nora as possible. Especially because Nora does nothing to prove she doesn’t deserve it.


C: Then she runs into Manly Lance… sort of literally, it would seem.

J: Well, hi there. And oh, these guys are totally standing in a Three Stooges hallway. The kind that would have a chase scene with everybody running in and out of the doors in random orders.

Y’know, through this whole movie I’ve been trying to figure out who Manly Lance reminded me of, and during this scene it hit me: Peter Breck. And I wish it *were* Peter Breck, because then his character would instantly become about 500 times more interesting, and we might be treated to some great dialog along the lines of “I KILLED THAT FAT BARKEEP”. But nooooo. All we get is a wry tone of voice and smarmy chuckling. We would have that with Peter Breck, too, but at least then it would be INTERESTING. Anyway!


J: Lance asks Annabelle to show him his room (oh, smoooooooth, Lance), and she not only does so, but she immediately sits down on his bed. Um.

“You were with that young girl in the cellar. Why was she so upset?” Annabelle asks. “Was she?” is the reply. Lance is either hypnotized by Annabelle’s lamé top or he’s a colossal jerk. Or BOTH. Annabelle also points out Manly Lance’s Manly Headwound, and asks what “really” happened. She fears Vincent Price hyjinks, you see. As well she should. Annabelle tells Lance not to make dumb, smarmy, chuckling jokes about anything else that may happen tonight, because this is SRS BIZNSS, and then, taking his hand and drawing close, asks, “If I need help, may I count on you?” Lance’s inner thoughts, I am sure, run something like this: Yesssssssssssssssssssssss.

Annabelle also then goes on to tell Lance that she’s Mr. Loren’s fourth wife, and the previous three all disappeared or died UNDER MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES. “The doctors said they [Wifeys #2 and #3] had heart attacks…two girls…in their twenties.” Maybe Mr. Loren has a really weird fetish for cardiovascular disease? THAT WOULD NOT BE THE WEIRDEST FETISH IN THE WORLD. NOT BY A LONG SHOT. “My husband is sometimes insane with jealousy. Nothing matters to him then.” He’s also an expert knife thrower! (This is so turning into a Three Stooges plot it’s not even funny.) Annabelle tells Lance that Mr. Loren would “kill me if he could”, and then leaves. I bet Lance is wishing he never asked her to show him his room in the first place.


J: AAAAAHH, somebody’s pretending to be Alfred Hitchcock in the hallway! *scampers away*

I wonder how Annabelle thinks she can ever hide her actions from Mr. Loren, since her high-heel shoes loudly go ‘clop clop clop clop’ when she runs, and since he’s VINCENT MOTHER-LOVING PRICE.


J: Time for another round of spousal abuse! Dig Annabelle’s TOTALLY CASUAL HAIR-BRUSHING. “Nora was almost killed by a falling chandelier and the pilot bashed his head in!” Mr. Loren says gleefully, clapping his hands together like a little kid at FAO Schwartz. Oh Vincent Price, you charmer. When Annabelle asks how Lance is doing (YOU SEE, SHE’S PRETENDING THAT SHE HASN’T MET LANCE ALREADY!!), Mr. Loren says, “The saturnine psychiatrist bandaged him up.” Mr. Loren is training to be the next Dr. Smith. I think he’d be good at it.

“I lie awake nights wondering why I married you,” Mr. Loren suddenly says. Woah, mood-killer. Annabelle just smiles and says, “You didn’t marry me, darling, I married you.” Carol Ohmart is awesome.


J: We now repeat the “Come to the party/I’m not going to your lousy party/But it’s YOUR party, MY DEAR” scene from earlier, almost word for word, only this time there’s hair-pulling. Ow. Ow. Ow ow ow ow ow. “Would you adore me as much if I were poor?” Mr. Loren positively purrs, while tugging. Ow. EW. Ow.

C: So Annabelle finally agrees to go to Mr. Loren’s HER party. Why the sudden change of heart? Was it the fear of being SCALPED ALIVE BY YOUR SKEEVY HUSBAND?

“It’s almost time to lock up the house,” Mr. Loren says. “Then your party will really begin… I wonder how it’ll end?” Vincent didn’t bother to finish reading the script.


J: Anyway, it’s approaching the time when the house is to be locked up, and Mr. Loren takes a completely necessary, no-way-it-could’ve-been-edited-out sequence to tell all the guests, one by one. I am reminded of Allen’s Alley, or Hired!. We learn that Lance suffers from a slight case of Fred Mertz Tie-Tucking Syndrome.

After being notified, Nora goes to open her train case (I guess she was going to take Annabelle’s suggestion to freshen her makeup!), and—


J: OMFG SOMEBODY PUT A PATENTLY FAKE WAX HEAD IN MY TRAIN CASE!!! WHERE’S MY MAKEUP NOW??!?

Nora groans and ‘uggghs’ like a really campy Carol Burnett routine and scampers out of the room. I WONDER IF ANYBODY WILL BELIEVE HER ABOUT THIS.

C: Her sounds of disgust are really appalling. I guess Carolyn Craig got tired of screaming. Yeah, she should stick to that though, ’cause it’s kind of her best skill as an actress.


J: Omg, omg, this is horrible, I have to tell somebody about thi–oooh, look! A curtain! I wonder what’s behind it??

*POINTED PIANO NOTE OF DOOM*


J: Oh, it’s just some cool Noir lighting. I bet Rondo Hatton rents a room back here or something.

*POINTED PIANO NOTE OF DOOM*


J: Tum te tum tum, looking everywhere except to my immediate left, tum te la lee lah lah.

*OUTTA CONTROL MISS GULCH-TYPE MUSIC*


J: “Come with us! Come with us before he kills you!” Nora then proceeds to break free and give a TRULY EPIC SCREAM. PERSONAL SPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACE!!!!


J: Everybody’s blankly milling about again (well, Watson Pritchard is picking lint off his chair, so I guess *he’s* accomplishing something, anyway) when Nora stumbles into the room like a drunk person and declares, “I don’t wanna stay here!” I’m-a skeeered! Mr. Loren tries to ask her what’s wrong, putting his hands on her shoulders to calm her down, but she tries to shrug them off like she’s two years old. Don’t WANNA!!

C: You know, if it weren’t for Nora constantly running into the room screeching hysterically about ghosts, this would be the most boring party ever. You’d think Mr. Loren could have bothered to pick up a copy of Twister or Mystery Date or something.

J: Oh yeah, like anybody’s gonna play Twister with Vincent Price and Elijah Cook Jr.

*sudden door creeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeak*


J: AAAAAAAH, it’s the two senior citizens that have been inexplicably terrorizing Nora all night!! “That’s Jonas Slydes and his wife. They’ve been caretakers here for years,” Mr. Loren explains. Oup.

C: “She’s blind, you know,” Mr. Loren whispers. Well yes, sir, but I’m sure she has other qualities.

J: Yeah, like her totally awesome skateboarding/freeze-tag skillz! And now you can see, Nora, your screaming about a creepy old man grabbing at you in the dark was completely irrational. Also, I think Jonas Slydes is the most appropriate caretaker name I’ve ever, ever heard. And I’ll bet you my weekly allowance that Mrs. Slydes has a jailbird brother. I’ll just betcha. Nora insists that she still wants to go (she makes crazy eyes at Lance, who doesn’t interpret her obvious fear and discomfort correctly, being about as smart as a lukewarm puddle of salt water), and Mr. Loren says to Dr. Trent, “Looks like we have a real case of hysteria on our hands!” “I think she’s just a little upset,” Dr. Trent replies. “Not hysterical.” GEEZ LOUISE, THIS MAN HAS TO ARGUE ABOUT EVERYTHING.

C: Yeah, the guy who’s been labeling anyone’s reaction to anything all night long as hysterical is suddenly PICKY about his hysteria diagnoses? Paging Dr. Has To Be Difficult, MD.


J: AAAAAAAH, it’s Annabelle!!

HILARIOUSLY, there’s a loooong, calm pause where Mr. Loren introduces everybody to Annabelle and they all make with the polite head-bobs, and then Nora immediately begins raving and yanking at Lance’s lapels again. Panic attacks are one thing, but manners are what counts.

C: “This is my wife. These are our guests.” That is a chair. This is my nose.

J: But it’s locky-wocky time, and Mr. Loren goes over the rules once more. Nora attempts to leave but Lance neatly prevents her from having her own opinion and proactively acting on it. Way to go, Lance. U ttly rawk.


J: NOT THAT CONFOUNDED AIR AGAIN!!

Now, Caroline, I could be wrong, I could be hearing things, I could be vastly overestimating the sound mixer on William Castle’s crew—but doesn’t the rushing wind sound ever so slightly like a screaming woman to you? Tell me I’m not the only one hearing that.

C: I don’t know, all I can hear is something about Paul McCartney being dead.

J: AND THEN THE SLYDESESES TOTALLY DITCH AND SLAM THE DOOR BEHIND THEM FIFTEEN MINUTES BEFORE THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO. Ooooooh snaps. Everybody’s stuck here until morning. Whether they like it or not. AND THAT MEANS YOU, NORA.

C: Man. Those Slydeseseseseseseseses are SO fired.


J: And now we have a truly wonderful scene, as Mr. Loren hands out the party favors HANDGUNS. This scene is pretty chilling, as the camera is positioned that we don’t see what’s inside the little coffins until basically the last moment, and of course the coffins themselves are a truly epic touch. It reminds me of a similar scene in Clue. Vincent Price also pronounces ‘party favors’ like ‘potty favors’, which I deign to comment on.

“I suppose you all know how to use one of these things,” Mr. Loren says COMPLETELY INEXPLICABLY, “But in case you don’t: You just press down on this lever with your thumb”–*cocks gun while pointing it at six people*–”And then pull the trigger.” *BLASTS A NEARBY VASE INTO A THOUSAND PIECES WHILE HOLDING THE GUN DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF ANNABELLE’S FACE*

C: Hey! Isn’t this place a rental?!?

J: Mr. Loren then hands out the guns like they’re field trip hot dogs. “These are no good against the dead only the living.” Watson Pritchard is a living run-on sentence. Nora doesn’t want her gun either, but Lance tells her to take it, and of course she does. I hope he reminds her to breathe and blink and go to the bathroom every now and then, because otherwise she’s totally blank out on it.

Also, Ruth Bridgers’ facial expression when she takes her gun is AWESOME.


J: And speaking of awesome facial expressions, here’s a couple more. Caroline’s right, these two are like Charles Addams characters. “And now here’s yours, dear.” Man, Mr. Loren is just BEGGING Annabelle to moirderize him. “Who knows, you may want to use it on me before this night is over.” YOU SEE?

Watson Pritchard then mumbles something drunkenly. Dr. Trent says he agrees, “Although not for the same reason.” He’s not drunk enough himself for that yet.


J: Here we took a screencap of Dr. Trent in his most natural state: With his mouth wide open as he GABS GABS GABS. “Suppose Nora was carrying a gun when she mistook the blind woman for a ghost?” Dr. Trent asks, and for ONCE, he makes a good point. Guns + Twitchy People = BAD.

C: Not a good point! Mrs. Slydes is BLIND and SKATEBOARDING THROUGH THE ACID-FILLED BASEMENT? She’s bound to get hurt somehow, and if she’s going to be popping out of dark corners and snarling at people, well then, an accident involving a handgun is bound to happen sooner or later.

J: Well, true. And as Ruth Bridgers says, “I don’t think anyone else is going to walk around in total darkness.” …Yeah, I think that was another shot at Nora’s expense. Do you realize that Mr. Loren and Watson Pritchard have been the nicest people to Nora in this movie so far? Isn’t that MESSED UP?

C: Actually I think she was referring to Mrs. Slydes (as in, who but a blind person is going to walk around in total darkness), but your point still stands. Although, as I’ve said, I’m not particularly against people being mean to Nora.

J: “Fear makes people do amazing things,” Dr. Trent finishes. I would say “tragic” or “ill-considered”, not necessarily “amazing”, but then, I’M NOT A PSYCHIATRIST.

C: Oh, I don’t know. Tightrope walking is a pretty amazing thing, and I’d say that’s primarily motivated by a fear of going ker-splat.


J: As Watson Pritchard pours himself another heaping tumbler of scotch, Nora goes up to him, her eyes all a’crazy again. Judge Judy would not approve. “You said your sister-in-law killed a man and a woman here and cut them up? You said they found hands and feet but they never found any heads?” I end all my sentences with questions?

C: It’s out of character the way Watson Pritchard just kind of nods nonchalantly in response. Throughout the film he’s been the one most interested in his own ghost stories, but now it’s all, “Yeah, yeah, missing heads, that’s right, anyone for more scotch?”

J: Nora officially rides the bus clear into Crazytown, yelling, “Would you like to see one of those heads? WOULD YOU ALL LIKE TO SEE ONE OF THOSE HEADS?!!?” I was wondering when she was going to get to that.

C: Everyone is very eager to follow her. “Oh boy, a severed head! This party’s finally going somewhere!”

J: Yes Nora, we would all like to see one of those heads. One of those heads that totally really exists and isn’t a figment of your imagination. Snicker snicker.

This part is actually pretty sad, because it’s the only time Nora will ever have a backbone. Ever.


J: Annabelle gives Loren back her gun. “Darling, I really don’t need this.” I’d rather use me own–sentiment, y’know. (I’d like to thank my dad for supplying us with that reference!) Mr. Loren just smirks (that is Vincent Price’s default reaction to EVERYTHING) and puts the gun back in its weedle itty bitty coffinypoo.

Meanwhile, in Nora’s room….


J: “Butcha gotta believe me, there were heads all over the place ‘n’ stuff!”

C: “But it was in there! A woman’s head!” Yeesh, that thing was supposed to be a woman? I thought it was a huge wheel of badly-aged cheese.

J: Dr. Trent asks Nora if she wants a sedative, and in response she SCREAMS at everybody to get out of her room (Uh, I think that’s a ‘yes’). All this messing around with her makeup case has her SERIOUSLY ANGRY. Now she has to check her little diary with the gold lock on it to see if anybody’s gotten into that, too. GUYYYYYYY.


J: This next scene cracks me up, as they all loiter around in the hallway and pretend like they care.

C: Here Ruth Bridgers utters the incomprehensible line, “But what do you suppose she thought she saw?” Number one, trying saying that five times fast. Number two, HAVE YOU BEEN LISTENING AT ALL, OLD LADY? A HEAD! A FREAKIN’ HEAD, IS WHAT SHE THOUGHT SHE SAW!

J: Well, *I* think she thinks she saw leprechauns. Big, FAT leprechauns. Incidentally, Elisha Cook Jr.’s performance is growing rapidly more epic, as he gets drunker and drunker and begins making even less sense than usual. “They’re closing in on her. There could be a million people around her, but if they wanted her they’d get her.” Woah, dude, a MILLION? REALLY??? Do you actually have any idea how much that really IS? And something about Elisha Cook Jr. in this scene makes me TOTALLY expect him to start breaking into that “I Swear I Saw A Dragon” song from Pete’s Dragon. Wouldn’t that be AWESOME?? Everybody else in the hallway could be the chorus. Think of it! House on Haunted Hill: THE MUSICAL!

Annabelle leaves (presumably to brush out her hair again, it has been a whole fifteen minutes since the last time and all), and Lance asks Ruth to kind of watch over Nora and make sure she stays safe. Awww, I think he’s taken a shine to that high-strung little superfreak.

C: But not enough to, you know, stay up there with her himself.

J: Well, he needs his beauty sleep, y’know. Priorities.


J: Dr. Trent and Mr. Loren have a basically pointless conversation. “Are you sure we’re the only people in the house?” “Of course — except for the ghosts.” *smirk* “I don’t believe in ghosts,” says Dr. Trent. “Nor in frightening women.” I guess Dr. Trent thinks all women are pleasant and comely? Well, that’s nice of him. Anyway, he all but accuses Mr. Loren of being personally responsible for scaring Nora, but Loren just smirks again and saunters off. No shame in his game. IN WHICH WE ARE ALL BUT PAWNS, I AM SURE.

*freaky flute/electric organ music of doom*


J: We next see Lance knocking on the adjoining door between his and Nora’s rooms, calling her name softly. (Oh ho ho.) He goes in (THE CAD!), but she’s not there.


J: AAAAAHH, BUT THE HEAD HANGING IN HER CLOSET IS!!

Lance, being 2% more sensible than Nora, makes sure to take the head with him while *he* goes scampering around the house and shouting for everybody, and I have to say, Richard Long looks pretty silly carting that wax head around by the hair like that.

C: I absolutely love how he has to build up the courage to grab it, and then refuses to look at it the whole time he’s carrying it. EW ICKY POOEY! Then he goes running down the hall screaming Nora’s name, while toting the creepy disappearing-reappearing severed head that nearly knocked her off her rocker in the first place. Yeah, I’m sure that’s bound to make her come out of hiding.

J: Eventually he finds Watson Pritchard in The Only Other Room In The House That Isn’t The Cellar, where he’s idly playing with his beloved butcher’s knife. My suggestion, Watson Pritchard? Get some proper nail clippers like everybody else.


J: Y HI THAR. NOBODY, I HAZ ET.


C: WHOA. I’m drunker than I thought.


J: Watch it, buddy. Watson Pritchard will CUT YOU. Lance sets the head down on a table (where it makes an awesome ‘klunk’ sound) and DEMANDS to know where Nora is. Dude, don’t get so panicky. Maybe she just went to spend a penny. Watson Pritchard keeps insisting the ghosts got her and now she’s “one of them” (GOOBLE GOBBLE, GOOBLE GOBBLE!), but Lance and W.P.’s bickering is cut short—

C: HAHA, so he’s W.P. now?!?

J: —I got tired — cut short by an AGONIZING, CHOKING SCREAM. Lance rushes upstairs (um, presumably that’s where the scream came from, unless Lance needs to spend a penny as well), and….


J: …Oh. Oh tut.

“Nora!” Lance says softly. There’s NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER to suggest that it is Nora, but she *is* clearly the most susceptible member of the group, so….

Dr. Trent appears, and gets Lance to help him get the body down. Lance starts getting the heebie-jeebies, for his psychological slave beloved Nora has been taken from him.


J: But it’s not Nora. It’s Annabelle. And Mr. Loren chooses this exact moment to come into the room. Awkwaaaaaaaaard. (Then again, with *this* couple, he’s probably overjoyed and will be giving everybody cash bonuses once this is over in gratitude.)

C: “She’s dead, Mr. Loren,” says the psychiatrist. “She hanged herself.” Astute observation, sir! Those eight years of medical school clearly paid off. Mr. Loren looks down at his wife all shocked and stuff. “Syuicide,” Vincent Price mutters ever-so-delicately.


C: Once Lance realizes that the hanging chick isn’t Nora, he loses interest entirely and goes out into the hall. Then Nora pops out of nowhere, which is definitely the thing to do in a house full of armed, jumpy people. “Hide me, Lance, hide me!” she begs. Um, weren’t you just hiding? Hasn’t this guy been looking for you for the past ten minutes or so? You’re clearly pretty good at it. DO IT YOURSELF, WOMAN.

J: I think Nora was actually scrambling around the house going “UGH, UGGGHGGHGHG” again, only this time the camera didn’t happen to the filming her. I think we can now safely assume that Nora does that every 10 minutes or so.


C: So Lance takes Nora into his room (oh yeah, smooth buddy) where she tells him that someone grabbed her and choked her and left her for dead. She says it was too dark to tell for sure but it “must have been” Mr. Loren, even though there’s three other men in the house and at this point I’m sure everyone wants her dead. (I know I do!)

J: It MUST have been Mr. Loren. He’s the only one that is Vincent Price. Only Vincent Price would do this. Ipso facto, Mr. Loren. Right? Am I right??? Ennh????


C: Lance is genuinely concerned for Nora (for some reason), so he locks the door and… looks out the window vaguely. Then there’s a knock, and Lance goes through the adjoining door and answers the other door… this house is a freakin’ funhouse labyrinth of doors.

J: Maybe this house is actually a displaced TARDIS. That would explain the funky layout, and why intruders always seem to get into trouble.

C: Hey hey, it’s the doctor.

J: OMG THEN IT *IS* A TARDIS! Oh, wait. Not THAT Doctor.

C: “I’m sure you’ve come to the same conclusion I have,” says Doc Know-It-All. “I think so,” replies Lance, “but if we didn’t have ears, we’d look like weasels!” (THERE. I can make obscure cultural references complete with explanatory links too, ya know.)

J:

C: So Lance agrees to come downstairs, but meanwhile he tells Nora to lock herself in her room and not let anybody know she’s there. She just kind of stares at him blankly the whole time, I assume because he hasn’t specifically told her what expression she should have on her face and therefore she’s completely lost.

J: Maybe her face muscles are tired from all the screaming.


C: So Lance leaves, and then we see Mr. Loren emerge from across the hall, and we don’t know if he heard Lance and Nora talking or not (or indeed whether it was actually he who tried to strangle Nora in the first place) but he sure does look sinister. He goes into the room with Annabelle’s body (which is where he was when we last saw him; GOSH THIS HOUSE HAS TOO MANY IDENTICAL ROOMS) and stares down at her some more. “So beautiful. So greedy. So cold.” Especially now.

Then Mr. Loren turns around and makes this awesomely perturbed face!

J: o_O!


C: OH NO IT’S W.P. HE’S BEEN LISTENING TO MR. LOREN INSULT HIS DEAD WIFE. So, naturally, Mr. Loren’s reaction is to choke him. I think you’d expect that out of anyone who’s had to spend more than five minutes with Watson Pritchard.

J: *goink!*

C: Mr. Loren demands an explanation out of W.P. while simultaneously choking him, which seems kind of a lot to ask but W.P. somehow manages it. Predictably, he says something about how he’s the only one who understands, ooga booga, Annabelle isn’t there any more, ooga booga, she’s one of them now, ooga booga booga.

J: Um, fella, I don’t think that’s what he meant. I think he wanted an explanation more along the lines of, “Why you in here starin’ at my dead wife’s body???”.

C: Mr. Loren gets really annoyed with W.P., FINALLY. “I’ve had enough of your spook-talk,” he shouts. “Get out, you sot, and don’t come back into this room again!” Me-yow!

J: I like the Eddie Kagle-style shove he gives Watson Pritchard here. Right in the neck!


C: Everyone who’s not dead (or pretending to be) convenes in the living room, Mr. Loren and Watson Pritchard recovering instantly from their little altercation. “Where’s what’s-her-name?” W.P. asks hilariously. My, he’s starting to lose his way with words.

J: I LOVE that part. If you show this film at Halloween parties or family reunions or such, this line is always a big hit with the audience. (Not that I would recommend the family reunion idea, exactly. Unless your family happens to be awesome.)

C: The doctor takes things into his own hands and brings up the fact that they need to get out of this house pronto, because this whole people-going-crazy, women-hanging-themselves thing has gotten a bit out of hand. It is reiterated that there’s no way out, bars on all the windows, only one door and it’s made of solid steel, which sounds more and more implausible every time it’s mentioned. Clearly this house was designed by some really short-sighted Arthur Conan Doyle enthusiast.

J: I wonder how much it cost to build that place, and then bribe the health inspectors when they found out what a fire hazard the joint so clearly is. Did that sentence make sense?

C: “So far tonight,” the psychiatrist preaches, “one of us was almost killed by a falling chandelier; one of us was mysteriously slugged; one of us has been driven to the brink of absolute hysteria; and one of us is dead.” Yes, except that two of those one of us’ are the same person.

When the doctor mentions that they still have six more hours to go, Watson Pritchard pipes up, “Six hours? Six of us… Time enough.” He keeps his ghosts to a strict quota.

J: I bet he’s disappointed that the ghosts have been so inefficient thus far. Also, is he the one that brought up the “Seven ghosts: Three women and four men, and seven guests: Three women and four men” parallel earlier? What am I saying, of course he is. I think Mr. W.P.’s a tiny bit OCD. (Hey, I’m a poet and I wasn’t aware!)


C: Then Mr. Loren brings up the fact that it’s sort of physically impossible for Annabelle to have hung herself, since there was nothing there for her to climb up on. His conclusion: “She was murdered. By one of YOU.” (No, he doesn’t point directly into the camera to implicate the audience, but that would’ve been awesome.) Then we get a shot of everyone in the room looking smug and incredulous, like, “Freaky little mustache guy say WHAT?” Then the doctor says, “Or YOU, Mr. Loren,” which is what absolutely everyone was thinking.

Lance points out that one needs a motive for murder, and that nobody knew Annabelle before the party except for Mr. Loren.

J: I scoff at his non-logic. I guess Lance has never heard of pretending to not know somebody. He must not have any siblings. (BA-BING!!)

C: Mr. Loren’s reply? “What husband hasn’t, at some time, wanted to kill his wife?” Oh, well, that’s cheery. Then he goes on about how every husband has had a million opportunities to kill his wife without being discovered, and that if he was going to do it he wouldn’t be so sloppy about it as to hang her. He’s not so much insulted that they think he murdered his wife, but really, hanging? It’s just so gauche.

J: That’s Vincent Price in a nutshell. In his films he’ll lie, steal, cheat, murder — but he will do it with flair. Just watch his Dr. Phibes movies. Yowza.

And I could put in a really snotty comment here about that “every man wants to kill his wife” thing, but I won’t.

C: After a whole lotta jibber jabber, they finally decide that everybody has to stay locked in their rooms for the rest of the night in order to stay alive. “The innocent will have no reason to leave his room, and the guilty will admit his guilt if he or she does.” Right, ’cause innocent people don’t ever need to pee. (Also, way to selectively gender-neutralize your pronouns there, buddy.)

J: But, but but, if everybody else stays in their room, they won’t know whether the guilty party left theirs or not! LOOK WHAT HAPPENED TO THE COOK! Also, Watson Pritchard just mumbles “Guns? Guns?” like he’s sure he’s heard that word before, but just can’t remember where.


C: So everyone goes upstairs to turn in for the night, another thrillingly necessary scene from William Castle’s epic drama about a group of strangers locked in a house with no escape and no bathroom privileges. Watson Pritchard is really struggling not to fall down at this point. “What’s the use of saying good night?” he says as he opens his door, and everyone just ignores him entirely.

J: If you made a House on Haunted Hill drinking game, you’d have to take a shot every time everybody went to their rooms, and every time Watson Pritchard said something spooky and meaningless. You’d be pretty darn drunk by the time this scene rolled around.


J: Eventually Mr. Loren is left alone in the hall. He looks lonely. :^(


J: He goes into Annabelle’s room (was it his too? I doubt those two were the bedroom-sharing types) and breaks one of the champagne glasses he had forced her to drink from earlier that we didn’t bother to tell you about. Aw, he’s all grumpy now that he doesn’t have any wives to play with/taunt/scalp. Oh well, he can always go back to the hospital and scout out the cardiology department for chicks.

And now it’s time for a series of short shots where we see each character going about their own boring business in their rooms. This is about as exciting as watching security videos of a dorm. (In a Catholic college.)

C: …Yeah, no, that would still be pretty exciting.

J: AND THIS TOTALLY ISN’T, is my point.


J: Watson Pritchard cocks his gun in a TOTALLY AWESOME MANNER (I’m-a gettin’ Wilmer flashbacks!), and sits down and…waits. And, wait. Wait, waitwaitwaitwaitwaitwait. This is the guy who keeps saying that guns are useless against ghosts! Why is he all vigilant and loaded (heh) now? DOES HE EXPECT SOMETHING OTHER THAN GHOSTS TONIGHT? HMMMMMMM????

C: I’m pretty sure you just answered your own question with that “loaded” crack. Maybe he took the scotch up to his room with him and is gonna plug the first person who wants a sip.


J: Dr. Trent, for some odd reason, is scribbling down notes in his Moleskine Reporter. Hey Doc, you can work on your poetry later!! (Although, for what it’s worth, if I were in this situation I’d probably be writing in my journal like crazy. “2-17-1959. This party totally sucks.”)

The doorknob to his room suddenly rattles (aack!!) and he unlocks the door and opens it (WHAT? YOU IDIOT!), and…there’s no one there. Sorry to make you actually feel suspense for a moment. False alarm. AS EVER.

C: AAAHA, he opened the door, he stepped out into the hall for a second, HEEEEEEEEEEEE’S THE KILLER! That’s how this game works, right? Whoever leaves his room is the killer? Because the actual way the law works has no bearing on these people.


J: Ruth Bridgers is standing around and wringing her hands. IS THAT ALL SHE’S EVER GONNA DO IN THIS MOVIE? That, and read her lines awkwardly, sigh with weariness, drink scotch, and look like Celeste Holm? ‘CUZ I’M GETTING SICK OF IT ALL.

C: Isn’t she supposed to have a gambling problem? Shouldn’t she be getting the pool started on who’s gonna die next? SOME ADDICT YOU ARE.

J: She doesn’t even say “I’ll bet you [fill in the blank]” at any point in the movie. LAME. And then, finally, something happens that actually looks promising!


C: Age spots! SHE’S PRUNING BEFORE OUR VERY EYES!

J: Blood drips down onto her hand again, like it did earlier in the movie, and the stain is on the ceiling—except that she’s in a completely different room now. On ANOTHER FLOOR. Whuuuuuuuuuuuut. Ruth desperately tries to wipe the blood drops off, but they won’t go away, and she begins panicking. Entering Lady Macbeth mode.

And…then…we cut away to Lance, and nothing more is ever made of Ruth and her being “marked”, as Watson Pritchard put it. Ruth doesn’t even mention it to the other characters. So, um, what the dealio, Mr. William Castle? WHAT THE DEALIO???

C: She is the most useless character in this whole movie, and also the most interesting and likeable. So. That’s kind of a waste right there.


J: Lance is knocking on Nora’s door and calling her name softly again, and we really could’ve just recycled the screencap we used earlier. Oh, it’s worth mentioning that Lance pocketed his gun before he went a’calling. He’s totally going to shoot Nora and put her out of everybody’s misery.

It’s also worth noting that Nora just flings open the door for Lance without checking to make sure it was really him, and also that she was sitting on the exact same spot on the bed where Lance left her. I like to think that she was in suspended animation during all this time, or just staring at the wallpaper and humming to herself.

C: Lance just told her to wait there. He didn’t tell her to get up or to breathe. She’s just doing what somebody she just met told her was best for her!

J: “Lance, I’ve been thinking!” she announces as Lance looks out all the various superfluous doors and windows. REALLY, Nora? That’s amazing!! “Maybe it wasn’t Mr. Loren.” Oh, I accused an innocent man of attempted murder. Tee-hee.

“It was him all right,” says Lance, and that SETTLES THE MATTER. Lance is feeling guilt about Annabelle’s death because she asked him for help and he did absolutely zippo about it. Which is true! Lance, you jerk. I can only assume that that’s why he’s so overprotective of Nora now. That and his primitive mating urges, of course.

C: BLECH! Can you imagine the offspring of these two? Definitely not the brightest crayon in the box, if you catch my drift.

J: Lance is determined to find a means of escape and get the cops, and when Nora says she wants to go with him (because ALL WOMEN in ALL FILMS are obligated to chirp, “I’m coming too!” at some point), he tells her that she’s “safer here than anyplace else”. WHAT THE HECK??!?! If I were Nora I would totally sock him for that. But I’m not Nora. Thank goodness. “Just lock yourself in and keep quiet,” Lance says as he leaves. He wants Nora to starve to death.

C: And suffocate! Lance, if you don’t instruct her to breathe, she will forget!

J: At the door he turns around and then says, almost as an afterthought, “If I find a way out, I’ll come back and getcha.” Sure you will, Lance. Suuuuuuuuuure you will.

Nora just smiles. Gee, a boy talked to me!


J: Sooooooooo, Lance goes exploring, and finds the Rondo Hatton sublet.


J: Alright, finally a secret passage! Whoohoo!!

*EARDRUM-SPLITTING FLUTE NOTE THAT NEVER EVER STOPS*

Lance of course walks through the door, and it of course shuts behind him and traps him in. Of course. If I ever go to a supposedly haunted house, I’m bringing a TON of door wedges with me. There’s kind of a nice moment here as William Castle lingers the shot on the closed door, and all we can hear is crazed pounding.


J: Nora is doing her Ruth Bridgers impression. Although the difference is that the stuff that’s about to happen to Nora is actually relevant to the plot.


J: Oh, son of a—

C: This whole house is old and drafty and entirely lit with candles! What did you think would happen?!?


J: As Nora watches in, well, total bewilderment, a giant rope comes snaking in through her window. Lance left that window open. It’s totally his fault that everybody in this movie is getting killed.

C: And that the darn candles keep blowing out! But yeah, anyway, killer rope, ooga booga booga.


J: “Hm, I wonder if I should think about moving? Oh well, I’m sure it’s perfectly harmless and everything will work out, like it has so far.”

C: A mere mortal cannot escape the DEADLY GRIP of a HAUNTED ROPE wrapped… loosely around their ankles…

J: I have to confess, I’m not really sure how they accomplished this effect (of the rope slowly circling Nora’s legs, I mean). It *looks* like stop-motion animation, but I dunno. I do know, however, that it looks really neat.

C: I always thought they just had the rope wrapped around her, then pulled it away slowly and ran the film backwards. But you’re right, it does look really stop-motiony. A cool effect, though not exactly… scary.

J: It’s downright cute. And then Nora looks up to the window…


J: GYAAAH!!!

*THEREMIN-IMPERSONATING OPERA SINGERS OF DOOM*

C: Naturally, I do find this a bit creepier than the self-coiling rope, but it also reminds me of that scene in Haunted Honeymoon where Gilda Radner spoofs this, so then I laugh, but then I also get kind of sad and pensive.

J: And then, um, the film reverses the rope uncoils from Nora’s feet, and she, for some odd reason, finds this even more horrifying than being wrapped up in ghost rope in the first place. I officially do not understand her.

C: Her ankles will be cold without it!


J: ALRIGHT! Now this film’s getting somewhere! Shoot, Nora, SHOOT!!

The rope slips away, and Nora begins GROANING again. Um, Nora? Annabelle’s ghost is gone now. You freak.


J: Time to run up and down the halls in a panic with a loaded gun! *flail flail*


J: Woah nelly!


J: *MUSIC STING OF DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!*

Uhhhhh, I thought they put her in her room??? They did, right?? Well then, BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA!!! Nora proceeds to SCREAM THE MOST EPIC SCREAMS IN THE WORLD.


J: I can’t even begin to understand that bit.

C: Whut? RANDOM MONSTER HAND? Pick a menace and stick to it, buddy.

J: Maybe whoever it is got bitten by a giant spider and is now a giant spider himself. Yeah. Nora then runs pell-mell down the stairs and into that living room/parlor/everybody-mill-about-and-pick-lint-off-the-chairs room, calling for Lance. Nora, LANCE LEFT. REMEMBER??? Oh yeah, and Nora’s finger is on the trigger of her gun, and has been the whole time she’s been running around. RUH-ROH.

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J: Nora, breathing all ker-razy, looks around the room, and I should really take more screencaps of it for the Haunted Decor Flickr group, but frankly, after this review is done I don’t think I’ll ever want to screencap this movie ever, ever again.

And then the organ starts playing itself! Oooooooooh, spooky! Great, now I’m reminded of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.

C: The organ playing itself would be scary, if everybody didn’t already know that there are totally organs that do that.

J: Nora runs out of the room, and more of her screams are looped into the soundtrack. I guess William Castle just couldn’t get enough of ‘em.

C: Admittedly, she’s a great screamer. I wonder if Carolyn Craig actually did her own screaming, or if she was dubbed?

J: I think it’s really her. I also think it’s the #1 reason why she got this part in the first place. You just know William Castle auditions are filled with screaming.


J: Dr. Trent knocks on Mr. Loren’s door (CHEEZ, none of these people can follow through on their plans, can they?!?) and Loren instantly pops out with a gun.

C: This whole “stay in your room unless you intend to go a-killin’” thing was THE STUPID DOCTOR’S IDEA IN THE FIRST PLACE, and he’s the first one to break the rule??

J: RULES DON’T APPLY TO THE UTTERLY BRILLIANT AND ALWAYS RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING DR. TRENT. “An admission of guilt, doctor?” Mr. Loren asks. *smirky smirky smirk* Dr. Trent just wants to know if Loren heard anything. Dr. Trent gets fussy when it’s his bedtime and has to be settled down with a story and a cup of wa-wa. “Organ music?” Mr. Loren ventures. “That, and someone walking,” the doctor replies. WALKING? He heard WALKING but didn’t hear the EAR-SHATTERING SCREAMS? Wow. Maybe they’re all so jaded by now that they just automatically tune out Nora’s horrified screaming.

C: They’re not jaded, they just flat-out do not CARE about Nora, which is to be expected.

J: They synchronize their guntches, and Dr. Trent suggests they split up to search. UM. NO, how about we do something that isn’t completely retarded for a change? How ’bout that? Dr. Trent argues that “there may only be minutes, seconds, left to someone’s life!”, whatever that means, and Mr. Loren cannnot argue with this brilliant display of logic and lets himself get bullied into going downstairs alone. I’m frankly disappointed in you, Mr. Frederick Loren.

C: Oh yeah, ’cause he’s TOTALLY not going to use the opportunity to do something sneaky. What movie have you been watching, Jules?

J: The one where Mr. Loren is the most likable character….


J: “Psst, pssst. Is he gone? He is? Ahehehehehe.”

C: Whoa! Sneakeration from the doctor?!? Now that’s unexpected.

The doctor sneaks back down the hall into That Room Where They Keep The Dead Bodies (Annabelle’s Suite). Wait, what?

J: “That Room Where They Keep The Dead Bodies (Annabelle’s Suite)” could totally be the title of a instrumental interlude in the House on Haunted Hill musical. Just sayin’.

C: He pulls back the curtain on her bed. “It’s almost over, darling. Every detail was perfect.” Wait, WHAT? And then –


C: HOLY BEJEEZUS! IT LIVES!!!!!!!!

*EPIC PLOT TWIST OF DOOM*


C: Un-dead Annabelle (which is to say that she was never really dead, not that she died and came back as a zombie) arises, and from their conversation we learn that somehow all this spookiness has been a VERY ELABORATE plot to get Nora to murder Mr. Loren? WHAT??? My mind, it is boggled!

J: There’s a difference between being mostly dead and all dead! Also, their plot is SO CONVOLUTEDLY COMPLICATED…it just might work.


C: “Get me out of this hanging harness.” Ooo, saucy. I like how they go to the trouble of explaining how they pulled off the illusion that she’d been hanged. Now how about that crazy-awesome haunted rope trick? How’d you do THAT one?

J: Stop-motion, silly. We were just talking about it.


C: The doctor goes into more detail about how the murder will go down – Nora and Mr. Loren are both headed to the basement, where she’ll shoot him out of fear – and how they’ll get away with it – say the hanging was a party trick, and that Nora was cuckoo – since Annabelle is pretty nervous about the whole thing and needs reassurance. How about THIS, baby?!?

J: Yowza! But what does Annabelle see in this guy? Seriously, WHAT? No, he doesn’t pull her hair or anything, but he’s smug and dull! Although he seems to be a great kisser. Who can say. By the way, Dr. Trent and Annabelle had bribed the caretakers into freaking out Nora too. Although I’m pretty sure they would have done it for free.


C: Here we go. Nora enters the cellar holding her gun. I know Mr. Loren is headed to the cellar because Dr. Trent told him to go there, but how they should be so sure that Nora’s going the same way, I don’t know. She can’t stay in her room for fear of Annabelle’s ghost lassoing her, and she can’t go in the living room because she loathes organ music. But the cellar is where she saw that skateboarding hag, plus there’s a big vat of acid with no railing around it. Why would she go there? This is a mansion, if she just tried a little harder I’m sure she could find a room where they didn’t rig up a party trick to scare her.

J: This is a mansion, but there are only four rooms in it.

C: Anyway, then all the candles go out one by one. How are they doing that?!?

J: I like how Nora looks at each candle in turn just before they go out. She knows full well by now that everywhere she goes, something terrifying is going to happen.


C: RUH OH. Bad time to go looking to re-stock the booze supply. This is the point where half the audience screams at our suddenly-not-the-villain-but-sort-of-hero to RUN AWAY, and half the audience is too confused and psychologically battered to know what to think anymore.

J: I’m in the ‘confused’ department.


C: She shoots –


C: – she scores! X(


C: Like OMG! *epic scream, bolts out of the room*


C: Dr. Trent pops out of nowhere and starts raising the lid on the vat of acid. Aw, I don’t like where this is going.


C: Trent drags the body over, and just as he’s about to throw Mr. Loren in, the lights go out (which… weren’t they already out?), we hear a hideous strangled groan, then a SPLASH, and then a sizzle. Either Dr. Trent just got thrown into the acid, or he threw up in it.


C: Moments later, Annabelle comes into the cellar looking for her boyfriend. Instead…


C:all the doors in the room start slowly closing one by one. Awwwww yeah! I know an unfaithful wife who’s gonna get a little comeuppance!

J: All the doors make the exact same creaky door sound effect. I guess they had to take some money out of the sound effects budget in order to pay for WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.


C: She peers into the vat of acid, undoubtedly looking for the skeleton of Mr. Loren (which would probably just look like a giant version of that rat skeleton Pritchard threw in earlier, heheheheheheheh).

J: Oh, now now.


C: Well there it is!


C: Oh! UHHHHHHHH, UMMMMMMMMMMMMM…

J: “HIYA, TOOTS!!”


C: It’s, ahhhhhhhhh, NOT S’POSED TO DO THAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!


C: Annabelle runs for the door, but of course it doesn’t open, because that would be a terrible ending to our film.

J: The woman in the slinky nightie never gets away. EVER. If I’m ever in a horror movie, I will sleep in dumpy boxers and thus ensure my survival.


C: AHHHHHHHHHH SKELETON COOTIES!!!! Mr. Loren’s disembodied (well… disenfleshened?) voice booms into Annabelle’s ear, “At last you’ve got it all. Everything I have. Even my LIFE! But you’re not going to live to enjoy it. Come with me, murderess…”


C: “COME WITH ME!”

Annabelle reacts appropriately.

J: SKELLY TAGS NO TAGS BACK! When preparing to watch this movie I like to get out some toy rubber skeletons, and then dangle them around on strings during this scene. William Castle would want it that way.


C: The skeleton slowly and evilly pursues Annabelle across the room, until she is walking backwards toward the vat of acid. Annabelle is a little freaked at this point.

J: Carol Ohmart’s a great screamer, too! And she can get her face all stretched and freaky. Ew.


C: She almost falls in for a second, but regains her balance, yet still does not realize that she probably shouldn’t be standing on the edge of this vat of acid. I know she’s a little distracted right now, but she had enough wits to stop herself from falling in once, so MAYBE SHE SHOULD THINK ABOUT MOVING TO A DIFFERENT SPOT.


C: But no, she just waits there, until the skeleton comes up and, despite its complete absence of muscle mass, somehow pushes her in. Using THE POWER OF REVENNNNNNNNNGE, I’m sure.

J: That part is SO. TOTALLY. EPIC. Completely pwned by an anatomical model!


C: Splashy splashy!

So Annabelle gets melted, and we already know Dr. Trent got melted too. All through THE SUPERNATURAL POWER OF HER MURDERED (JILTED) HUSBAND!!!!!!!!!!!! OOGA BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The orchestra goes completely nuts as we slowly pan around the now-empty cellar.

J: I would so totally love to see the written score for this movie. They probably just sprayed a bunch of ink dots on the sheet music and told the musicians to interpret it any way they wished.


C: But, WAIT! What’s this????? Don’t tell me William Castle has ONE FINAL EPIC PLOT TWIST UP HIS SLEEVE???????

J: CAROLINE. THIS IS WILLIAM CASTLE. HE HAS SLEEVES WITHIN HIS SLEEVES, WITH INFINITE TRICKS WITHIN HIS INFINITE SLEEVES!!!!!!!!!!!!!


C: THAT’S RIGHT, fools! Our hero Mr. Loren emerges from behind a wine vat with his AWESOME SKELETON-PUPPETEERING CONTRAPTION OF DOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!!!!!

J: Jim Henson has NOTHING on this guy. MR. LOREN SHOULD PATENT THIS RIG AND MAKE A MINT. And I totally love the mental image of Vincent Price frantically wrangling with all these puppet lines, like the Wizard of Oz when he’s hiding behind his curtain. *tug tug* *crank crank* *ker-wrappity wrappity wrappity*


C: “Good night, doctor. Good night, Annabelle. The crime you two planned was indeed perfect – only the victim is alive and the murderers are not. It’s a pity you didn’t know when you started your game of mmmurder… that I was playing too.” VINCENT PRICE IS THE AWESOMEST PERSON TO HAVE EVER LIVED.

J: *KER-SMIRKINGTON!!!!!* Vincent Price did a series of books on tape and now I need to buy every single one. That voice. THAT VOICE.

Mr. Loren then chucks the skeleton puppet into the acid. Awwww!


C: Oh, are you kidding me?!? Who even cares about these idiots at this point?!? Well anyway, I guess Nora, Ruth, and Watson Pritchard have found the secret passage and are trying to get it open to free Lance, BLAH BLAH BLAH, HURRY UP, MOVIE.

J: Watson Pritchard totally knows where the catch for the secret passage is and now everything works. When did he suddenly turn into MacGuyver???


C: They get Lance out and Nora explains that she shot Mr. Loren in the cellar, so they go down there to… I don’t know, poke him with a stick or something, but then they arrive and find out he’s not dead after all. “It’s him, he’s alive!” PLEASE DIE NOW, NORA.

J: Also, when Nora tells Lance she shot Mr. Loren, Lance only shows…dull surprise. I tell you, nothing Nora ever does will shock him anymore. “Oh, Lance! I joined a club for Lithuanian cannibals, and I’m gonna get in trouble because I’m not Lithuanian!!” “Oh, that’s nice, Nora.”


C: Mr. Loren explains, rather exasperatedly, that Nora’s gun was loaded with blanks. “Trent and my wife were planning to kill me. They failed.” The way Vincent Price delivers that line makes me laugh out loud.

J: “Yeah, I totally rule. Same ol’, same ol’.”

C: He explains that Trent fell in the vat while he was trying to throw Mr. Loren in, and that Annabelle “tripped and fell.” Um.

J: Wow, it’s like Peter Grimes! “One of them died, just died, the other one fell and died.” IN NO WAY AM I PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE.

C: Then he says, “I’m ready for justice to decide if I’m… innocent, or…………… guilty.” Vincent Price pauses like no other.


C: Watson Pritchard wanders over to peer into the vat, and the audience winces in anticipation. “Now there’re nine… There’ll be more, many more.” SHUT. YOUR. FREAKING. FACE.

J: Now that the Slydeseses are history, Watson Pritchard should get the job as the new creepy caretaker! He’s obviously got the knack.


C: “They’re coming for me now… And then they’ll come for YOU!” *cue loud, ominous, disembodied laughter* OOGA BOOGA BOOGA!!!!!!!!!!

J: And it’s the end! OR IS IT??????????????????????????????????

…Actually, yes.

Caroline’s Final Thoughts: This film is a classic, and for good reason. I watch it every Halloween (the only reason I didn’t put it on my list of Top Ten Halloween Movies was so that I wouldn’t spoil the surprise of our review). I’m a huge fan of so-bad-it’s-good movies – a connoisseur, if you will – and while this movie certainly has a lot of elements of that (what with the cheap um, CREATIVE special effects), it is not a bad film, and as Jules argued in the beginning of our review, William Castle is not a bad director. While a lot of the dialogue is cheesy and some of the characters – WATSON PRITCHARD, NORA, DR. TRENT, ANYONE WHO ISN’T VINCENT PRICE – get pretty annoying pretty quickly, the film is never boring. Sure, a lot of the stuff that happens might not be particularly scary for the audience (particularly a modern audience), but the terrified reactions of the actors allow you to suspend your disbelief enough to feel the appropriate level of horror and suspense. Plus all the so-called “sub-par” stuff – the dialogue, the characters, the special effects – that supposedly make this film “schlocky” really just serve to make it all the more endearing. I actually prefer films with home-made effects, as I find them WAY more creative than any of these new-fangled superhero movies with the explosions and the Transformers and the computer animation. Who even cares about that crap? (I am also approximately 205% more crotchety about such things than someone of my age technically should be.) I give Castle an A for effort, and Vincent Price an A for AWESOME. Even the unfortunate presence of Nora and Watson Pritchard still earn this film a 4.5 in my book.

Jules’ Final Thoughts: WAIT, DID THEY EVER GET THEIR MONEY? I’m going to assume that they did. And even if Mr. Loren doesn’t want to pay them, they can always blackmail him about this whole scandal. So it’s a win-win.

Okay, SO. This movie. Oh, this movie. WHAT A CRAZY PILE OF CELLULOID THIS IS, and what a crazy person William Castle was for making it. And that’s why we LOVE HIM. Reading this, I think you can see the entertainment to be had in a William Castle movie, and also some of the frustration (because, um, we kind of get a little angry during this review. Just a titch). So it’s low-budget, to be sure, and the plot has holes you could somersault through, but as I said in our intro, this movie is REALLY FUN TO WATCH. A more perfect choice for parties, MST3K-style riffing, or making yourself giggle insanely in the wee hours of the morning I’ve yet to see. The actors are all competent, though their characters may not be likable (That’s right, Elisha Cook Jr., I got my eye on you), and–well–well, I just like spooky movies, darn it all. And this film has got spookiness, in spades. And it has Mr. Vincent Price. Really, folks. Do you need a selling point beyond that? If we Movie Dames rated movies based on the quality of their creation, this film would probably score monstrously low, but thankfully, we rate based on the entertainment factor of a movie, and House on Haunted Hill is, in the end, so charming that I have to give a 4.5 as well.


House On Haunted Hill (1959) – 4.5/5 stars


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7 Comments

  1. Kim (the zombie variety)

     /  October 17, 2010

    Tiniest and cutest T-Rex ever!
    I know this is wrong, but there is one thing that the remake had that the Vincent Price version couldn’t touch: Chris Kattan. I don’t know, maybe I was just a little too obsessed with Kattan’s male stripper character “Mango” from SNL when I was a teenager.

    • Kim. Did you just come into my classic movie blog talking about Chris Kattan?

      Get out of my blog, Kim.

  2. Laurie

     /  March 9, 2011

    I absolutely love this review. I was very sad not to be able to find the Broad Reviews by Movie Dames anymore, and I’m extremely happy to have found your new location for reviews and commentaries on movies. They are very interesting and insightful, and simultaneously gut-bustingly funny. Thanks for all your work!

    P.S. I was wondering if you were planning on re-posting your reviews of Rebel Without A Cause and Every Girl Should Be Married, because I found those especially enjoyable to read. Regardless, thanks again for these reviews.

    • Aw, thanks so much Laurie! Yes, those reviews will probably be re-posted in due time (I worked too hard on them to let them slip away), but I can’t say when. I try to space out these extra-long reviews with shorter, more serious ones. I did just post a NEW total recap of The Three Faces of Eve which you might enjoy. :) I’m glad you tracked me down, and thank you so much for your kind words! It really means a lot to me to hear that people enjoy my inane rambles.

  3. House on Haunted Hill ranks up there alongside The Tingler and Theatre of Blood as my favorite Vincent Price films. Your review and commentary are hilarious and made me realize I need to lighten up the writing on my film blog.
    I first saw HOHH when I was around 10 years old (with many subsequent viewings) and as a gay kid I was horrified that the beautiful neglige worn by Carol Ohmart was destroyed when she was “nudged” and fell into the acid bath. All I could think was “why didn’t she wear cotton or flannel instead of that gorgeous chiffon?” Pesky acid baths.

  4. Okay, a question occurred to me as I read this great review for the umpteenth time (it’s my go-to for online pleasure reading). In the scene near the beginning of the film where Madame Curie, Jr., aka Nora, nearly falls into the vat of acid, is it she who asks “You mean there’s still acid in there?” Because did Watson Pritchard not JUST throw the rat into the sizzling acid??? I mean whoever asked that must have the attention span of a gnat pupa….This naturally implied to me that it had to be a line from that Mistress of Intellect, Nora. Just wondered. Anyway, thanks for these great reviews!

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