|'there's no attempt to expand things out, to show people isolated and alone, to give us a genuine feeling of being haunted in a large and isolated abode'|
Starting with a black screen and a series of floating heads explaining the preamble, you'd be forgiven for thinking that House On Haunted Hill is a film that can afford to mess around with lengthy audio scares and prolonged exposition. It can't. At just seventy-five minutes, William Castle's 1959 horror ends just when it threatened to get going, whilst wasting far too much time with a flat and dreary introduction.
The second act (at that length, you can only really consider this a two-act piece) much improves on the first, with some effective scares and the believable development of Frederick (Vincent Price) and Annabelle Loren (Carol Ohmart). Both are convincingly ambiguous characters who flit between charming host/hostess, victimised husband/damsel and conniving murderer/murderess. Their development and silent battles hold the heart of the piece and semi-hide the sociological horror of the film, namely the awkward and distasteful situations that arise when a marriage goes sour.
Scares are pretty few and far between, although there are some neat moments in the basement. Part of the reason for this isn't because Castle has no idea how to scare us - he clearly does - rather that he just doesn't seem that interested in doing so. The house, large and imposing from the outside, is made up of only three or four interiors (bedroom, living room, basement). There's no attempt to expand things out, to show people isolated and alone, to give us a genuine feeling of being haunted in a large and dramatic abode.
The end, rushed and hurried, is still satisfying to some degree, although it can't wait to wrap itself up and dispense with a final act. The limitations on fifties technical effects also come into play, although not quite to the degree that you have to snicker at them and the staging of the final scene, which starts the victim too far away from the method of their demise, is horrible. Still, House On Haunted Hill has got is place in classic horror, if only it had given itself a bit more time to cement it.
House On Haunted Hill is available on LOVEFiLM's Watch Online service.
'keeps us guessing right up to the end, yet this mystery is but a single piece in what turns out to be a very scary, very entertaining puzzle' - My 2,500 Movie Challenge