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Insomniac Theatre: “House on Haunted Hill” (1959)

01 Nov

If I haven’t gone to bed yet, it’s still Halloween, right?

*GASP* SHIT I forgot that It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown was on tonight!  DAMMIT!  I wonder if it’s on On Demand… (Right, because I haven’t watched that every year for the past 28 years…)

ANYWAY.  This is the last ‘horror’ movie I have on Jeremy the TiVo: Episode IV, A New Hope.  So my plan is this: I have tons of candy, already purchased on sale, 2/3 of a Diet Coke left, and I don’t have to work tomorrow.  I’m going to watch this, write about it, and then watch Gargoyles to wash the ick factor out.  [NOTE: If you watched Gargoyles growing up, as I did, Disney did a[[nother]] marvelous thing and put ALL of the episodes online.  INCLUDING “Deadly Force,” which they took out of rotation due to its being deemed “too violent.”  I am SO EXCITED.]

[The other marvelous thing Disney did?  Bought LucasFilms.  But I’ll talk about that at a later date.]

Eccentric millionaire Fredrick Loren and his 4th wife, Annabelle, have invited 5 people to the house on Haunted Hill for a “haunted House” party. Whoever will stay in the house for one night will earn ten thousand dollars each. As the night progresses, all the guests are trapped inside the house with ghosts, murderers, and other terrors.

Jesus.  Okay.  Y’know, I seem to remember seeing the remake of this movie years ago.  There was a tank of blood in the basement, and also, Taye Diggs was there?  And I seem to remember that I didn’t actually watch it, so much as stare at a corner of the screen while other friends and acquaintances watched it, because it was uber-gory, and that is something I do not enjoy.  Even when both Geoffrey Rush and Taye Diggs are involed.

All right.  I have now wasted enough time searching the interwebs for other, distracting things; I have no choice but to push play at this point.  My only hope is that this movie is chock full of B-movie ‘horror,’ where you can clearly see the stage craftsmanship and the acting is atrocious.  In other words, more funny than scary.

Oo, Robert Osbourne!  He’s wearing a very green tie.  Apparently the director of this movie hired doctors and nurses to attend showings of his movies in case people fainted from fright.  Shit, did that actually happen?  I mean, I’m not a fainter by any means, but … is this movie actually going to be scary?  I’m not sure I can handle that…

Jesus, this is rated TV-14?  That worries me when I’m watching TCM.  I mean, look, I’ve seen True Blood.  I enjoy it, in fact.  But I know — AACK!  The movie just started with a woman screaming.  THAT’S NOT A GOOD SIGN.  Anyway, I enjoy True Blood.  But I don’t see that show as part of the horror genre; it’s too campy and naked for that.

Okay, woman screaming in the dark.  At least it’s not me!  By the way, this is all happening over a black screen, and there are other Halloween-y noises happening too.  Thank god I’ve got all my lights on, or else I’d be kind of freaked out.  I can see why the director may have needed nurses.

Then this disembodied head shows up.  He claims his name is Watson Pritchett or something, and he owns the haunted house.  Seven murders have occurred in the house over the past few years or whatever.  Watson fades out and the disembodied head of Vincent Price shows up.  Apparently, he rented the House on Haunted Hill for a night so his wife can throw a haunted house party.  Let me just take a moment to digress:  Dear Future Husband: I will NEVER want to throw a haunted house party.  Ever.  And if you’re thinking of ways to surprise me into doing something completely different, for an event or a birthday or whatever, “haunted” is NOT the way to go.  I hate surprises as it is; surprises with ghosts and/or murder?  NO THANK YOU.  Unless you’re trying to subtly hint you want a divorce…

I’ve watched less than five minutes of this movie, and I’ve looped around in my digressions to a fake husband that wants to divorce me.  Why does my life suck so hard?

Vincent Price does a roll call of all the inhabitants of the House.  All the guests are arriving in hearses and in a funeral procession.  All of the people – including some doctors, Watson Pritchett, a test pilot, and a secretary — are attending because they need the $10,000 Vincent is offering if they can survive the night in the house.  Now, I know that when I watched Death of a Ghost Hunter I bitched that Carter or whoever was getting $5,000 and that seemed really low and stupid.  But this is $10,000 in 1959-money.  That’s like … well, according to a calculator, $70,000-ish.  That’s still not enough to get me to spend a night in a Haunted Mansion.  Unless it’s the Disney Haunted Mansion.  (Although I’d still want all the lights on.)

The guests take a moment to introduce each other in the grand hallway, and then the door shuts under its own power.  And then the chandelier starts swaying, and almost falls directly onto the Pretty Secretary!  (Look, the chances of anyone surviving this thing is pretty much nil, so I’m not going to bother learning their names.)  I think it’s Test Pilot that pulls her out of the way, and now I start laughing hysterically, because when everyone was introducing themselves all I could think of was when the group from Clue introduced themselves over dinner with their fake names and backstories and how everyone hated Miss Scarlet at first (except for Professor Plum), and then when the chandelier falls, all I can hear in my head is “It was only one bullet that got the chandelier, so that’s one plus two plus one plus one!”  “Even if you were right, that would be one plus one plus two plus one, not one plus two plus one plus one.”  “All right, fine.  One plus one plus — SHUT UP!!”

Wow.  When you type the word “plus” over and over again, it totally loses all meaning.

Vincent goes to find his wife, who comes out of the bathroom wearing a robe and a corset.  Annabelle doesn’t want to go to the party because Vincent invited people who needed money instead of friends.  But it’s because they have no friends.  As they banter, we learn that Annabelle isn’t happy in their marriage, to the point where she’s tried to poison Vincent a couple of times.  They’re a regular … whaddyacallit … oh god, there’s a literary reference for this.  A husband and wife who won’t divorce each other yet they hate each other and enjoy trying to kill each other … first person to remind my soggy brain of that wins!

Watson Pritchett is entertaining the other guests downstairs by FINDING A RANDOM BUTCHER KNIFE and WAVING IT ABOUT, describing how his family was MURDERED WITH IT.  Okay, that was kind of funny, actually.  “THIS is what she used to sever my brother’s entrails!”  “Dude, put that away, you’re getting intestine in my martini.”

I hate to be repetitive, but there is no amount of money anyone could offer me to stay in a haunted house.  NO AMOUNT OF MONEY, Friends of Mine Who Enjoy Trying to Get Me to Do Things I Don’t Want to Do!

Vincent arrives and he wants to do another roll call, but this time, with alcohol.  My kind of party!  Apparently, the caretakers come at midnight to lock everyone in the house, and there is no way to escape the house.  No electricity, no phone, no internet — oh wait, this is 1959.  Vincent asks Watson to take them on a tour of the house, saying that there are seven ghosts: four men, three women.  Which just happens to make up the current group of partygoers.

They end up in a room that had a stain on the ceiling from a murder.  Blood starts to fall on the Old Woman’s hand.  I yell out STIGMATA!  She and Vincent laugh it off, claiming the roof leaks.  She not-so-calmly wipes the blood off and asks, “Who would want to mark me?”  Watson then leads them down to the wine cellar (which I almost typed as the wince cellar).

The vat in the floor was apparently filled with acid at one point.  The Secretary almost falls in, but the Test Pilot catches her.  Sure enough, the vat is stilled filled with acid, as Watson Pritchett confirms by tossing a dead rat into the vat.  The party files out, looking for more alcohol, but Test Pilot stops The Secretary and asks her what she’s doing here.  She admits that she needs the money, but neither she nor Test Pilot realized they had to actually stay in the house to earn the ten grand.

Test Pilot and The Secretary walk around the wine cellar, opening various doors.  I expect one to have the sounds of a violin playing coming from one, or at least a horse whinny (FRAU BLUECHER), but alas, just wine bottles.  Until Test Pilot opens one, finds a hallway, enters, then has the door slam behind him. 

The Secretary pounds on the door, but the lights start to flicker and go out.  The Secretary sees what appears to be the ghost of the woman dropped in the vat, but the ghost doesn’t come into the room.  She runs out of the cellar to get the rest of the party, speaking rather calmly about the ghost and that Test Pilot was missing behind a locked door.  When they get to the room, the door is unlocked, and Test Pilot is waking up after a bump on the noggin.  The Psychiatrist patches him up in the living room, claiming The Secretary is experiencing hysteria, but that doesn’t truly explain Test Pilot’s injury.

Later, Test Pilot and The Secretary return to the room.  That seems exceptionally dumb to me.  Why return to where you think you may have seen a ghost that knocked you unconscious?  Test Pilot knocks on the walls and finds the walls to be … not hollow, but thin.  He leaves The Secretary in that room and goes to the next, telling her to knock back when she hears him knock on his wall.  NEVER LEAVE THE GIRL ALONE IN A HAUNTED HOUSE, TEST PILOT!  That’s Rule Number 5 in the Rules for Haunted Houses!  (Rule Number One being: DON’T GO INTO A HAUNTED HOUSE.)

As The Secretary is slapping the walls, she happens to turn around and OH SHIT THERE’S THE UGLY GHOST WOMAN THING AGAIN.  As The Secretary screams, the ghost kind of glides out of the room, as if someone were pulling it on a skateboard.  Okay, now I’m laughing at the idea of a ghost statue on a skateboard that you can bring to parties.  (Krieger doesn’t have that much time, though, guys.)  Test Pilot returns from the other room, and I have to give The Secretary props — she screams her pretty little head off one minute, but then goes right back to talking logically and calmly.  Or, it could just be shitty acting.

Test Pilot doesn’t believe The Secretary.  She hands him her candle and storms out of the cellar, and walks right into Annabelle.  Annabelle leads The Secretary to The Secretary’s room, where she tells her to not go out by herself for the rest of the night.  Annabelle leaves The Secretary to freshen up, and then she runs into the Test Pilot.  She leads him to his room, and Annabelle flirts heavily with him. 

Vincent is able to convince Annabelle to attend her party — mainly by pulling her hair and threatening her.  He summons Test Pilot and The Secretary, both of whom state they’ll be downstairs in a minute.  The Secretary finds a severed head in her luggage (WHAT THE FUCK, MOVIE), and instead of running directly to the living room and demanding to be let out, she instead becomes Alice-in-Wonderland curious and goes to find out what’s behind a curtain, where she a GHOST comes out of FUCKING NOWHERE, clamps a gnarled hand over her mouth and says “He’s going to kill you.”

NOW she fucking runs downstairs and demands to be let out.  Luckily, it’s not yet midnight, so she has that option.  BUT FUCKING TEST PILOT TELLS HER TO WAIT.  She — and I — yell FUCK YOUR MONEY (although she says it in nice, 1959-times language), at which point Vincent introduces the caretakers, WHO ARE THE GHOSTS The Secretary keeps seeing.  Awk-ward.

She still wants to go home — good girl! — but apparently the caretakers played a nasty trick on everyone and locked them in five minutes early.  THAT WASN’T PART OF THE DEAL, GHOSTS!  Since the party’s officially started, Vincent starts handing out the party ‘favors’ – guns in coffins.  Motherfucking guns in coffins.  WHAT KIND OF STUPID FAVOR IS THAT.  What about a metal file?  THAT CUTS THROUGH BARS, DUMBASS. 

After everyone has the guns, The Secretary goes up to Watson and asks for clarification: his sister-in-law was murdered and hands and feet were found, but no heads?  Guess what?  SHE FOUND A HEAD.  She herds the entire party up to her room and tells them to look in her suitcase.  All Watson finds are panties.  Because a of all, no, there are no heads, and b of all, all women packed multiple pairs of panties back in 1959 in case they were hit by a truck.  At least, that’s how I understand history.

The Secretary is totally losing her mind, and The Psychiatrist asks her if she wants a sedative.  Ha!  “SEDAGIVE?”  Man, I haven’t watched Young Frankenstein in forever!  And now I totally have to, in light of last week’s Once Upon a Time.

The majority of the party decide to go to their rooms.  Some playwright; a situation pregnant with possibilities and all you can think of is everybody go to sleep.

Soon afterward, Test Pilot goes into The Secretary’s room to try and comfort her, which is of course code for “Consoling We’re Not Ghosts Yet” Sex.  Instead, he finds a severed head in the closet.  He is able to touch it and bring it to Watson, who says that The Secretary will be joining the ghosts soon.  They hear a garbled scream and run out, and see a woman hanging from the rafters in a diaphonous white gown.  (Vocab word FTW right there!)

Test Pilot and The Doctor cut the woman down.  When Vincent arrives at the scene, the camera reveals that the corpse is that of Annabelle.  Aw, poor Annabelle!  She had spunk!  Test Pilot leaves Annabelle’s room and finds The Secretary.  THAT’S who she reminded me of!  Annabelle came downstairs wearing a gown with a trailing white sash, and I kept thinking she was wearing something that Eve wore, but actually, she was reminding me of the Baroness from The Sound of Music!  She wore almost that same dress to the ball!

Okay, anyway — Watson ends up in Annabelle’s death room, and Vincent tosses him out.  He seems genuinely sad to be a widower again.

The party meets downstairs to discuss what to do.  Here’s my plan: all six of you sit in the room for the remainder of the night, staying alive by living together.  IF WE CAN’T LIVE TOGETHER, WE’RE GOING TO DIE ALONE. 

In other news, maybe my NaNoWriMo book will be a series of essays entitled, “Teacher, Mother, Secret Lover: How Television Shaped My Life More Than Anything Else.”  There will be a whole three thousands words (or more!) written just on Lost and how it warped my fragile little mind.

Okay.  I just spent about ten minutes searching for that stupid Jack Shepherd quote, only to be misled about when that speech was given.  Stupid Lost.  All of the guests have gone to their separate bedrooms.  The Psychiatrist looks freaked out, but I’m unsure about what, because I wasn’t paying attention.  Blood was dripping on the Old Lady again, but that’s all I’ve got there.  Test Pilot is back in The Secretary’s room, but I’m not sure what’s going on. 

And … I’m going to take a break.  As in, I’m going the fuck to bed, and I’ll finish this in the morning.

Twelve hours later…

I’m back!  I slept almost seven hours, with no bad dreams whatsoever.  Eat that, Vincent Price!  On the docket for today was to go vote, and also, check out the James Bond Skyfall OPI Nail Polish collection at Ulta.  And when I checked my email to learn that I had a coupon for 20% off my entire purchase?

… It’s only a problem if you think it’s a problem.  (It might be a problem.)

Okay, so I’ve rewound back to where the group has gathered in the living room.  Good news, everyone!  There’s half an hour left.

The Psychiatrist makes a Jack Shepherd-esque speech, saying that in the past three hours, one of the group has been slugged (Test Pilot), one almost had a chandelier dropped on her (The Secretary), one has been scared to the brink of hysteria (The Secretary, again), and one of them is dead (Annabelle).  He wants to find a way out, but Watson claims it’s pretty darned hopeless.  Vincent proposes that Annabelle didn’t kill herself, because there was no way at the point at which she hanged herself for her to climb up/pull herself up that high.

So now they suspect everyone else of being a murderer.  The Psychiatrist proposes that everybody stays in their own room for the next six hours.  (And you, pose as a playwright….)  Because the Innocent won’t have a reason to leave the room, but the guilty will try and murder more people to get more money, or something.  Everyone thinks this is a splendind idea, because this was filmed about fifty years before Jack Shepherd told everyone that IF WE CAN’T LIVE TOGETHER, WE’RE GONNA DIE ALONE.  I swear to GOD, people!!

I REMEMBERED THE REFERENCE!  Vincent and Annabelle are like Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin in The Ghosts Who Stole Christmas, that awesome episode of The X-Files

Everyone goes into their bedrooms.  They light candles (which give off a helluva lot of light in 1959).  The Psychiatrist starts to write a note to himself, but something wiggles his doorknob.  Thinking he’s going to catch the murderer, he opens his door — YOU NEVER OPEN THE DOOR! –, but there’s nothing there.  Blood starts to drop on the Old Woman’s hand again, and now she’s freaking out a bit more.  Test Pilot knocks on the adjoining door he so happens to have with The Secretary’s room.  She lets him in (WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT) and he agrees with her that Vincent is trying to kill people.  He wants to go see if there’s a way out so he can contact the police.  The Secretary wants to go with him, but he tells her to lock her door and stay safe in her bedroom.  With a locked door.  And ghosts.  I’m sorry, that’s just the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.

He goes behind the Alice in Wonderland curtain, and gets stuck in there when a mysterious hidden panel emerges and locks him in.  Meanwhile, The Secretary is pacing back and forth in her room when the lights go out.  Oh, they do have electricity?  Who’s the continuity maven on this feature?  Lightening flashes, and then WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT IS THAT A SNAKE I SWEAR TO GOD IF THAT’S A MOTHERFUCKING SNAKE COMING THROUGH THOSE BARS — oh, it’s rope.  What?! 

Anyway, rope, of all things, is making its way through the window and around The Secretary’s pretty little ankles.  Oh, seriously?  She is watching it all happen, and she’s not even trying to not get caught?  Secretary, come on.  She keeps moaning “no,” and then she sees Annabelle’s ghost through the window.  But because she asked so nicely, Annabelle’s ghost allows her to live.  For now.  Once the rope retreats and disappears, The Secretary grabs her gun and runs out of her room to Annabelle’s room, where she finds … Annabelle once more hanging from the ceiling?  BUT SHE WAS ON THE BED A FEW MINUTES AGO!  She runs downstairs after almost being quieted by a Creature From the Black Lagoon-esque hand, and when she reaches the living room she tries calling for the Test Pilot again.  The organ starts playing itself in the living room, and The Secretary runs back to her room, screaming.  But you didn’t find Test Pilot!

The Psychiatrist is out walking around.  DIDN’T YOU SAY THAT WOULD BE THE MURDERER?!  He knocks on Vincent’s door, and Vincent answers it, gun drawn, and accuses The Psychiatrist of being the murderer.  WHAT DID I JUST SAY!?  The Psychiatrist asks if Vincent’s seen anyone walking around.  You mean, while he was hiding in his room along with everyone else?  Damn, Psychiatrist, where’d you get your medical degree from, Greendale Community College, or Columbia the country?  (That’s two references for the price of one, folks.  February 7th is October 19th.)

Anyway, the Psychiatrist thinks someone’s in danger and wants Vincent to help him search the house for the someone in danger.  They both have their guns.  Psychiatrist says he’ll take the upstairs, Vinnie can take the downstairs.  Vincent asks at the same time I do, “Why not together?”  HOW MANY TIMES CAN I SHOUT “LIVE TOGETHER, DIE ALONE”?  Apparently there’s not enough time for both of them to search together, it would be quicker if they split up.  Bad idea.

Especially when The Psychiatrist doubles back to check in on Annabelle’s corpse.  She’s still ‘resting’ prettily on the bed.  The Psychiatrist whispers, “It’s almost over darling.”  Wait, what?  And then Annabelle wakes up, and I GET IT!  It’s like the poison that Paolo and Nikki drank on Lost, and then wake up to find themselves being buried alive, only this time, Annabelle wakes up!  So the Psychiatrist and Annabelle are in cahoots, and most likely a relationship as well.  They’re apparently waiting for The Secretary to accidentally shoot Vincent, and the Psychiatrist admits that he was the one who scared The Secretary in the cellar.  It’s all a plot to kill Vincent to escape her unhappy marriage. 

I have to admit — I didn’t see that one coming.  Usually I can pick up when there’s going to be a twist, but since M. Night Shyamalan didn’t direct this, it wasn’t telegraphed from ten miles away.  So good on you, Director of this movie.

Sure enough, when Vincent happens upon The Secretary in the cellar, she shoots him.  But after, like, five whole seconds of staring at him, which, to me, is more than enough time to realize he’s not a ghost.  Especially when Vincent says, “Secretary, no!”  Horrified and screaming again, The Secretary runs out.  The Psychiatrist comes out from one of the offshoot rooms — how did he get down there so quickly?! — and tosses Vincent into the acid pit.  Or so we’re led to believe, seeing as how the screen fades to black.

As instructed, after hearing the shot, Annabelle ventures to the cellar.  She calls for the Psychiatrist, but all the doors start to close behind her, squeaking all the way.  She peeks into the acid bool, and a skeleton emerges from it, completely picked clean.  She tries to run away, but the skeleton gets up and walks her into the acid vat, and of course she falls in.  So both Vincent and Annabelle die in the acid bath.  Also, that was entirely too hokey.

But the hokeyness is explained when we see Vincent come out from behind a wine casket!  Because why would Vincent Price die?  HE WOULDN’T.  So during the scuffle, Vincent must have knocked the Psychiatrist into the vat, brought a skeleton to the Haunted House party, rigged it to scare the bejeezus out of Annabelle, where he pushed her into the vat so they both died.

Vincent goes upstairs and explains everything, and everyone is okay with it.  They find Test Pilot behind the partition, and he’s all right too.  Watson Pritchett says that there are nine ghosts now, and there will be more, because now they’re coming for you.

Uh, no they’re not, because now the movie’s over, and I’m going to turn this off now.  So, shut up, Watson Pritchett. 

Grade for House on Haunted Hill: Meh.

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Posted by on November 1, 2012 in Insomniac Theatre

 

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