11/25/07

RVOD008 House on Haunted Hill

(1959, Horror, colorized)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson

Give her ten minutes, and she’ll have this room completely looked at.

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:

An eccentric millionaire throws a murderous party in a haunted house.

Summary:

Haunted by Mike Nelson's disembodied head.A pair of floating disembodied heads opens the film. The first belongs to strange, nobbly little man named Pritchard, who declares that he has inherited a mansion where the spirits often drive the inhabitants to murder. The second belongs to eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren (Vincent Price), who says that his wife has asked for a haunted house party, and rented Pritchard’s ghost-infested manor for the purpose.

The guest list is as follows: a test pilot named Lance; a secretary named Nora; a journalist named Ruth; a psychiatrist named Dr. Trent; and finally Pritchard himself, who has not set foot in the house since the murder/suicide of the rest of his family many years ago. None of the above knows Mr. Loren personally, and none of them knows the other until they meet at the beginning of the party. They’re there because they’re all desperate for money, and Loren has promised them $10k a piece if they last the night.

Loren and his lovely young trophy wife Annabelle are in attendance too; some pre-celebration exposition alerts us to how much they loathe each other, each one wishing the other was dead. The party kicks off with a rambling tour given by the only marginally sane Pritchard, showing off the various bloodstains and acid pits. Secret passage shenanigans get Lance clubbed in the head while a spooky caretaker frightens Nora out of her wits. Nora wants to leave, money or no, but when Loren tries to give everyone their last chance to leave for the night, he discovers the caretakers have gone home and locked them in early.

Haunted by Vincent Price's devilish eyebrows and unsettling mustache.Loren hands everyone a loaded gun—or “party favor” as he calls them—and tells them all to have fun. Everyone goes to hide in their rooms. Fake severed heads, secret passages, and aborted stranglings fly every which way, driving Nora right to the brink of a nervous breakdown. These events culminate in her discovery of Annabelle’s corpse hanging in the stairwell. Everyone agrees that she could never have gotten that high without assistance, and accuse Loren of murder. Loren denies this; Dr. Trent cuts down the body and lays Annabelle to rest in her room.

Later that night, Annabelle appears outside Nora’s window; the end of her hanging rope slips through the bars like a snake. Nora shrieks and runs from the room. She tries to take refuge in the parlor, but the organ starts to play itself. Further attempts to flee finally trap her in the cellar with the acid pit.

Dr. Trent sneaks into Annabelle’s room to wake her up. Turns out she’s not dead after all, but was wearing a flying harness the whole time. They kiss, and Dr. Trent hides her while he goes to wake Loren. At Dr. Trent’s urging, Loren investigates the cellar. The hysterical Nora shoots him and flees the room. Trent sneaks in afterwards and starts to drag the body towards the acid pit.

Annabelle arrives a few minutes later to find the cellar empty. While she looks on, Loren’s skeletonized remains rise from the pit and chase her around the room until she falls into the acid as well. An alive and fully fleshed Loren emerges from behind a door to retrieve his skeleton marionette and throw it into the acid after her. The others arrive; he explains that Nora’s gun is loaded with blanks, and that he killed his wife and her lover in self defense. Pritchard’s paranoid rambling takes us into the closing credits.

Thoughts:

Haunted by marionnettes, aged housekeepers, and a ghoulish little leprechaun man, but not by ghosts.Assuming, hypothetically, that I wanted to kill my wife (don’t worry, honey), I might go about it this way: I know she doesn’t like frogs, so I’ll first get a giant inflatable frog to loom out of the dark at her suddenly at night. But I’d have to get her down the stairs in the middle of the night, which she does when she hears the kids cry. So I’d have to feed one of the kids something spicy so that they’d cry in the middle of the night. Then she’d see the giant inflatable frog and... Well, she hasn’t got a weak heart or anything, so I’d have to scatter toys all over the floor so that she’d trip while stumbling away in stark terror. Some of the toys will have sharp edges (not difficult to arrange), coated with some sort of non-deadly bacteria (so as not to harm the kids, whose toys they are), but virulent enough to maker her look sick and need antibiotics. Then the doctor will give her penicillin, which she is allergic to, except I’d have to time it so that her regular doctor would be on vacation, and steal her chart from the doctor’s office so that the one on call wouldn’t know she’s allergic to it, and hope that the blow to the head sustained while falling on sharp toys was severe enough that she wouldn’t remember it and tell them herself. Only, now that I think of it, her allergy isn’t deadly...

As you can see, this plan hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in hell, which means it’s more likely to succeed than Loren’s plot to kill Annabelle. It would have been more cost effective for him to send her on lots of long car trips, as she’d be more likely to die in an automobile accident than have a marionette scare her into a vat of acid. The movie’s also crammed chock full of loose ends. The chandelier, the dripping stains, the severed heads, the way Annabelle was able to dangle herself outside Nora’s window when the house supposedly has no accessible exits. Also, also: is the house really haunted, or isn’t it? I’m guessing it isn’t; we see lots of semi-spooky goings-on, but nothing overtly supernatural. Rather disappointing, really.

Like the previous Video On Demand titles, this particular Rifftrax/film combo originated as a commentary track on a Legend Films release. Fortunately, Mike seems to dig into the film a little more, forgoing much of the informative patter he added to Night of the Living Dead and Carnival of Souls. When Loren explains that all guests must stay the whole night to get their money, he says, “This is kind of like the time I had to stay all night at my filthy cousin's house without gagging.” As Lance continues to work his oily charm on Nora while looking for secret passageways, he says, “I'd use a stud finder, but I'd be afraid it would only detect me.” When people rush to see Annabelle’s supposed corpse in the stairwell, Mike explains, “She was innocently hanging herself when something went horribly wrong.” It’s a worse film than many of the other Legend releases, which somehow makes the commentary better.