House On Haunted Hill (1958)

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Details At A Glance

Category Horror Biographies - Cast and Crew
Filmographies - Cast and Crew
Menu Audio
Note - Screen Credits
Theatrical Trailer
Year Released 1958
Running Time 74:50 minutes
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 1,2,3,4,5,6 Director William Castle
Allied Artists Pictures 
Avenue One DVD
Starring Vincent Price 
Carol Ohmart
Richard Long
Alan Marshal 
Carolyn Craig
Elisha Cook Jr
Julie Mitchum
Leona Anderson
Case Pink Dual Alpha Style
RPI $24.95 Music Von Dexter

Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.71:1 (measured)
16x9 Enhancement No
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.37:1
Macrovision ? Smoking Yes
Subtitles None Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    After reviewing the rather dire remake, it was a fairly obvious call to have me review the original version of House On Haunted Hill, especially as it is a film that I return to after a rather lengthy absence. Mind you, the last time I saw it I was somewhat stoned out of my mind and found it utterly hilarious. Unfortunately, such is the sophistication of audiences nowadays, it is a little difficult to return to these B-grade horror films without finding the amusement in them. The real concern though is that this is probably a more enjoyable film than the remake for the simple reason that it does not take itself too seriously. After all, William Castle was not called the Schlockmaster for nothing - many of his films relied upon gimmicks rather than the quality of the film to succeed. Viewed decades later and without the novelty of the gimmicks, they do lose an awful lot of their impact, which is a great pity in some respects as it would have been great to see what William Castle could do with gimmicks in these times of grossly over-hyped films that lack fundamental substance. And just how much does the remake take from this film?

    The broad story centres around the rather rocky marriage of Annabelle Loren (Carol Ohmart) and Frederick Loren (Vincent Price). Frederick wants to be rid of Annabelle (his fourth wife) but she will not go for even a million dollars, whist Annabelle really just wants the whole Frederick Loren fortune. Frederick and/or Annabelle rent the House On The Haunted Hill for a little collection of hand-picked guests, and so, one dark night, an entourage of funeral vehicles winds its way up to the House On The Haunted Hill to deposit the unsuspecting guests at the door: test pilot Lance Schroeder (Richard Long), psychiatrist David Trent (Alan Marshal), clerical worker Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig), journalist Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum) and landlord Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook Jr). What do they have in common? Money problems, apparently. Their mission, since they have no way of avoiding it, is to survive twelve hours in the House On The Haunted Hill. Their reward if they succeed? $10,000. The purpose to all of this? Well, you will just have to watch the film! Suffice it to say, imaginations run wild as the guests are confronted by the tangible evidence of ghosts, ghouls and other assorted things that go bump in the night.

    In the light of forty-odd years, the story here is actually a lot more banal than it has ever seemed. Whilst it never really amounted to much, this really is a dreadfully telegraphed story - in other words just about exactly what we would expect from a B-grade horror flick of the fifties, especially one from William Castle! He does, however, try every trick to create and sustain the horror of the film: the opening sequence for instance was quite effective for its day. A totally black screen accompanied by assorted screams, ghoulish noises and chain rattlings. Just the stuff to get a theatre full of stoned university students to add their own improvisations on the theme. At other times, the use of the black screen to hide what is going on just adds a little to the mystery - just who did get thrown into the vat of acid?? Star of the show is the legendary and immortal Vincent Price, the doyen of horror films of the post-war period thanks to one of the most recognizable, and chilling, voices ever heard on the big screen. He carries this film from go to whoa, with it has to be admitted quite decent support form the rest of the cast. Still, it is top grade B-grade horror so why should we expect better than top grade B-grade acting? The effects work is pretty ordinary by today's standards with some especially unrealistic severed heads that border on the laughable (and go way past it to a theatre full of stoned university students). And as for continuity problems...

   Sure it is B-grade schlock but at least it is definitive B-grade schlock! Worth a look to fans of the genre as this is in many ways a real gem of the 1950s B-grade horror flicks, but the post-Star Wars set should best avoid this for fear of causing physical harm as they laugh themselves to death over the effects of the day, but even B-grade schlock deserves a better transfer than what this got.

Transfer Quality


    First things first: this is a dual DVD set with a full frame version of the film on one disc and a widescreen version, with a measured aspect ratio of 1.71:1, on the other disc. I have no idea why, as even in my seriously stoned state I recall this being a 1.37:1 ratio presentation. The widescreen version just seems to be the exact same transfer matted to give it a widescreen look, with the consequent loss of detail at the top and bottom of every frame of the film. A bit pointless really and I cannot fathom why Avenue One DVD decided to waste their time going down this route. The transfers are not 16x9 enhanced. It should be pointed out that searches thus far have thwarted any definitive answer as to the original aspect ratio of the theatrical release (my drug-affected memories notwithstanding). Certainly the Region 1 version is similarly blessed with such a dual presentation. The comments made are specifically in relation to the full frame version of the film, although the sampling I made of the widescreen version indicates that it is very similar in all respects.

    This is at best a decently sharp transfer as befits a forty-odd year old film. There is no obvious loss of focus here and the whole film stands up pretty well from that point of view. It is a pity that this was not carried over to the detail aspect of the transfer, though. This is really a darkish transfer and as a result detail is in many instances lost amongst the darkness. Whilst this is partially intended, I cannot help but feel that this should have been just a little lighter in tone in order to let a bit more detail come through. As you may have guessed, shadow detail is not especially marvellous, although it does not descend into anything really bad. Unfortunately, this is not an especially clear transfer and it is blessed with copious amounts of grain at times, especially early on. There also seems to be a rather consistent problem with what appears to be low level noise in the transfer that does become just a little tiresome to watch at times.

    This is a rather unusual black and white transfer inasmuch as the blacks have quite a good solidity of tone to them but the overall transfer still lacks a lot in the way of vividness. There is certainly nothing here that descends into murky greys thankfully, but this did seem to promise a bit more vibrancy in the picture than it actually delivered.

    There are no significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer, other than some hint of loss of resolution in pan shots on a few occasions. The main problem with the transfer is the noticeable presence of film-to-video artefacts. There are some consistent problems with aliasing or shimmering in the transfer that whilst not outright ugly does just tend to draw attention to the issue. There are some quite serious cross-colouration issues, with one especially noticeable instance at 25:34. The overall effect seems to be to lurch from one problem to another when you add in the grain and noise issues: there are certainly few scenes that are not affected by one problem or another. Film artefacts are of course an issue here, but probably no more than we would expect in a forty year old film.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-to-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There is just the sole audio track on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 effort. Once again PowerDVD has indicated this to be a surround-encoded soundtrack, but my ears would dispute the fact. This would certainly seem to be a mono soundtrack tweaked up to sound distinctly left and right but with the whole lot then coming out of the centre speaker. The result is something just a little better-sounding than pure mono but nothing too dynamic and the sound effects end up pretty wimpish.

    The dialogue comes up quite well in the soundtrack, and consistently so, and there are no problems with listening to it or understanding it.

    There is no real problem with audio sync in the transfer.

    The music score comes from Von Dexter, and a great example of a totally clichéd 1950s B-grade horror film soundtrack it is, too! You have probably heard everything in this soundtrack many times before in any multitude of films. Sure, it does its job well enough, but it really is nothing memorable.

    The big problem with the soundtrack is that it suffers quite noticeably from high end distortion, so that every time a climax is reached in the music and/or effects some distortion kicks in. It is nothing really terrible but it sure is noticeable and ends up being a little annoying: good examples are at 20:36 and 62:15. Other than that, there is nothing much to report here. You can forget that impressive array of speakers that you have spent a fortune on here - they get no action at all basically and your television speakers could handle most of the work here with ease.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Well at least Avenue One DVD seem to be trying in the extras department.


    They have a nice schlocky feel to them and are blessed with some wonderfully apt audio enhancement. Unfortunately, as Michael D suspected in his spec sheet, it soon wears out its welcome - very badly too. By the end of checking out all the pages of extras I was close to throwing something heavy at my amplifier.

Biographies - Cast and Crew

    Unfortunately restricted to only Vincent Price and William Castle, and then the immortal Vincent Price gets only two pages whilst the Schlockmaster gets a far more extensive effort. The biography for William Castle is excellent but that for Vincent Price is completely inadequate.

Filmographies - Cast and Crew

    Unfortunately restricted to only Vincent Price and William Castle, and quite possibly direct cribs off the Internet Movie Database. Nonetheless, that for Vincent Price certainly demonstrates the quantity in the body of work of the man, if not necessarily the quality of it. That for William Castle is equally impressive in quantity and lack of serious quality!


    This comprises nine fairly badly colorized publicity stills and promotional material for the film (all unannotated of course) followed by eleven blatant but thankfully static adverts for other DVDs from the distributor (interestingly enough all display the old name of the company and not the new!). B-grade stuff at best.

Note - Screen Credits

    Just in case you need to know these things again and did not pick them up off the opening and/or closing credits - or cannot read the back cover blurb.

Theatrical Trailer (1:41)

    If you have already checked out the remake then you know what it looks like. You will also know that it can look a little better than here. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and has Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It suffers somewhat from cross-colouration problems.

R4 vs R1

    There is a Region 1 release from Warners that is similar in the film presentation to this effort and that has basically no extras other than a trailer. It is however presented on a single DVD and from the one review I found is an immensely better looking effort than this one - they really make specific mention of how good the video transfer is. The widescreen version of the film is also apparently 16x9 enhanced on that effort. Accordingly, despite the presence of more extras on the Region 4 release, I would have to say that the Region 1 release is the way to go if you want the best visual treat.


    House On Haunted Hill is a classic of the B-grade horror films from the 1950s and in my view is a more enjoyable film than the 1999 remake. The post Star Wars generation will probably not be able to stand the corny effects here, but those brought up on matinee films will remember a lot of stuff like this with a degree of fondness. The presentation seems a little over the top (the extras are repeated on both discs of this dual DVD release for instance), and I have to say that the quality of the extras leaves more than a little to be desired. Still, the price is relatively cheap - as is the rather ghastly pink case that this comes in - even if better can be obtained from overseas.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
3rd November 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 80cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL