I have a confession to make: I'm a fan of black and white horror movies. Why would I, a man born in the heyday of horror films like "Halloween", "Texas Chainsaw Massacre", and others be a fan of primitive black and white ones?
Simple, they're fun, and "House on Haunted Hill" is an example of that fun.
This 1959 B-movie was produced and directed by William Castle- the master of movie gimmicks like "Percepto"... the joy buzzer seats used for his movie, "The Tingler". "House on Haunted Hill" had "Emergo"- a plastic skeleton that would "fly" over the audience at the appropriate moment in the movie. The flying skeleton was quite popular (and is even credited in the end credits), and helped the movie to become quite successful. The movie was so successful in fact that, Alfred Hitchcok was spurred to make "Psycho"... which in turned inspired William Castle to produce "Homicidal". Recently, in 2010, a film revival by New York's Film Forum played several of Castle's films- WITH the original styled gimmicks included, and "House on Haunted Hill" was one of the ones played.
This is the sort of movie where you gather friends together, have a couple of drinks, share pizza and have fun. While, the scares may not stand up to what's splashed across the screens now, the sense of fun is still there. You can still enjoy Vincent Price's dry wit and sinister smile. You can still have a good time watching Elisha Cook's performance as the drunken, terrified owner of the house. You can still be entertained by "House on Haunted Hill".
The acting, sets and visuals are very theatrical in nature- almost as if you were watching a play on stage (greatly enhanced I'm sure with the use of "Emergo"). There aren't a lot of sets used, which would actually make it easy to do a play based on it. It was simple, clean and yet provided the right theatrical mood for the story and events taking place.
The story and pacing were pretty good, and lends itself to various other interpretations if one were so inclined. I'll admit that the suspense wasn't silky smooth, but really don't mind that the moment the "shock" moments occur. Some of the characters were a little flat, but Vincent Price, Elisha Cook, and Carol Ohmart, make up for it with their peformances.
When I'm in the mood for a fun, entertaining excursion into the black and white horror category, one of my first choices is William Castle's "House on Haunted Hill"... one of "The Good". I might even rig up an "Emergo" system for it...
Follow Mike S @TerrorCorner