Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) is a multi-millionaire eccentric who rents the mansion on Haunted Hill for a "haunted house" party for his 4th wife, Annabelle (Carol Ohmart). Seven murders have been committed in the house, and Loren invites five people to stay the night. If they can survive, each one will receive $10,000. Guests are given loaded pistols as party favors and protection. One of them says, "These guns are no good against the dead. Only the living."
The film's opening lines are by the mansion's owner, Watson Pritchard: "The ghosts are moving tonight, restless...hungry. May I introduce myself? I'm Watson Pritchard. In just a moment I'll show you the only really haunted house in the world. Since it was built a century ago, seven people including my brother have been murdered in it. Since then, I've owned the house. I only spent one night then and when they found me in the morning, I...I was almost dead."
The guests are: Lance Schroeder (Richard long), a pilot; Ruth Bridgers (Julie Mitchum), a journalist; Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook Jr.), owner of the mansion; Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig), an employee in one of Loren's companies; and Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal), a psychiatrist.
Frederick Loren tells them, "Once, the door is locked, there is no way out. The windows have bars the jail would be proud of and the only door to the outside locks like a vault." At midnight the doors are locked by the caretakers Jonas Slydes (Howard Hoffman) and Mrs. Slydes (Leona Anderson). The horror and fun begins. This movie is deadly serious and scary at times, and a fun fright film at other times. Mr. and Mrs. Loren detest each other and Frederick tells her, "Of all my wives, you're the least agreeable."
Frederick: "Don't let the ghosts and the ghouls disturb you, love."
Annabelle: "Darling, the only ghoul in the house is you!"
Frederick: "Do you remember the fun we had when you poisoned me?"
Annabelle: (laughs) "Something you ate, the doctor said."
Frederick: "Yes, arsenic on the rocks."
Frederick: "Annabelle, you'd do it again if you thought you'd get away with it, wouldn't you?"
Pritchard pulls a knife out of a drawer and brandishes it at the other guests: "This is what she used on my brother and her sister...Hacked 'em to pieces. We found parts of the bodies scattered all over the house. Funny thing is, the heads were never found. Hands, feet...things like that, but no heads."
Lance: "You mean there's two heads just floating around here?"
Pritchard: "You can hear them at night. They whisper to each other."
There is a surprise twist ending. The psychiatrist is having a secret affair with Annabelle, who fakes her death. Nora shoots Frederick, who almost falls into an acid bath in the dungeon. The doctor is dumped in the acid vat, a skeleton rises from the vat and pushes Annabelle into the acid. It turns out Frederick was manipulating the skeleton with a marionette contraption and says he's ready to face justice. Pritchard gets in the last word and says the house has claimed two more victims and anyone could be next, even you.
William Castle directed. He is famous for his movie theatre gimmicks. In the TINGLER (1959), he used "Percepto" with electrical buzzers under some seats. For HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, Castle used "Emergo", with a lighted plastic skeleton flying over the movie audience when a skeleton appears on the movie screen. I have experienced "Emergo" in a theatre. It was an interesting gimmick, but I could see the supporting wires, and it was amusing rather than frightening - although it did intensify the spooky mood established by the film.
The house in the film is the Ennis Brown House in L.A., designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1924. Von Dexter composed the music. Robb White wrote the script. William Castle produced and directed. This B-grade schlock film has fallen into the public domain.
As a child I met Vincent Price in the wealthiest area of Toronto. He was out walking two enormous dogs, the size of ponies. He behaved exactly like a character from one of his horror movies, with eyes that were almost telepathic when he looked at me. Evidently he was entertaining me, and did not want to disappoint me by being charming, nice, and different from his film persona.
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1999) the remake stars Geoffrey Rush as Stephen H. Price, a wealthy amusement park tycoon. He throws a birthday party for his wife Evelyn Stockard-Price (Famke Janssen) in a haunted former sanitarium. Five strangers are offered $1 million each if they can survive the night in the locked-up building. Rush gives a good performance that suggests Vincent Price. There is far too much obscene language and the tamest quotes I can offer are: "God dammit! Give me my God damn check right now!" and "I lied. The house is alive. We're all gonna die." The movie is no fun at all, and there are too many boring, monotonous special effects - presumably off the Industrial Light & Magic assembly line.