An eccentric millionaire invites five complete strangers to a gathering in a haunted mansion, infamous as the site of several murders in its 100-year history. The bait: anyone who manages to stay all night will be rewarded with $10,000–or their survivors will get the money, should they fall prey to the tormented spirits of the house’s previous victims. Of course, anyone offering that much incentive (it’s somewhere north of $720,000 in 2010 money) must have an ulterior motive, and our host’s is the darkest motive of all: murder.
In preparation for the Peril on the Screen challenge, we’ve piled up a half-dozen or so Vincent Price movies. I first thought to watch them all back-to-back today; averaging under 90 minutes apiece, it would long, but do-able. However, having just watched the first, I’m going to opt for Plan B: one classic Vincent Price horror flick a week for the duration of the RIP V Challenge. The same things that make me nostalgic for Price movies (the camp, the cheese, the scenery-chewing), make them best enjoyed in small doses.
Today’s selection was The House on Haunted Hill (1959), and oh my, was it a cheese-fest! Before we started it, we had some discussion about the difference between “camp” and “cheese”, as they relate to B-grade horror movies, and this movie drew the line for us perfectly. The credits were all camp: knowingly over the top with their melodramatic pronouncements of doom. The film itself was pure cheese, as the whole cast played their ridiculous roles with perfect sincerity. Even Vincent intoned his speeches, dripping though they were with delicious melted cheddar, in a deadly serious manner. It was a delight.
There were a couple of gotcha! moments that made me jump, but the movie never worked up a real sense of dread, and the ‘ghastly’ props inspired more giggles than shrieks. The movie makes the mistake of trying to explain a few of its manifestations, poorly. For instance: okay, so the ghoulish woman who pops up behind the ingénue in the cellar a few times is actually the caretaker’s blind wife–that explains how and why she was bumping around in the dark, but not why the hero didn’t see her when he must have walked right past her–nor why she was moving as though strapped to a Roomba, her hands held up before her in grasping claws. Nor, for that matter, why she had no reaction to the heroine’s brain-clawing shrieks every time she appeared.
In an effort to keep the audience guessing, the plot all but ties itself in knots; the lapses in logic grow larger with every new revelation. But no matter: we don’t watch these things for the lucidity of their plots. We watch them for the gasp and the giggle, and most of all for Vincent Price’s inimitable screen presence. This movie is packed with all of them, so by all means, give it a spin.