House on Haunted Hill (1958) (MRA)

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Released 1-May-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Horror Menu Animation & Audio
Notes-Film Analysis
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Filmographies-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1958
Running Time 75
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By William Castle
Studio
Distributor
Allied Artists Picts
MRA Entertainment
Starring Vincent Price
Carol Ohmart
Richard Long
Alan Marshal
Carolyn Craig
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $29.95 Music Von Dexter


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.59:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Over eighteen months ago I had the dubious honour of reviewing the appalling remake of House On Haunted Hill. Shortly thereafter I had the similar honour of reviewing the original House On Haunted Hill as released by the generally lamentable Avenue One, not a pretty effort for different reasons. So when it came to reviewing the MRA Entertainment release of the same film, it seemed logical that I suffer once more. Suffer is perhaps too strong a word - but not by a whole heap.

    The story of House On Haunted Hill centres around the rather rocky marriage of Annabelle (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 - 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. One dark, dreary night sees a procession of funeral vehicles winding 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. The reward if they succeed? $10,000 each, or their proportion of the total $50,000 should not all guests survive the night. The purpose of all 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, plus the near two since I first reviewed it, the story is actually getting even more banal than it has ever seemed - even more so than when I watched it as a stoned uni student way back in the late seventies. 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?? The 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 recognisable, 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 from 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). As for continuity problems....

   As I said in the earlier reviews, sure it is B-grade schlock but at least it is definitive B-grade schlock! If you have not had your fill of such B-grade schlock recently, it is still worth a look, especially for fans of the genre as this is in many ways a real gem of 1950s B-grade horror flicks. More recent generations will probably be well advised to avoid this for fear of causing physical harm as they laugh themselves to death over the effects of the day. Just like the earlier DVD, even B-grade schlock deserves a better transfer than what this got.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Those familiar with the earlier review of the Avenue One DVD will remember that it was a two disc set, packaged in an awful pink dual case, with a Full Frame version of the film on one DVD and a widescreen version on the other. Further investigation of the matter tends to suggest that the original aspect ratio of the film was 1.85:1, which would mean that we do not have the correct aspect ratio for this transfer. This DVD features a 1.59:1 aspect ratio transfer, which might actually accord with the European release which may well have been in the 1.66:1 ratio that was favoured in Europe. Whatever ratio is correct, the transfer is not 16x9 enhanced.

    There were plenty of problems with the Avenue One DVD and it seems that the film is destined to await anyone doing a decent transfer job a while longer. This is not an especially sharp transfer and the whole thing has a flat, two dimensional look to it that goes nowhere in terms of helping the film present itself. The transfer remains a little dark and detail really is not that brilliant as a result. Indeed, shadow detail can descend to quite poor - although where the transfer itself takes over from the original film is difficult to judge. The transfer is a little murky at times and not especially clear, even though it is blessed with less grain and other problems than the Avenue One DVD. What grain still exists is, however, a tad distracting at times. Low level noise is not a significant problem here.

    One rather nasty aspect of the transfer is the fact that there is no time information encoded on the DVD. Therefore, it is not possible to provide anything but an estimation of the total running time. It also means that I cannot provide any sort of accurate guide as to where the transfer problems are located. Whilst I cannot provide specific details as to where the problems are located, a brief view will highlight what issues there are.

    This is a slightly dark transfer as indicated, which means that the blacks have a decent depth to them throughout. Unfortunately, the lack of depth to the greys and whites is simply highlighted by this fact and overall this does not come over as a great colour palette. Thankfully there is little in the way of murky greys but at times you really need a lot more grey scale definition than we find here.

    There are no significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There are however quite a few film-to-video artefacts blighting the transfer, starting right at the opening credits which display some telecine wobble. There is also a consistent shimmer throughout the transfer, notably in camera movement. This becomes more than just shimmer and becomes noticeable aliasing whenever straight lines are encountered. None of it is truly bad but the sheer consistency does wear down the enjoyment after a while. There are also plenty of film artefacts here: we get snowstorms of dirt marks, very obvious scratches and hair marks, reel change markings (which are noticeably circular, possibly indicating that this is a European sourced 1.66:1 transfer) and just about every other sort of film artefact you can think of. Whilst no more than we would probably expect in an unrestored forty four year old film, they do become quite tiresome to watch.

    This is a single layer, singled sided DVD so we don't have to worry about layer changes.

    There are no subtitle options on the DVD.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is just the sole English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack on the DVD, at the high bit rate of 448 Kb/s. It is not a very good soundtrack at all, and remains distinctly mono in the way it sounds.

    The soundtrack sounds as if it might not have had any sort of remastering done, for it fluctuates noticeably in volume throughout the film with some sections being very hard to hear. Audio sync is not an issue.

    The music score comes from Von Dexter, and a fine 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.

    Whilst the Avenue One DVD suffers from high end distortion, this effort suffers from consistent audio fluctuations with some mid range distortion. Despite the high bit rate, the soundtrack seems have a degree of congestion to it that is not at all in keeping with the sort of space that the higher bit rate usually affords sound. Overall it is just a disappointing, aged sounding effort that really is not going to tax your speaker system at all.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Well at least an effort has been made, but overall I would have hoped that more effort would have been afforded the transfers and the extras being foregone.

Menu

    Not especially great even though they do have audio and animation enhancement.

Notes - Film Analysis

    Three pages of reasonably decent notes about the film, even though they are a bugger to read owing to the shimmering going on.

Biographies - Cast and Crew

    Unfortunately restricted to only Vincent Price and William Castle, with the immortal Vincent Price getting four pages whilst the Schlockmaster gets three pages. The content is better than the Avenue One DVD, but you will need good eyes to read them as they shimmer alarmingly.

Filmographies - Cast and Crew

    Also unfortunately restricted to only Vincent Price and William Castle, and really just direct cribs off the Internet Movie Database.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There is a Region 1 release from Warners that is similar in the film presentation to the Avenue One DVD and that has basically no extras other than a trailer. It has apparently a good transfer as the reviews found for it tend to emphasise how good the video transfer looks (which is by the way 16x9 enhanced). Whilst this Region 4 effort is probably a marginally better effort overall than the Avenue One DVD, it hardly would qualify as significantly better, which would mean that the Region 1 release is probably still the preference. The further reviews found have also included one for a Roan Region 1 version of the film, presented as a double bill with The Bat. From that review there is a suggestion that it is better than the Warners DVD, thereby increasing the preference in favour of Region 1. You should note, however, that another review does suggest that the Warners transfer is better than the Roan transfer!

Summary

    House On Haunted Hill is a classic of the B-grade horror films from the 1950s and it is still my view that it is a more enjoyable film than the horrid 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.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Monday, July 22, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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