HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL has been released on DVD more times than I can honestly keep track of. Save for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, I’d be willing to wager that it holds the record for the most released cult title. Since the theatrical release of its inferior remake in 1999, Warner Home Video, Alpha and Legend Films have all released HOUSE in stand alone editions, with the later colorizing the film. Both VCI and Diamond have issued the picture as a double bill with THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, as have several other budget discs releases, often pairing the film with Crane Wilbur’s THE BAT. At times triple billed and included in a variety of horror/public domain collections, if you’re a William Castle fan it would be safe to assume that you already own this title. So do you really need to buy it again, particularly given that you can easily find HOUSE for less than three bucks in most department store bargain bins? Based solely on the supplemental features, if you're a Vincent Price devotee, I’d have to say yes.
The very wealthy and somewhat eccentric Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) has invited five guests to attend a haunted house party, thrown in honor of his wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart). All five attendees, a psychiatrist (Alan Marshal as Dr. David Trent), a test pilot (Richard Long as Lance Schroeder), a newspaper columnist (Julie Mitchum as Ruth Bridgers), an employee of Mr. Loren’s (Carolyn Craig as Nora Manning) and the house's current title-holder Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook Jr.), have been told that if they can survive the night locked in the house on haunted hill, that they will each receive $10,000. Arriving in hearses, the guests appear to be complete strangers to one another, yet they all have on thing in common, they all desperately need the money promised by Mr. Loren. After introductions and a few drinks, each partygoer is presented with a tiny coffin within which contains a loaded pistol. Reiterating the night’s rules, Frederick gives his guests one last chance to back out of his generous, if not macabre offer before the clock strikes midnight and the doors lock them in until morning. Packed with decapitated heads, vats of acid and levitating skeletons, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL still entertains even with the “Emergo” experience long retired.
One of William Castle’s finest, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is a howl from beginning to end. Vincent Price steals the show, as he is so often prone to do, in a role that provides him several devilishly decadent monologues with which to chew. The film’s initial exchange between him and Carol Ohmart is one of my favorite Price moments, providing for a fiendish banter between the two married enemies. Filled with thrills and chills, Castle pulls out all the old horror staples (doors closing by themselves, crashing chandeliers, ceilings that drip blood and plenty of jumps scares), playing them at a brisk 75 minutes that makes cheap look charming. For its initial theatrical release, Castle devised a gimmick called “Emergo”, in which a prop skeleton, hidden in box at the side of the screen would emerge during the film's climax and would be raised above the heads of the audience by wires, immersing them into the action onscreen. Castle would continue his affinity for attention grabbing devices with his second collaboration with Price, THE TINGLER. With "Percepto!”, electrical "buzzers" were placed under random seats of the audience that would vibrate at the appropriate time, giving a number unsuspecting attendees a quick jolt.
Celebrating its 50 year anniversary, Johnny Legend and his Raunchy Tonk label present HOUSE with an admirable anamorphic (1.66:1) widescreen transfer. The print is in solid shape, accenting the film's exceptional black and white cinematography. Detail is often blurry and there are recurrent blemishes (tiny nicks, white spots and such) throughout the picture but nothing so distracting to cause interruption to the film. There is a slight hiss to the Mono audio track and the occasional pop, but one doesn’t have to strain to understand dialogue and taken as a whole the presentation is superior to the majority of the quick buck, budget discs this title has had to suffer with for so many years.
Bonus Features include the feature's original theatrical trailer alongside one that hypes the "Emergo!" experience. “Return To The House” is a brief segment with Johnny Legend outside the Ennis Brown House that was used for exterior shots for the film. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the house has been featured in several other film and television productions, such as Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER. The segment is concluded by a trailer for THE MANIACS ARE LOOSE (aka THE THRILL KILLERS), that promises live maniacs in every audience. Over 25 minutes of William Castle and Vincent Price previews are included, providing trailers for MACABRE, THE FLY, THE TINGLER and DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE to name a few. A two minute TV spot for the game show “The Plot Thickens”, created by Castle is also included. Paying tribute to Carol Ohmart, Johnny sits down to provide a short career biography for the actress, accompanied by a trailer for BORN RECKLESS and a brief remembrance with SPIDER BABY director Jack Hill. Lastly, “Golden Age Price” is a kind of mixtape of past television performances from the actor, including guest appearances on The Jack Benny and Red Skelton Shows and a taste of anti-communist propaganda with “The Brainwashing of John Hayes”. Dedicated to Forest Ackerman and Ray Dennis Steckler, may they rest in peace, Johnny Legend has compiled a number of rare supplements that will appeal to fans of the late great Vincent Price.
Now if someone will only release HOUSE with a miniature skeleton that I can somehow rig up next my television. One that will fly out at me at the appropriate time, and while we’re at it, how about a do-it-yourself "Percepto!” apparatus that doesn’t short out my power or burn a hole through my couch, pants and ass. (Jason McElreath)