Horror Through the Decades: The House on Haunted Hill (1959)

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Vincent Price as Frederick Loren, Carolyn Craig as Nora Manning, and Richard Long as Lance Schroeder in William Castle’s The House on Haunted Hill – Photo via Allied Artists

Welcome to Horror Through the Decades. Could You Spend The Night at The House on Haunted Hill?

Lorry Kikta’s new weekly column takes you on a tour of cinematic horror through the ages. Starting with the 1950’s, Each week will feature a favorite film of Lorry’s. William Castle’s The House on Haunted Hill  is up first!

As I’ve been writing about all the wonderful new horror films that are being released in 2018, it gave me pause to think about all the films that paved the way for the horror genre to become the powerhouse that it is today. Films in general have been around for over a century, and some of the oldest films are horror films. Ever since Georges Méliès’ Le Manoir du Diable, released way back in 1896, audiences have loved a good celluloid scare.

I decided to start my column in the ’50s, where so many excellent adventures into the unknown and the macabre started to become more and more successful with the advent of the drive-in movie. I will circle back around to the very beginning over the course of the column, so don’t worry, we’ll talk about The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari  and Nosferatu…just not today.

Today, we’re going to discuss a classic film from one of the most prolific horror directors, starring one of the most prolific horror actors of all time. The film in question is The House on Haunted Hill, directed by William Castle, and starring the one and only master of the macabre and one of my biggest personal heroes, Vincent Price. This will not be the last time I discuss either of these gentlemen in this column since their works are so influential, so be prepared.

Vincent Price as eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren in The House on Haunted Hill – via Allied Artists

The House on Haunted Hill  is William Castle’s first of many collaborations with Vincent Price, and only his second true horror film after Macabre. After a string of westerns, mysteries, and sci-fi movies, William Castle knew that horror could make tons of money, due to the popularity of films such as House of Wax (also starring Vincent Price), Night of the HunterThe Blob and so many others had throughout the decade. William Castle was nothing if not a shrewd business man, and thusly his career trajectory changed to that of a horror director.

Vincent Price was already a household name at this point. Having starred as the villain in films as early as the 1940’s; beginning with Joe May’s The Invisible Man Returns, and continuing as Professor Henry Jarrod in Andre de Toth’s 1953 original House of Wax, as well as the devil himself in Irwin Allen’s The Story of Mankind, William Castle couldn’t have made a better choice on who to cast as The House on Haunted Hill’s central character, eccentric millionaire, Frederick Loren.

For those of you haven’t seen The House on Haunted Hill, I will first suggest that you watch it as soon as you can, it’s available for free on Amazon Prime Video for subscribers. The House on Haunted Hill is the template for all “murder house” films and tv shows that come after it. Vincent Price is Frederick Loren, and along with his wife Annabelle (played to icy perfection by Carol Ohmart), he has come up with the rather peculiar idea to pay 5 strangers $10,000 to spend the night with he and his wife in a house that has been deemed haunted by its owner, Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook Jr.; Shane, Rosemary’s Baby).

Pritchard claims that seven people have been killed in the house, including his brother and sister-in-law. He believes all their ghosts occupy the house and will surely take the souls of anyone who stays there. Therefore he doesn’t live there and rents the house out to people like the Lorens who get a kick out of the supernatural.

The five people who were handpicked by Mr. Loren to occupy the house for the evening with he and his wife are: Dr. David Trent, (Alan Marshal; The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The White Cliffs of Dover) a psychiatrist who specializes in hysteria (which is a thing they still believed existed in 1959 oddly enough); Lance Schroeder (Richard Long; Cult of the CobraThe Stranger), a test pilot; Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig; Giant, Northwest Passage), a typist for Mr. Loren’s company that he’s never met before; Ruth Bridgers (Julie Mitchum; Hit & RunEdge of Hell, also Robert Mitchum’s sister), a newspaper columnist, and the owner of the house, Watson Pritchard.

Frederick Loren tells us all why he chose each person, knowing they all need the $10,000 for different reasons. Just for the hell of it, I used the inflation calculator and the sum would be $71,449.14 by today’s standards. I’m pretty sure I would stay the night in a haunted house for that sum, myself. Wouldn’t you?