(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.
(On Cable TV, November 2018) I wasn’t expecting much from Pit and the Pendulum: horror movies of the early 1960s can be undistinguishable from one another, especially given how many of them were made with small budgets and indifferent actors. But from the first few minutes, there’s something remarkable about the film’s use of colour (in an early-sixties horror film!), its confidence in using a flashback structure and, of course, in Vincent Price’s performance. Director/Producer Roger Corman became a legend for a reason, and Pit and the Pendulum remains surprisingly effective. Great sets help, as does the unusually stylish flashback cinematography. The titular pendulum and pit set is also quite good. This being said, my favourite moment in the film is the stinger at the very end, which takes barely a second to remind us that something horrible is still happening to one of the antagonists—and will keep happening for a while. It’s an amazingly good jump-conclusion to a decent horror film.
(On TV, June 2018) There’s a weird, weird quality to Laura—a film noir with a dead protagonist overpowering all other characters, a hilariously unprofessional investigation and a literal ticking-clock denouement. And yet director Otto Preminger keeps all the elements in good balance, delivering a film noir that works almost better as a study of obsession than a straight-up murder story. Having actors such a Gene Tierney (suitably entrancing as Laura), Dane Andrews, Clifton Webb and Vincent Price (well before he became the prince of horror) also helps. The result is actually kind of delicious, what with the good dialogue, unusual structure (so that you’re not watching the same darn thing) and stylistic touches. Laura amounts to a surprisingly good film, perhaps not a core film noir but certainly adjacent to it.