House On Haunted Hill, 1959. 8/10

I first saw House on Haunted Hill as a kid. It took me a long time to shake its spooky feeling, convinced as I was that certain elements (Price’s wife appearing at Nora’s window, the rope curling around Nora’s feet) could not have been faked.

OK, so it’s just a movie, and those incidents were faked. Anyway, having seen it a few times recently, I’m intrigued by the plot. Price’s character running the show; he runs two shows really: the ghost gambit with his guests,and the murder mystery. It’s impossible to know what he’s really up to until the last few scenes in the cellar.

It’s established early on that Price and his wife can’t stand each other; Price mimics shooting her with a candlestick. Still, the murder mystery lurks in the background while the ghostly presences manifest themselves.

We are left wondering–who/what is behind these machinations: Price? Pritchard? Price’s wife? or, are they supposed to actually occur of their own volition? The revelations at the end bring both plots together.

The only loose end is Pritchard. He frames the movie by introducing the characters and plot, and summing it up when it’s played out. But he’s really in his own world; he fits into the atmosphere of the house, even as he’s repelled by it. He also establishes that none of the characters are what they seem to be. The guests are all needy/greedy. Nora has the most legitimate reason for wanting the money, but she’s soon manipulated to the point that she becomes an hysterical loose cannon.

The movie never lets us off the hook; will murders continue at the house? Since Pritchard owns the place, he should be the best informed. Obviously, like all the other characters, he’s not a reliable witness either. This leaves the question: who’s story is it? In other words, does the murder mystery explain everything else, or are we to believe that Pritchard’s world of ghosts is the arbiter of fate?

Even after all these years, and being a bit more skeptical than Pritchard, the caretaker’s wife still scares me, and Price’s genteel ghoulishness remains disarming. 8/10.

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