It is known as the House on Haunted Hill, and very rarely does anyone have the courage to spend the night there, but millionaire playboy Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) has a proposition for a group of five people: if they manage to stay until dawn, he will give them ten thousand dollars each. That is, depending on whether they survive... The house's owner, Mr Pritchard (Elisha Cook Jr) is full of stories about how the place was the site of murders over the years, but surely nothing bad will happen tonight? After all, there is no such thing as ghosts, is there?
This was the first of two horror movies that Price made with showman extraordinaire William Castle, the other being The Tingler, and it was this which cemented Price as the man to go to for horror villains for the rest of his career, far more than one of his previous hits, House of Wax. It was scripted by Castle's usual writer of such entertainments, Robb White, as a chiller, but what it really turns into is a murder mystery with a tricksy ending that reveals all has not been as it seems. Not that it is not ridiculous, but that is part of the fun.
In fact, everyone in this appears to be having a grand old time, none more so than the sly Price, purring his lines as Loren spars verbally with his unfaithful wife (his third - the other two died in mysterious circumstances, naturally) Annabelle (icily attractive Carol Ohmart). It's all a bit of a giggle, with Cook perfectly cast as the type of character who is simply present to wind everyone else up, including the audience, with his tales of spooky and murderous goings-on in the mansion although surprisingly, when you take into account who is playing him, Pritchard never becomes a victim.
Also notable is Carolyn Craig as Nora, immediately marked out as sympathetic when Price's opening narration informs us that she is a poor secretary at Loren's offices who needs the money far more than anyone else present that evening. Presumably it will pay for the years of therapy she will need, as she spends half her time getting scared out of her wits, including the film's most famous jump moment when she comes face to face with an apparent apparition in a darkened room (the explanation for this incident is priceless, incidentally).
Castle being Castle, it wouldn't be a proper film without some kind of gimmick, so Emergo was created. This meant that at a crucial mark in the action, a cardboard skeleton (credited in the cast list at the end as "Himself") would be wheeled out over the heads of the cinema audience to match the one onscreen. Alas, this was more the excuse for patrons to throw things at it than any scares, and most theatres dropped the idea before the film ended its successful run. All of this will be lost on you when you watch it at home, but there's plenty more to be entertained by, and if House on Haunted Hill creaks, then it at least means to; Price in particular is great value - watch his final scene to see how hugely enjoyable his acting could be. Music by Von Dexter.