IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959)

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House on Haunted Hill - posterHere’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the Vincent Price flick HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959), up now in the June 2014 edition of The Horror Writers Association Newsletter.
And just a friendly reminder: if you enjoy this column, my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT book, a collection of 115 In The Spooklight columns, is available as an EBook at http://www.neconebooks.com, and as a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038.
—Michael

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
BY
MICHAEL ARRUDA

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959) may have been the first Vincent Price film I ever saw.

I’m not exactly sure because as a kid, I was already a fan of Hammer Films and of the Universal monster movies, and so Vincent Price was always taking a back seat to Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney Jr.

It took a while for Price to grow on me, but that being said, today I’m a big Vincent Price fan.

The first time I saw HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL on television I was pretty young— I don’t think I was even ten yet— and it scared the crap out of me. There’s one scene in particular, where a creepy old lady suddenly appears out of nowhere and frightens the young heroine that nearly made me scream.

Nearly.

I was barely ten, remember.

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL has always been one of my favorite Vincent Price films, mostly because Price’s performance as the enigmatic millionaire Frederick Loren is the way I most remember him in the movies: somewhat sinister with a sly sense of humor, with a deadpan delivery and an air of mystery about him which makes him difficult to read. He may be a murderer, perhaps even insane, or he may simply be a man with a colorful sense of the macabre. It’s a great performance by Price.

In HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, Vincent Price plays the eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren who throws a party for his equally eccentric wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) in which he invites five guests to a supposedly haunted house. These guests must promise to stay the night in the haunted house with Frederick and Annabelle, and if they do, Frederick promises to pay them each ten thousand dollars, a hefty sum back in 1959.

It only takes one scene for us to realize that Frederick and Annabelle are not in love. In fact, they can’t stand each other. Annabelle even confides in some of the guests that she fears Frederick is trying to kill her, having thrown this party as a cover. This way, he can kill her and make it look like she was murdered by one of the ghosts that haunts the house, and with five witnesses to attest to the supernatural’s involvement, he’d be home free.

Plenty of strange things do indeed happen in the HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, including murder, but just who killed whom and for what reason isn’t revealed until the final frame.

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL was directed by William Castle, the king of the “gimmick” horror movies from the 1950s and 60s. After the success of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, Castle would go on to direct THE TINGLER (1959), also starring Price, 13 GHOSTS (1960), MR. SARDONICUS (1961) STRAIT-JACKET (1964) and I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965).

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL has a fun screenplay by Robb White who also wrote Castle’s THE TINGLER and 13 GHOSTS. It provides Vincent Price with some memorable lines of dialogue, and its plot about a group of people trying to spend the night in a haunted house while a murder plot is being hatched is ripe for suspense and mystery. It plays like one of those murder mystery party games. It’s a hoot, and it’s scary.

However, the story doesn’t hold up all that well today. Its tale of husband vs. wife comes off as forced and contrived. There are easier ways to get rid of a spouse than by an elaborate plot involving spooks, paid guests, and haunted houses. Ever hear of a good divorce lawyer?

But when I was a kid I didn’t care, and to be honest, as an adult, I still don’t mind all that much as the film possesses an energy and a creepiness that make it highly enjoyable.

The best part of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL however is Vincent Price. It’s really the first time in a horror movie that Price displayed his sinister side, something he would do with more frequency in his later films. Sure, before HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL he played the villain in the horror films HOUSE OF WAX (1953) and THE MAD MAGICIAN (1954), but in these roles he was more of a straightforward madman. In HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, we see Price begin to hone and sharpen that devilish personality with which we’d become familiar in his roles in the 1960s and 70s.

Also in the cast of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is Richard Long, who most people know from the TV western THE BIG VALLEY which also starred Barbara Stanwyck and the future SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN Lee Majors, but when I first saw HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL in the early 1970s, I was familiar with Long from the popular show NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR, which when I was a kid was one of my favorites. Long died young, at age 47 in 1974.

Elisha Cook Jr. is also in the cast as Watson Pritchard, the man who knows all about the house and its murderous past. Pritchard is full of ominous anecdotes, and he’s responsible for generating much of the feelings of unease in the early parts of this movie. Just the guy you want to have around at a haunted house party.

Cook appeared in a gazillion movies, but I always remember him from his bit part in THE NIGHT STALKER (1972), the film that introduced Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak. And of course, who can forget Cook as the shady gunman in THE MALTESE FALCON (1941), who gets his comeuppance several times over at the hands of Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade.

But HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL belongs to Vincent Price. He’s quick with the one-liner, gracious, and proper, but always with an undercurrent of deadliness about him, so you never know what to expect.

Price would go on to become famous for his appearances in the colorful Roger Corman Edgar Allan Poe films from the 1960s, and he is excellent in these movies. But I actually prefer Price in this movie. His performance here is less hammy, less over the top, and more biting, more frightening. It’s Price at his best.

Looking for an all-night party this summer? Look no further than HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL.

Stay the night. Really.

It’s a scream.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

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THE HORROR JAR: Movies starring PETER CUSHING, CHRISTOPHER LEE, and VINCENT PRICE

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Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Vincent Price in HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1983), the second and last time they would all appear in one movie together.

Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Vincent Price in HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1983), the second and last time they would all appear in one movie together.

THE HORROR JAR: Movies Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price
By Michael Arruda

Welcome to another edition of THE HORROR JAR, that column where we feature various lists of odds and ends pertaining to horror movies.

Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price all share birthdays in May: Cushing on May 26 and both Lee and Price on May 27.

To celebrate the birthdays of these three horror icons, here’s a list of movies in which all three stars, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price appeared together. It’s a brief list, since it only happened twice:

SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1970)
An Amicus Production
Directed by Gordon Hessler
Screenplay by Christopher Wicking, based on the novel The Disoriented Man by Peter Saxon
Dr. Browning: Vincent Price
Fremont: Christopher Lee
Benedek: Peter Cushing
Running Time: 95 minutes

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1983)
Directed by Peter Walker
Screenplay by Michael Armstrong based on the novel Seven Keys to Baldpate by Earl Derr Biggers
Lionel Grisbane: Vincent Price
Corrigan: Christopher Lee
Sebastian Grisbane: Peter Cushing
Lord Grisbane: John Carradine
Running Time: 100 minutes

Sadly, neither of these movies is very good. But you can’t beat the cast!

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN! (1972)

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Dr Phibes Rises Again Cover ArtThis column, a reprint from September 2006, is currently appearing in the September 2013 edition of the Horror Writers Association Newsletter.

Don’t forget, if you enjoy this column, feel free to check out my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT collection, available now as an EBook at www.neconebooks.com, and as a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038.  It contains 115 horror movie columns, covering movies from the silent era and 1930s to the movies of today.  Thanks!

—Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

You just can’t keep a good madman down.

Thus, DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN!

DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN! (1972) is the sequel to THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971), the campy classic that gave Vincent Price one of his most memorable roles.  Price is back in the sequel, once again playing the mad disfigured genius who murders his enemies in the most creative and grotesque ways.

In the first film, Phibes seeks revenge against the doctors who couldn’t save his wife.  In DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN! Phibes searches for an elusive Egyptian elixir to resurrect his wife, played by the beautiful Caroline Munroe [THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) and DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972) among others] in an unbilled performance.

However, there’s another man also looking for the same supernatural elixir, Biederbeck, played with equal effectiveness by Robert Quarry.  At the time, Quarry was an up and coming star, riding the fame of his huge hit COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970), and he shares equal billing with Price.  Quarry is quite good in the film, and it’s too bad his career didn’t take off as expected.  He’s a lot of fun to watch, as is the whole movie.  If you haven’t seen the PHIBES movies, you’re missing quite a treat.

In a way, the PHIBES films are precursors to the current crop of gross-out movies, films like HOSTEL (2006) and SAW (2004), though the PHIBES movies kept everything campy and possessed a spirit of fun the current films don’t have.  They also had an actor like Vincent Price in the lead.

Price plays Phibes so over the top there’s really no way you can truly believe in the character.  Usually this is a bad thing, but here it’s good.  Price takes Phibes into the realm of fantasy.  As a result, DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN! doesn’t play like a gritty crime tale, the way many modern “horror” movies do.  HOSTEL, for instance, it’s really a crime movie.  DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN! is a horror  movie.  Violent, yes, macabre, sure, stomach churning, you bet, but it never forgets one simple lesson:  it’s fun.

Dr. Phibes is one of Vincent Price’s best characters.  Phibes is a “phantom of the opera” character- his face is disfigured, he wears a mask in the likeness of Price’s own face, similar to his character in HOUSE OF WAX (1953), but unlike that character, Phibes can’t move his lips when speaking, so when Price speaks as Phibes, his voice is metallic, as if heard through a small tinny speaker, and his lips don’t move.  Price literally looks like a dead man talking.  Very effective, very cool.

And when we do see him without his mask, his face is a skull, and the skull make-up here is phenomenal.  It’s among the best “underneath the mask” make-up jobs ever. Other than Lon Chaney’s make-up in the silent PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925), there’s none better.

Robert Fuest directed DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN! with the same flair he displayed while directing the original.  There’s an energy about these films that’s contagious.  Fuest also wrote the screenplay, along with Robert Blees.  There’s just the right mix of humor and horror.

There’s a great supporting cast as well.  Why, even Peter Cushing shows up, though for just one scene as a ship’s captain.  Blink and you’ll miss him!

DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN! is the most fun you’ll have watching murder this side of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.  Where else will you find a grown man stuffed into a bottle and thrown overboard off a ship?

Hopefully, nowhere.

(September 2006)

Print edition of IN THE SPOOKLIGHT now available!

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InTheSpooklight_NewTextI’m happy to announce that my horror movie review collection IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, previously available only as an EBook, is now available in a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038.

So, for those of you who don’t do EBooks and prefer the printed page, or if you simply haven’t purchased an e-reader yet, now you too can own a copy of IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, a good old-fashioned book you can hold in your hands (not that there’s anything wrong with electronic books, mind you.)

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT is a collection of 115 “In The Spooklight” columns, all originally published within the pages of the HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER.  It’s been a staple of the HWA NEWSLETTER since 2000, where it’s still published each month.

In this book, you’ll read about horror movies from the silent era up until today.  You’ll find articles on Lon Chaney’s silent classics, the Universal monster movies, Hammer Films (of course!), the horror films of the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and into the 21st century.  You’ll read about the greats, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., Lon Chaney Sr., Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price.  You’ll read about the supporting players, people like Edward Van Sloan, Dwight Frye, and Lionel Atwill from the Universal movies, and from the Hammer years, Michael Ripper, Thorley Walters, Francis Matthews, and Andrew Keir.

You’ll read about the leading ladies, Fay Wray, Helen Chandler, Veronica Carlson, Barbara Shelley, Ingrid Pitt, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Sigourney Weaver.

You’ll read about the directors, James Whale, Tod Browning, Terence Fisher, John Carpenter, John Landis, Ridley Scott, Peter Jackson, Christopher Nolan, and even Ingmar Bergman.

You’ll read about Ray Harryhausen, Rick Baker, George Pal, Willis O’Brien, Roddy McDowall, Claude Rains, John Carradine, Peter Lorre, Fredric March, Robert Armstrong, Steve McQueen, Harrison Ford, Gregory Peck, Simon Pegg, and Donald Pleasence.

You’ll meet your favorite monsters, Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, the Mummy, Mr. Hyde, the Phantom of the Opera, Dr. Phibes, King Kong, Godzilla, the Ymir, the Blob, Michael Myers, the Alien, and Baron Frankenstein.

In addition to these columns, you’ll also be treated to introductions by both Judi Rohrig and the Gila Queen herself, Kathy Ptacek.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT puts your favorite horror movies in the spotlight and treats them the way they’re supposed to be treated, with reverence and respect.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t share a laugh or two, because we certainly do.

I think you’ll enjoy IN THE SPOOKLIGHT.  Thirteen years of satisfied HWA readers says you will.

—Michael