House on Haunted Hill (1959)

<strong class="MovieTitle">House on Haunted Hill</strong> (1959)

(On Cable TV, February 2019) By design, I programmed myself a haunted house double bill going immediately from the very respectable The Haunting to the rather far less serious House on Haunted Hill. The contrast was refreshing, and probably worked to both films’ advantage. From the very first moments, we’re clearly not meant to take this William Castle production very seriously: the opening sets the tone of an over-the-top horror film with ponderous narration and overdone characters. There is, for modern viewers, a deliciously comfortable feeling in watching this granddaddy of all “spend a night in a haunted house IF YOU DARE” plots: we think we know where it’s going, and the well-worn mechanics of that kind of story are great good fun. (The real fun of the movie begins when you realize that the stated plot of the film really isn’t its real plot—the other one is hidden and only revealed late after both collide.) Vincent Price has seldom been so deliciously overacting as he is here, and that only adds to the fun of it. The infamous skeleton sequence late in the film doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when everything is revealed and laid bare … but who cares? Some horror films have earned a legacy because they were utterly serious about what they’re doing (The Haunting being one of them) but House on Haunted Hill chose to go another way and improbably ended up being something of a classic in another vein. I know there’s been a remake already, but how about another good remake one of these days? On second thought, never mind: This film is good enough as it is, and no one will ever recapture its delicate campiness.

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