The House on Haunted Hill (1959):
The penultimate film of my horror-fest!
A man offers several people £10’000 if they can survive the night in his house without being killed or wanting to kill themselves.
This film lies between three states: so terrible it’s brilliant, genuinely good B-movie entertainment, and just dull. It slides from one to the next with ease, like a ball in a pinball machine. The opening of the film is a black screen and we hear screaming and maniacal laughter – this is just undeniably funny. The black screen doesn’t last for long as we get two faces appear on the screen giving a monologue. The second one being Vincent Price, who in this film doesn’t just chew the scenery, but savagely carves into it in such a manner that he makes all of the other actors look like animatronic robots covered with flesh. Price introduces each character as if they were a character in cluedo, guessing in serious jest what their motives are for coming whilst they ride in funeral cars (“it was my wife’s idea”) to come to the mansion.
Once there, the film unfolds slowly. The guests have the choice to leave until it is midnight. When it is finally midnight, all of the doors will be locked, and the challenge will begin. There is a long twenty-minute sequence where I felt that the film lagged as I wanted the film to progress straight to midnight immediately. This is a film which starts off with camp screaming and then begins a progressive anticlimax.
However it soon picks up its pace: ghosts, things that go bump in the dark, hands which will grab your face around corners, and certain characters are hanged. Then there was the twist at the end – somewhat predictable, but added to the charm of the film nonetheless. In between these camp moments of gothic fun are duller moments where character stay in silence, and have unheard internal monologues in their heads, staring into the distance, or having depressive exchanges with other characters about their impending doom. I wanted less of this and more shots of high-pitched screams when a character mistakes a cape dangling in mid-air for a murderous ghoul.