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Thursday, January 3, 2013

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959)

William Castle was the horror film schlockmeister who brought old-fashioned ballyhoo to his showings: an on-site nurse for the faint-of-heart; electrified seats to ‘tingle’ your spine; spooky images on screen when you wore Ghost Glasses; and this film’s special delight, EMERGO!, a wispy skeleton that floated overhead. Alas, as a filmmaker, the guy couldn’t scare a fly. This one stars Vincent Price (who else?) as an eccentric millionaire on his fourth wife who dares an odd assortment of strangers to spend the night in the eponymous house to win a $10,000 survivor’s fee. It’s little more than a hash of the old stage-meller THE CAT AND THE CANARY* with dollops of Cluzot’s famous heart-stopper DIABOLIQUE/’55 tossed in. It means well, but Castle’s execution is as weak as ever. Legacy DVD has it colorized (for extra creepiness?), but look for the well-restored b&w version hiding in the Special Features section. The only surprise in here doesn’t come from shock cuts, screaming cast members, skeleton puppets or hidden vats of acid, but from a couple of lengthy two-shot dialogues of arguing spouses that look more like Art House fare than MidNite Drive-In. Was Castle just saving money with long takes or aspiring to better things?

DOUBLE-BILL: *THE CAT AND THE CANARY isn’t much scarier, but the recent restoration of the Paul Leni 1927 silent original on a KINO-DVD is a visual treat. Sound versions followed in 1930 (a ‘lost’ film); ‘39 (w/ Bob Hope & Paulette Goddard); and ‘78 with Honor Blackman (aka Pussy Galore!) and, of all people, Wendy Hiller.

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