Role-playing reviews

Reviews related to role-playing games, with a focus on Gods & Monsters, and a bit of superhero gaming.

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Beyond here lie dragons

Vincent Price in House on Haunted Hill

Jerry Stratton, August 27, 2016

Vincent Price smiles: Vincent Price, as millionaire Frederick Loren, smiles in House on Haunted Hill.; Vincent Price; haunted houses; happiness

Oh, yes, we’re going to have fun tonight!

House on Haunted Hill, with Vincent Price, certainly looks like it was inspired by The Haunting of Hill House. No psychologists, but still, a group of talented and varied people invited to an old house along with the current owner who thinks it is a bad idea. The characters are accompanied by the owner, but, as in Hill House, are invited by a third party who is paying them to be there. In this case by Vincent Price’s millionaire, who promises them $10,000 each if they stay the night. As in Hill House, the doors are locked when the servants leave. And there’s the impressionable young woman lost in the maze of a house that seems to want to swallow her up. There are more similarities, but there are also important differences which would be spoilers.

And of course the title consists of the same three basic words.

Yet they appear to be completely unrelated. Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House novel was published in 1959. The House on Haunted Hill movie was released on February 17, 1959. William Castle is known for the speed of his productions, but it seems very likely that the movie was written first. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to find full release dates, other than year, for novels, but to write the entire novel and have it go through the full publication process and still come out in 1959 makes it unlikely that Jackson was influenced by William Castle and Robb White’s script. The script does not appear to have been based on any previous work that Jackson could have been inspired by.

It still, however, seems extremely unlikely to me that these stories are not related in some way. The stories and title have too many similarities. While they are in no way copies of each other, if one was not inspired by the other, there must have been some other inspiration to both of them.

Elisha Cook Jr. closeup: Elisha Cook Jr.’s haunted look in House on Haunted Hill.; haunted houses

A haunted look…

Provenance aside, House on Haunted Hill is very good. Vincent Price is in top form, and his conversations with his wife are in the old-school Hollywood tradition of sharp banter. It’s as much or more a mystery as it is a haunted house story, though I can’t say any more without spoiling some of it. It is definitely worth seeing.

Elisha Cook Jr. plays Watson Pritchard, the nervous, frightened, and almost psychotic owner of the house who once spent a night there and, he says, almost died because of it. His lines rival Vincent Price’s.

Frederick Loren: Mr. Pritchard here promises us genuine ghosts.

Watson Pritchard: Seven now. Maybe more before morning.

And in the introduction to the house, Pritchard shows everyone the actual knife used to kill his brother and sister-in-law.

Watson Pritchard: This is what she used on my brother and her sister, hacked them to pieces. We found parts of their bodies all over the house, in places you wouldn’t think. A funny thing is the heads have never been found—hands and feet and things like that, but no heads.

Lance Schroeder: So there are two loose heads just floating around here someplace?

Watson Pritchard: You can hear them at night, they whisper to each other, and then cry.

A really, really, great way for an NPC to talk to the players, by the way. The kind of NPC who is “the only one who understands”, and is frightened out of their wits.

I just discovered, while looking it up on IMDB, that there was a remake in 1999, the same year as the Liam Neeson Haunting remake! This one stars Geoffrey Rush as the millionaire. Apparently it was universally panned, which is too bad, as Geoffrey Rush is an amazing actor. So be aware of that if you go looking for a copy to pay for.

I linked to what is supposedly the best DVD version of the movie, however, that version is hard to find and, at least on Amazon, expensive. You can also see it on many services that offer public domain movies. I watched it on Classix on the Apple TV.

In response to Horror Houses: What to do when your house hates you? These movies will help you relate.

  1. <- The hauntings continue