Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bald Mountain Night 6: House On Haunted Hill

Each day in October, intrepid blogger Alex Boivin will watch a horror movie. These movies are all new to him and are part of his month-long effort to fill in his gaps in the horror canon. If he doesn't die from fright, you just might get to read about about his exploits in cinema during the Halloween season.

Among the myriad legends of classic horror cinema, Vincent Price may very well loom the largest. A legendary actor with nearly two hundred film and television roles under his belt, Price started out performing in fairly run-of-the-mill films but soon found great acclaim and icon status as patron saint of the horror movie starting in the 1950's. For most of the rest of his career, Price would be best remembered for his contributions to the burgeoning genre as horror took on a world of its own and low-budget B-movies meant to scare teenagers became wildly successful. Price ruled as king of this era and sadly I was fairly unacquainted with his body of work except from as a passing pop culture reference (and Thriller). With today's movie, I hope to rectify that fact.

To get an idea of how sweet this dude sounds/is, check out this early Tim Burton short, a Price homage narrated by the man himself:


House on Haunted Hill
came out in 1959 and completely revolutionized the way people around the world enjoyed movies with the cinematic technique "Emergo". During a pivotal scare scene involving a floating skeleton, a plastic skeleton would be suspended on wires over the theater audience to scare them all the greater. This ranks right up there with John Waters' Odorama as among the most important developments in filmmaking since Technicolor. That was sarcasm, by the way.

The story of House on Haunted Hill concerns an eccentric millionaire (is there any other kind?) named Frederick Loren, played by Price, who invites five strangers to a domicile upon a bluff which may be frequented by the spirits of the restless dead. There's the brave test pilot, the beautiful working girl, the conniving gossip columnist, the house's alcoholic owner and resident ghost expert, and of course the skeptic psychiatrist who's a little too ready to label any woman who claims to have seen a ghost as "hysterical". There's also Loren's fourth wife, who is rather open with her desire to off her husband and claim his fortune. If the group can survive the night, Loren will pay them each $10,000, sounds good right? But soon it appears that the rumors of the house's haunting may have some truth behind them. Also, there's all that backstabbing the wife has been talking about.

House sets itself up as a typical B horror picture, that is until about 76 minutes into the movie, which by the way is its running time. The movie ends rather abruptly, without addressing the ghosts we've been warned about. The movie spends way too much time setting up the characters and their schemes and then doesn't really go anywhere with them. I couldn't help but feel a little ripped off (thank God it's in the public domain and therefore free to watch online): I wanted ghosts, I didn't get them. Price is of course, excellent, and more than justifies his fame; I just wish I could find a better medium for his genius. Look for that to come sooner rather than later. If I could have one wish, it would be that I could this B-movie classic in the theaters with Emergo, as it was intended. That would add at least 10 Congos.

Final verdict: 26 Congos