House On Haunted Hill (1959)
As the summer slowly starts to come to a close, and the weather begins to cool, you'll notice I am going to get more and more excited for Halloween. I think you'll see Hollywood getting ready for Halloween too. The months of August through October are prime years for the genre and it is one of my favorite times of the year. Many people may think the horror genre is too scary or that it is too gory or exploited. I disagree completely. I think the horror genre is good for exercising our inner demons, but it is more than that too. The horror genre is important, that's right important. The horror genre is possibly the only genre that studies us a culture and a society. If you look at every decade and look at the horror movies released during those decades, they are a comment on the social issues of that era. They confirm or challenge the beliefs of those years, and I have never seen a more specific study on film.
I believe "House on Haunted Hill" is a classic of the genre. There are parts that are silly and campy, but there are also moments of thrill and elements that disturb. It is one of the earliest and best examples of the haunted house movie, a sub-genre that I think is making a big comeback now. The movie features the wonderful Vincent Price, the 50's generation Bela Lugosi or Robert Englund. He is outrageous in this movie, he has a mysterious gaze, iconic voice and stern stature. But despite Price, there is still loads of fun to be had.
The idea for the film is pretty simple. A group of people are invited a rich mans house for a party. The house they are invited to is said to be haunted. If person in the group makes until the next day, they will be paid $10,000 for their participation. (May not seem like a lot by today's standards, but remember, this is a '50's film.) The party begins in the early evening, allowing any of the party-goers to leave whenever, but once midnight strikes, the party-goers are locked in for the night. Vincent Price plays Fredrick Loren, the millionaire who throws the party, and there is a very specific reason for throwing that party, which revolves around his fourth wife.
One thing that I love about "House on Haunted Hill" is that its surprisingly smart. I think audiences will really be shocked at how effective the film's twists and turns are. There are plenty of double-crossings and plot sucker-punches to keep the audience more than interested. All the actors involved throw themselves into this cheap thrills film. The result is something to marvel at. Even though the movie possesses the will to shock, there is still lots of fun to be had with "House on Haunted Hill."
Yes, there is also real world parallels. As characters begin to die, it pretty evident that someone is involved with the murders. There is also one woman who witnesses strange happenings around the haunted mansion. Of course, in true Hollywood fashion, nobody believes her. The paranoia is one of the film's biggest pieces of muscle that drives the film home. If we look at the 1950's, it was in the heart of the Cold War, a period of time where paranoia was rapid. Where there could have been communists living next to us as neighbors. A general mistrust became commonplace in the American world, a world view that has re-emerged since 9/11. The movie captures that since of paranoia very well, and I give the movie tons of credit for it.
This is only the beginning of revving my engine for the horror movie season, I hope you have as much fun as I am!