Vincent Price as Frederick Loren
Carolyn Craig as Nora Manning
Richard Long as Lance Schroeder
Carol Ohmart as Annabelle Loren
Elisha Cook Jr. as Watson Pritchard
As a young fourth-grader I was traumatized by a certain scene in House on Haunted Hill. I was so shook up that I could not be in the downstairs TV room alone for longer than a few minutes without having to sprint up the stairs in panic. All this was caused by four seconds of film that I will describe later.
House on Haunted Hill is classic Vincent Price and my favorite next to The Abominable Dr. Phibes . Price plays the eccentric millionaire, Fredrick Loren, who offers five people from various backgrounds $10,000 each to stay locked in a haunted house overnight for a birthday party for his 4th wife Annabelle.
The party is held in a house with a terrible reputation for murder, which Watson Pritchard, the brother of the house’s last victim and guide for the night, drunkenly proclaims throughout the evening.
Loren presents guns to the party guests so that they can protect themselves, and a haunted house together with a group of skittish strangers with guns is the perfect recipe for plot twists and confusion.
It is made very clear that Loren and his wife are not the happiest of couples. Annabelle is Loren’s wife number four, and his previous three all died under questionable circumstances. Loren also suspects that his current wife is trying to kill him to inherit his huge fortune. While the Loren’s suspect each other, the other guests explore the house and its dangerous past.
When House on Haunted Hill was originally released it featured a gimmick created by William Castle called “Emergo”, which was a pulley system that allowed a plastic skeleton to be flown over the audience to correspond with a similar scene in the movie. This is the same type of gimmick that Castle used in The Tingler, where buzzers were connected to audience member’s seats.
Even though this was a low-budget movie and was probably never considered truly scary by audiences, it did feature one scene that has stayed with me forever. Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig) is alone in a cellar room while another guest checks the other side of the wall searching for a doorway. Nora bends over to examine her side of the wall and when she stands up an old haggard woman is standing at her shoulder with her clawed hands up and baring her teeth. It’s by far my favorite scene in this movie and one I will never forget.
Yes, House on Haunted Hill is cheesy and the scares are hokey, but Vincent Price plays his character so well as he smirks and sneaks around the house that you should check it out at least once. This is a wonderful low-budget horror movie for the time and one that people went to see with their boy/girl friends on a Friday night on the strength of Vincent Price’s name.
Check out House on Haunted Hill if you like to feel nostalgic for a simpler time…or if you would like to have a good laugh over a ridiculous scene that turned a fourth grader into a quivering mess for a few years of his life.