The Old Dark House – William Castle and Hammer Film Productions version of an old James Whale Classic

 

It’s zany. It’s stupid. It’s bizarre. It’s both fun and funny. It’s nonsensical. It’s goofy! It’s dimwitted. It’s entertaining. It’s silly. It’s not boring. It’s a WTF kind of movie.

Were there enough keywords to trap you search engine surfers inside of William Castle and Hammer Film Productions’ 1963 version of The Old Dark House?  I hope so. And as long as you’re here, look at the trailer.

 

 

This film is quite different from the 1932 original film by James Whale, although both are billed as dark comedies. Hammer Film Productions are known for their remakes of the classic Universal Pictures monster/horror films. They took Dracula and the Frankenstein monster and put them up on screen in color for the very first time. Their remakes were more graphic and sexy. Supposedly, Hammer’s Dracula was the first time the legendary monster had fangs, inserted into the mouth of Sir Christopher Lee himself!

Sometimes these Hammer remakes worked well, other times they did not. Take the The Old Dark House for instance. Whale gave us a creepy, atmospheric movie about..uh..well, about an old, dark house. In this black and white film, shadows danced, candles flickered, people screamed, and eccentric characters behaved quite eccentric-like. It is a bizarre film. Now, remove all that fancy cinematography, add a bunch of color, but keep a houseful of eccentrics. Not the same characters, but different ones, new weirdos for a new age. Does it work? Well the film never breaks down or catches on fire or anything like that. It’s just weird in a different kind of way. The original film is like “Oh wow man, this shit is so weird and stuff! Give me another hit!” The remake is like, “Okay. This is, like, weird..and stuff. But I guess I’ll keep watching. It’s something different than anything else that’s on TV right now.”

On TV – that’s right, I saw the 1963 version of The Old Dark House on television last Saturday night on a program that I have referenced many times here at this blog – Svengoolie! With interesting trivia and fitting jokes along with a musical parody, horror host Svengoolie makes the viewing fun!

The story is as follows. Remember that older chap on the Newhart show named George Utley? If you are under the age of forty, chances are you are saying “no.” Well back in OldDarkHouseCastle21963, he was a younger chap, the young Tom Poston and he is the star of this film. He plays a car salesman by the name of Tom Penderel who is tasked with the job of delivering a car to a client who resides nightly, not daily, but nightly, at The Old Dark House. He performs his task and discovers he had no way to get home. Then a storm comes and this forces him to spend the night at this house…with several strange people!

Meet the Femm family. There are Uncle Femmes and Auntie Femmes, Cousin Femmes and Father Femmes and daughter Femmes and twin brother Femmes. It’s a wonder that the  Violent Femmes failed to make an appearance.  Any diddly doodles, it turns out that the whole family is cursed to spend every night at this old,dark house or they will lose their rights to their inheritance. The dead benefactor, some long since dead Femm guy,  had a stipulation in his will that each possible inheritor would forfeit his/her inheritance if they did not return to the house before midnight each and every night. Finally, someone gets sick of this arrangement and plans a night of murder and mayhem. Murder all those other people so that, when all is said and done, only one person will be left alive – the murderer, and since that last person will then be the sole inheritor, know more of that “return to the house” long before midnight business! And wouldn’t you know it, this all plays out on the same night that the innocent Tom  gets stranded at this house? As Led Zeppelin said, Poor Tom.  

What ensues in a good ol’ fashion game of Clue. Is the killer that weird uncle that keeps zoo animals locked away in case another biblical flood occurs? It the killer that weird old mother that knits knits knits in pursuit of a finished product that can be measured in miles? Who knows. But murder is afoot. A person will be found with long needles rammed through the neck, and the laughs keep on coming!

Let’s see, what to the professional reviewers think of this flick. Oh no, on imdb it averages 5.4 out of 10 stars. While there are no critical ratings at rottentomatoes.com the average  audience reviews comes in at a mere 17%. On the other hand, the original flick stands at 7.1 out of 10 stars at imdb and comes in at a 100% rating among critics on rottentomatoes, with an audience favorability rating of 72%)

Let’s forgive this remake though, shall we? It means no harm. It’s trying its best to have fun. And it is fun. Stupid, but fun. It’s not a great movie. It’s not even a good movie. It’s not really a haunted house film either but I am featuring it here at this blog to compare it with the original, which I have reviewed here. While the original really doesn’t have the ghostly elements of a haunted house movie either, it has the mood and atmosphere and is both dark and spooky while absurdly funny. 

Oh just go ahead and give it a looksie and don’t take it seriously. Who knows, you might have fun with it.

 

 

13 Ghosts/1960 Vs. Thir13en Ghosts/2001 – Which Film Wins?

13GhostsSvenInterrogation time! Where were YOU the night of October 27, 2018?  If you had any sense, you would have been snugly wrapped in a blanket on your sofa with your TV tuned to MeTV. That Saturday night in question, Svengoolie, America’s beloved comedic horror movie host, was showing William Castle’s entertaining movie 13 Ghosts.  I’ve brought up Svengoolie several times at this blog. Several of the classic haunted house films I’ve reviewed I first saw on his show, including The Uninvited , The Ghost and Mr. Chicken , Hold that Ghost, and several  more. But of course you know that, since you are a regular visitor of his page, isn’t  that correct, reader? (The interrogation  continues!)

Truth be told, I don’t always have the kind of sense I called for in the preceding  paragraph. I did not tune into Svengoolie on the date in question. I was at a Halloween  party . But us folks in the Chicago area get to watch a rerun of his show the following week on Saturday  morning. It was at this time that I turned on Svengoolie and watched 13 Ghosts. I had  already seen the movie and had written about it (See 13 Ghosts review)but it was worth a revisit. Especially  since I am writing about it once again.

During the show, Svengoolie brought up the 2001 remake  of the movie. He showed  viewers  a promo picture  from the film and invited his audience to check it out, mentioning something  positive  about it, but I can’t remember his exact words. Is this modern incarnation, titled  Thir13en Ghosts (note the unique spelling!) worthy of his praise? I say  “no”, but who am I? And Sven is too nice, in my opinion, to trash anyone’s work.

Here is a synopsis that can be applied to both films. A father/patriarch is having serious trouble making ends meet. In a stroke of timely luck, his long lost Uncle passes away (whoopie! Yay!) and Dad inherits a mansion. He can move his family into the new home. Oh but there is a “catch”, or several “catches” – The dead uncle was a collector of ghosts and these apparitions come with the new  house. He caught them from various  places around the world. Either eleven or twelve  ghosts inhabit the house  depending on the version of the movie (this discrepancy will be explained  later). By and large, these ghosts are invisible, but the dear old dead uncle discovered a way to make these ghosts more sightly. He developed these special glasses that, when worn, allow the mundane living human being to see these scary phantoms.

Now, I have mentioned that the number of ghosts range  from 11-12. So, why are these films called “13 Ghosts/Thir13en Ghosts?”  It is the thirteenth ghost that spawns the mystery of these films.  There is “the prediction” that “there will be” a thirteenth ghost by each film’s end. Whether this prediction comes true varies with each film.

So, what are the differences between the films? On the one hand we have an old fashioned,  kooky  film with an old school Leave it to Beaver type family with a Ward Cleaver type of dad, a housewife mother, and teenage daughter and curious little boy.  On the other, we have a modern  family, with a widower raising his young boy and teenage daughter with the help of a sassy African American babysitter. The ghosts in the original film are cartoon animations superimposed on the screen. The ghosts in the remake  film are actors made over in ghoulish and gore-ridden get ups. The second  film has state of the art production . Not so with the first film. The original  movie was shot in black and white, the modern in color. Finally, the 1960  flick uses that old fashion ghostly groan that grandpa might use to scare his grandchildren (ooooooooooo! Groooooooan) and the 2001  movie shows viewers a lot of state-of-the-art blood and guts.

These are just some of the differences between  the films. Let’s go further and get into the nuts and bolts of plot and style. Once we do so, we will see that these are two very different films.


13 Ghosts (1960)

WARNING: SPOILERS ARE COMING!

As previously mentioned, both movies feature a special  pair of glasses that allow its characters to see the ghosts. But it was the  original  film that gave the movie audience the same opportunity. Back in the day, theater  attendees  were given a “ghost viewer.” It had two lenses, on blue and one red. Periodically, the screen would turn blue. This was an indication that ghosts  were about to appear on the screen. Or were they? See (or not to see), the film begins with a short commentary spoken by Director William Castle.  He speaks to the audience  members  that do not believe  in ghosts and tells them to look  through  the blue lens. When doing so, they would not see any ghosts. However, he instructs those moviegoers who do believe in ghosts to gaze through  the red lens. They would see the ghosts. So basically,  the audience had to look through the red lens to see the ghosts that haunted the house in the film.

Here is the intro to the film:

This whole nifty  ghost-viewing experience  was the main point of this film. It was a kind of audience  participatory art form, and of course, a marketing  gimmick, for which William Castle was the master. The plot takes second place to this. But it’s not such a terrible plot! It’s not all that great either, but….hey! The film has ghosts! Boo! Yay!

Benjamin Rush, the attorney for the late Plato Zorba, the Dead Uncle who bequeathed his estate to his nephew,  takes care of the property transfer and brings  the nephew and his family into their newly inherited home. He warns them about the ghosts but the family doesn’t believe him…until they witness the ghostly activities for themselves. Objects move 13GhostsGhosts on their own accord. Through the special glasses, they see the ghosts. Quite the variety these specters are! There is an Italian chef that likes to toss knives around in the kitchen. There is a ghostly lion that comes equipped with a headless lion tamer. There’s a fiery skeleton and many others.  As to the whys and wherefores regarding Plato Zorba’s collection (just what in the heck did he want to do with these ghosts?), the details are unclear as the movie never fully explains this. But never mind, remember: plot is second to the ghost-viewer gimmick.

The family treats these ghosts as a nuisance, albeit a dangerous annoyance. But what can they do? They have nowhere else to go, so they are forced to put up with Uncle Zorba’s collection of eleven ghosts. Ah, but there is another ghost in the house. It is the spirit of Uncle Zorba himself. It is revealed that ghosts remain on earth when they have unfinished business. Plato Zorba certainly has some loose ends that need tying. For one thing, he didn’t just die, he was murdered! He needs his revenge. The murderer is to be “the 13th Ghost”  He or she will die in this house. Now who could it be?

As it turns out, Dear ol’ dead Uncle Zorba left an enormous amount of cash behind. It is hidden somewhere in the house. The murderer wanted the money. And s/he is still hunting for it. Could the murder be the spooky ol’ witchy maid?  She too comes with the house. 13GhostsGhosts2And she is played by Margaret Hamilton, most famous for her portrayal of The Wicked Witch of the West in The W izard of Oz.  She leads a séance at one point as the family tries to contact the spirit of Uncle Zorba. A prime suspect, don’t you think?  If you think so, you are wrong. It is the lawyer, Benjamin Rush, who is the murderous villain. And he will get what’s coming to him. No, not the money. He will die in the house and become the 13th ghost.

In the end, the family finds the money and they are happy. Uncle Zorba is no longer earthbound, since he has his revenge. From that point on, the house is clean of ghosts. Why the rest of the ghosts pass on is anyone’s guess. Remember: Ghosts before plot. Keep repeating that: Ghosts before plot -Ghosts before plot -Ghosts before plot -Ghosts before plot.


Thir13en Ghosts – 2001

WARNING: SPOILERS ARE COMING!

The ghost hunter, a.k.a the rich uncle, goes by the name of Cyrus Kriticos in this movie, which begins not with the family that is about to inherit his house, but instead kicks off by showing the great extremes to which Cyrus and his team of merry ghost hunters go to in order to capture a ghost. Cyrus is not dead yet, but he will be after the ensuing carnage (Or will he be?).  This carnage take place in a junkyard. This ghost is like a wild animal and he resists the hunt. There are explosions, shouts, zaps, flashing lights, giant walls of cars that come tumbling down. In the end, the ghost is caught. But oh no, Cyrus dies in the aftermath of the hunt. (Or does he?)

Arthur is the down on his luck nephew. Just like in the original film, a lawyer by the name of Ben informs Arthur that his Uncle Cyrus has died and that he has inherited his house and all his wealth. Yay!  Arthur moves his family to the new home, and what a home it is!  It resembles the kind of structure Indiana Jones might encounter – there are chambers and hallways everywhere and they are separated by glass panels that open and close via a machine involving wheels, gears and levers.  Lawyer Ben is there to show them around, to get final papers signed, etc.  Oh yeah, there’s this annoying “Dennis” dude there as well. He is posing as a power company inspector, but he is really an “empath” that is super sensitive to the presence of ghosts (he screams ever so  annoyingly when he encounters them). He used to work for Cyrus and he is there to warn the family of the 12 ghosts that haunt the house.

The ghosts are locked in glass wall prison cells down in the basement. There are phrases written in Latin inscribed on the glass panels which, due to some kind of magic, act as barriers and prevents these ghosts from passing through the glass. Now, remember how I mentioned that in the original film, there were sacks of cash hidden in the house that the lawyer wanted to steal? That was a major plot point that moved the story toward its finality. Well in this movie, the cash is also there and Lawyer Ben wants it just as much as Lawyer Ben in the original film, but this is a mere subplot that gets resolved in the first 30 minutes. Ben wanders to the basement, finds the cash while inadvertently striking some lever or button which releases the ghosts from their prison cells.. He meets a quick end when a sheet of glass slides down from the ceiling and cuts him in half. Bye Ben, your screen time is done.

Meanwhile, the house seals itself off and the occupants are trapped inside. Annoying Dennis explains that “this isn’t a house, it is a machine”. It was designed for a grand ritual that will take place at the movie’s end. The ritual involves a spinning platform, shifting walls and panels, ghosts and so much more – oh my! The family ends up in the basement, and the horrific looking ghosts chase them, fight them, and kill poor Dennis.  And guess what? Uncle Cyrus is there too! No, he’s not a ghost – he never died! He had faked his death for some very nefarious reasons.

Uncle Cyrus wants his nephew to be the 13th Ghost. Now why does he want something like that to happen? Well, it’s all part of a plan. As an occultist, he follows the Black Zodiac. The 12 Ghosts represent each Zodiac sign, which is vastly different from the signs we learned from astrology. Instead of Pisces the fish and Taurus the bull, the black Zodiac gives us Torso , a ghost with missing legs, or The Angry Princess – the ghost of a young woman who commits suicide. All 12  are needed, plus one more – in order to open the gates of Hell, or achieve some sort of hellish power. The 13th ghost must come from 13Ghosts2ndMovieGhost2someone who is willing to sacrifice his life for the love of others. And so…..at the end, all 12 Ghosts are lined up obediently on the edges of a spinning circular platform.  Arthur’s children are caged in the middle of the circle. To free them, Arthur must sacrifice himself.  Gears are turning, walls are shifting.

But this ritual fails in the end. Cyrus dies, the children are freed, huggies and kissie for everyone, and the maid ends the movie on a sassy note, saying something to the effect of “I don’t get paid for this shit! Dealing with all these ghosts, I quit!”  Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!! Let’s laugh again,  Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!!


What “those other” folks might say

So, which film is better? For me it’s the classic William Castle version. But many will disagree. I have seen a comment somewhere out there in Internet Land that the original film “hasn’t aged well.”  I’m guessing many viewers agree. I suppose the superimposed cartoon-style ghosts look too silly for modern viewers. There are scenes where objects float in the air, and yes, this type of antic is used in many comedy films such as Abbott and Costello Meet (Whoever). In other words it looks more funny than scary, and 13 Ghosts was never intended to be a comedy.  Perhaps the family that is at the center of the plot is too hokey with their “Leave it to Beaver” style camaraderie and their unrealistic reactions to the situation. They treat the whole affair as if their house was infested with insects instead of ghosts.

13Ghosts2ndMovieGhostThe modern film moves faster, that’s for sure. Its ghosts look more deadly, more real.  It is filled with non-stop action and a whole lot of pizzazz. Many viewers like this sort of thing and so it would be the second film that strikes their fancy. Filmed in high tech color with bright red blood, it is more entertaining for hue-spongy eyes than a screen of “dull” black, whites and grays.

Here’s what I say!

Sure the original film is hokey, as are most William Castle films to some degree. But gosh darn it, it is a fun film, just like Castle’s “House on Haunted Hill” is a fun but hokey film! I didn’t mind the dated technology that made these ghosts possible. Cartoonish – yes. Scary – for me, a little bit! Although today’s viewers, myself included, are deprived of what Castle called “The Illusion-O Effect” (wearing the glasses to see the ghosts on the screen), I still like the concept. What a fun and creative way to promote and deliver a movie! I’m not saying that 13 Ghosts is a great film, but it is good. And it’s fun!

Now how about this 2001 remake? I was annoyed at the very beginning and this annoyance progressed like a building headache. Too much motion, too much action, too many flashing lights, too much damn noise – all within the first few minutes. This trend continues with the “machine house” and its jump-scare ghosts. While they look gory and scary, they are always accompanied by flashing lights and loud jolting noises. Watching this film is like being inside a pinball that crashes against bumpers and lighted alarms as it travels the downward slope toward the gutter. I don’t want be trapped in a pinball machine when I watch a movie.

In my review of the modern House on Haunting Hill film, I am a bit forgving for its excessive flare and over-the-top style. One of the reasons for my pardon is that the film is a remake of a movie that was never intended to be a cinematic masterpiece, so any deviations from the original style are not that unwelcoming. In the end, both films were exercises in entertainment and do not take things seriously. Does Thir13en Ghosts 2001 take itself seriously? No.  Is the original film a cinematic masterpiece. Definitely not. So I should apply the same standards for this critique, right? Answer – NO!  If the modern film had turned down the noise, did away with a third of the flashes, and just slowed the fuck down, then maybe I could enjoy it better for what it is – a jump-scare, special effects extravaganza, which is not necessarily a bad thing when done right. But here it is done wrong. Too much, too much, too much!

There is one scene that moves at an appropriate pace. A teenage girl is in the bathroom and she calmly reflects in the mirror. The ghost of The Angry Princess stands next her but goes unseen (teenage girl is not wearing her ghost viewing glasses). The ghost does not like what the mirror shows her. She sees a disfigured face. In the bathtub, the teenager refreshes herself with clear, cool water. The Princess sees only a tub of blood. This scene, while bloody and gory, is good. It allows the viewers to feel something, to absorb some of the story. If only the rest of the film was like this.

As for the plot, I enjoy the simple story of the original movie.. I don’t know why these modern remakes insist upon explaining the hauntings with over complicated plot devices. A machine house designed to somehow extract “something” from 12 spirits that will somehow unlock some dark secret power, all by using machinery with a design that would stump the greatest of engineers – this is just absurd and I would rather have the cartoon ghosts just appearing here and there to say “boo!”

Here is how I grade these two films:

13 Ghosts (1960) – C+
Thir13en Ghosts – 2001 – F

Now, let’s see how Rottentomatoes.com scores these films:

13 Ghosts (1960) – Critics Score: 36% / Audience Score: 41%

Thir13en Ghosts (2001) – Critics Score: 15% / Audience Score: 48%

While both the critics and the audience give low scores to both films, the audiences tend to favor the modern version over the original. For the critics, it is the opposite. I guess it’s “the audiences” that might agree with what I wrote in the section “What “those other” folks might say” while maybe the critics would agree with what I wrote in the section “Here’s what I say!’

If you have not seen these films, go ahead and do so, compare them, and make up your own mind as to which film is better.


 

And so, this article ends my October theme: Classic Haunted House Movies and Their Remakes – Just How Bad are These Modern Modifications? As predicted by the biased article title, I ended up enjoying the classics more than the remakes in all three cases. But some of the remakes weren’t super duper bad. Thir13en Ghosts was that bad though. I’ll let Juliette Lewis say it:

Review of 13 Ghosts

William Castle – what a fun guy, dontcha’ think? When I first reported on him, he was fixing it so that a skeleton would “emerge from the movie screen” and float over Ghost1  the heads of seated viewers. He called this the “Emergo” effect. The other night I decided to check in on Mr. Castle and see if he had done anything similar since then. Wouldn’t you know it? About a year after his emerging skeleton, he imbued movie goers with the ability to see ghosts. This effect he labelled “Illusion-O.”

The House on Haunted Hill is the second haunted house film that I reviewed. In that review, I describe how Castle, a great mastermind of publicity stunts , had distributed skeletons to movie houses that ran his film, instructing the theater operators to rig them up on downward angled wires so that they would Ghost2appear to float over the heads of movie goers during the pivotal scene where the skeletal remains of Vincent Price rise out of a vat of acid (allegedly!). Cool huh?   But his cool gimmicks did not stop there. They went on, film after film. When movie attendees went to the theater to see his 1960 film 13 Ghosts, they were given a “ghost viewer” which allowed them to see the same ghosts that the film’s main character saw when he put on specially designed glasses. In both Ghost3movies, the audience had a share of the scares that were inflicted upon the characters of the movie. With Castle, film became a platform for participatory art.

Before the film begins, William Castle appears on the screen. He is behind a desk in an office. A skeleton is taking dictation. He speaks to the audience and refers them to   Ghost4their ghost viewers. He explains that at certain times throughout the movie the screen will turn blue (remember, this is a black and white picture). When this happens, the audience is to hold the viewer in front of their face. Castle demonstrates with a ghost viewer of his own. The top of the viewer has a blue-tinted lens and the bottom part has a lens tinted in red.

Castle then says,

“If you believe in ghosts, you look through the red part of the viewer. If you do not believe in ghosts you look through the blue part.”

Ghost5                Ghost6           Ghost7

Obviously, the ghosts in the movie only appeared when one was looking through the red lens. Since the screen turned blue whenever the ghosts were featured, the ghosts became camouflaged when viewing the screen through the blue lens. Now, what happened when someone ignored the ghost viewer altogether and looked at the screen with his/her naked eyes? Did the ghosts appear? I have no idea. Being born in 1971 prevented me from witnessing this 1960 theatrical attraction. I can only assume that they did not. However, I can say that a ghost viewer is no longer required to see the ghosts of this film. They materialize in a fiery red tint. The screen Ghost8still turns blue as a caption appears at the bottom of the screen that reads “User Viewer.” But the naked eye is the only tool needed to see these creepy albeit cartoonish phantoms.

So, what’s this movie about anyway? The Zorba family is having trouble making ends meet. The repo people have come for their furniture. Poor Zorbas – forced to eat dinner on the floor!   Ghost9However their luck suddenly changes. (Or has it?) Patriarch Cyrus Zorba is informed that he has inherited a house (and a furnished house at that!) from his dearly departed uncle. So he moves in with his wife Hilda, his twenty-something daughter Maeda and prepubescent son Arthur. There is a caveat to this deal. The lawyer that handles the transaction warns the family that along with the house and furnishings, they have also inherited eleven ghosts. See, long before the formation of The Ghostbusters, there was good ol Uncle Zorba, who was able to capture ghosts Ghost10from around the world and then “store them” in the house. Uncle Zorba dies, presumably by foul play. His ghost remains behind, so in effect, the family has inherited twelve ghosts. Why then is this film called 13 Ghosts?   Because, legend has it that Uncle Zorba is going to seek revenge on the one who killed him. If he succeeds, this will raise the count to thirteen. Does this vengeful killing occur before the end of the movie? Watch it and find out!

Oh yeah, there is another “thing” of interest the family inherits. Well it’s not really a “thing” but a person (see how I put “thing” in quotes in the previous sentence? See?). They inherit a maid and low and behold, she is played by no other than Margaret Hamilton who is best known for playing the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. In fact, throughout the movie, little Arthur Zorba refers to her as a witch. Do you think the scriptwriters did this intentionally to pay homage to her famous role? Of course they did!

Let’s see, what else can I say about this movie? I will describe it this way – imagine if Rod Serling became the writer for Leave it to Beaver. 13 Ghosts might be an example of the end product. The father wears his Mr. Rogers sweater over his white Ghost11collared shirt. The mother has an overly rigid hairdo that is very fitting for the June Cleaver type. The little boy who, although he never says it, has “golly gee” written all over his young, curious face. While there is no older brother named Wally, there is the older sister named Maeda. She is prettier than Wally, so I like her better. As they go about behaving like the average 1960 television family, they are accosted by ghosts. A meat cleaver flies into the air and just misses Ward Cleaver Cyrus Zorba. The Beaver Arthur witnesses a ghostly lion-tamer lose his head inside a ghostly lion. Surprisingly, he’s not really freaked out by this. Rather, he seems in awe and he tells his mother. June Cleaver Hilda Zorba responds with a “that’s’ nice, dear” – Ghost12or..something along those lines. In her defense, when Beaver Arthur comes to her with this story, she is preoccupied with making dinner, or doing some kind of kitchen work – you know, the things the mothers of television did back in 1960.

Okay, I’m having too good of a time poking fun at this movie. But the truth is – I love this movie! I love the Zorba family and the haunted house they lived in. I love the cheesy ghosts. And Ghost13even though I did not get to use the “ghost viewer”, I love that whole concept.

And I love you, William Castle. R.I.P. I look forward to one day seeing all the clever antics you have going on up there in the heavens!

Review of The House on Haunted Hill – 1959

Imagine this: you are seated in a modern movie theater, enjoying the final minutes of a horror film. The screen is huge and captivating. The speakers fill the auditorium with amazing surround sound. Suddenly, a plastic skeleton strung up on a wire floats over everyone’s head. WTF?

This is what happened when movie goers went to the theater to see William Castle’s “The House on Haunted Hill” back in 1959. Castle called this “Emergo” – a special effect set up to make it seem as if something emerges from the screen. This Emergo effect occurred during a pivotal scene where a skeleton rises up from a vat of acid. With the Emergo in place, the skeleton not only escapes from the vat but from the movie itself.

Maybe this stunt was more fitting in 1959 when theaters were low-tech, at least when compared to today’s cinematic powerhouses. Even then, Castle’s in-house skeleton received laughter, not to mention chunks of tossed popcorn and Milk Duds. But you have to admit, a gravity propelled skeleton on a downward angled wire sounds like a lot of fun!

This skeleton that rises out of the vat of acid at the film’s end – this is the whole point of the film. William Castle envisioned this and then later had someone figure out a story to support this “uplifting” skeleton scene!

Speaking of the plot, what is it? The themes and storylines are all too familiar to today’s horror film enthusiast. You’ve seen it all before in follow up films – a group of people must spend the night in a haunted house. There’s the “damsel in distress” that receives the brunt of the horrors, the young hero-type guy who comes to her aid, the skeptical psychiatrist who’s not quite young or handsome enough to be the hero type, the annoying scaredy-cat guy that needs to keep reminding the house guests (and viewers) of the possible ghosts that lurk just around the corner, and the middle age journalist lady who’s…I don’t know, she’s just there. Then there’s the household staff that resembles walking corpses. The guests continually separate – you know the drill.

To all this I say – put aside the modern day bias and try not to get bogged down with the familiar formula and just enjoy the film. Captivate yourselves with the fine performance from the villainous Vincent Price who plays Frederick Loren, the host of this party, who will pay each guest $10,000 for spending the night in the haunted house. Watch as he goes at it with his fourth wife Annabelle. Both want the other dead. There will be attempted murders – this is a mystery film set inside a haunted house. Allow yourselves to be taken in by the mystery. Because for God’s sake, you cannot write off a film that stars Vincent Price! Furthermore, anyone that is fond of horror films is prohibited from disliking a movie where a skeleton rises out of a vat of acid. This just is not allowed.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Castle

http://pasttense.kinja.com/emergo-the-re-emergence-of-the-classic-50s-fright-film-1653305821