House On Haunted Hill 50th Anniversary Special Edition
Released by: Raunchy Tonk
Released on: February 24, 2009.
Director: William Castle
Cast: Vincent Price, Julie Mitchum, Carol Ohmart
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In one of William Castle’s coolest horror movies, Vincent Price plays a strange wealthy man named Frederick Loren who, along with his fourth wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart), offers five seemingly unrelated strangers $10,000 each if they can spend an entire night in a creaky old house. This isn’t just a normal old house, however, as it’s been the site of seven separate murders.
The five people that Frederick selects, all of whom arrive to the house in a hearse, are a pilot named Lance Schroeder (Richard Long), a newspaper writer named Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum), the house’s owner Watson Prichard (Elisha Cook Jr.), a psychiatrist named Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal) and one of Loren’s employees, Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig). Each invitee is given a pistol and at midnight, the doors are locked meaning that no one can get in our out until morning breaks. Annabelle warns all involved that her husband is quite mad, but there’s no way they can contact any one outside the house as there’s no electricity and no phone connection.
Beautifully shot, the black and white cinematography makes the most of the shadows in the house where the vast majority of the film is set. The house, itself a central character in the film in many ways, has an odd, eerie atmosphere to it that gives the film a welcome ambience that the later big budget remake could never hope to recapture. Castle moves the action at a brisk pace, taking just enough time with the set up before getting on with the show, while the script from writer Robb White (who also wrote The Tingler, 13 Ghosts and Homicidal for Castle) gives the cast plenty to work with in terms of clever dialogue and fun plot twists.
Speaking of the cast, it probably goes without saying that Vincent Price really does steal the show here. He’s got that suave sense of menace going on that only he could bring to a role. At times both sinister and charming, it’s a part that’s perfect for his style and he makes the most of it. Supporting performances from Julie Mitchum (Robert Mitchum’s sister) and the beautiful Carol Ohmart are lots of fun as is the dashing and more heroic work from leading man Richard Long. Alan Marshal brings brains to the group while Elisha Cook Jr.’s hard drinking property owner rounds things out nicely making for a diverse group of party goers who each want the money but trust no one.
At a quick seventy-five minutes, the film is pretty lean and wastes no time at all getting right to the meat of the story. Once we’re there, a few memorable set pieces and loads of atmosphere keep us entertained throughout. The film has a bit of a reputation for being campy but there are a couple of truly creepy moments in the film that will stick with you. The low budget shines through sometimes but Castle and company do a really rock solid job with this film, a classic that never fails to entertain.
The 1.66.1 anamorphic widescreen progressive scan transfer on this DVD is quite nice. There’s unconfirmed speculation that this transfer may have been lifted from the Legend Films DVD release which came out a while back or the Warner Brothers release, both of which were nice anamorphic widescreen transfers of the film. That aside, the picture looks pretty good here, much better than many of the public domain releases that have come out over the years. Contrast is a little hot in some scenes but print damage is minimal as is edge enhancement and mpeg compression. Detail is a little smeary in some scenes but for the most part the image is good here.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono, which appears here without any alternate language dubs or subtitle options of any kind, has a few audible pops here and there and a drop out or two but for the most part is quite serviceable. The dialogue is generally pretty easy to understand and follow and the levels are properly balanced. There is some minor background hiss present in some spots but it isn't overpowering.
First up, as far as the extras go, is a segment entitled Return To The House where Johnny Legend takes us to the hill where the house once was and discusses the films of Castle and Price. Established fans won’t find much new information here but it’s a decent primer of sorts on the film and some of the other work that they did together. Legend also hosts a Carol Ohmart Profile in which he discusses the actresses work before interviewing Jack Hill, who directed her in Spider-Baby.
Up next is the Golden Age Price section, which is forty-five minutes of rare footage from Vincent Price’s appearances on the Jack Benny Show and the Red Skeleton Show which then segues into a truly bizarre rant about communism taken from The Brainwashing Of John Hayes, which was an episode of TV Reader’s Digest from 1955. None of this has anything to do with The House On Haunted Hill aside from the Price connection, but it’s kind of cool to see regardless.
Rounding out the extras is a trailer for the feature, a neat Emergo Skeleton TV spot, a few other bonus Castle TV spots, and twenty-five minutes worth of trailers for other Castle and Price films – fun stuff! Menus and chapter selection are also included.
The Final Word:
A true classic, House On Haunted Hill gets a pretty decent release from Raunchy Tonk.