Haunted House [1929]

William Castle's gimmick-laden comic thriller is not so much a horror movie as a fairground funhouse come to life. Vincent Price stars as a deliciously silky millionaire married to a greedy gold digger (Carol Ohmart) who refuses to divorce him. When he turns his wife's idea for a haunted-house party into a contest--$10,000 to whoever will spend the night in "the only truly haunted house in the world"--it seems he may have found an alternative to divorce. Five strangers gather to test their stamina, Price hands each of them delightfully twisted party favors (loaded handguns, delivered in their own tiny coffins), and the spook show begins. Blood drips from the ceiling, zombielike apparitions float through rooms, severed heads and skeletons suddenly appear, and then a guest is found hanging in the stairwell. Full of screams and things that go bump in the night, House on Haunted Hill isn't particularly scary and often makes little sense, but, like a Halloween haunted house, the spectacle of spook-show clich├ęs is quite entertaining, and Price makes a sardonic master of ceremonies. The original theatrical presentations featured a typically outrageous Castle-engineered gimmick: Emergo, which was nothing more than a skeleton that appeared to fly out of the screen and over the audience on a guide wire. --Sean Axmaker

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