Fifty years ago today William Castle's B-movie classic House on Haunted Hill made its premiere. As with other Castle films, House on Haunted Hill featured one of Castle's wacky, ingenious showman gimmicks. In this instance the gimmick was called "Emergo" and consisted of an inflatable skeleton being hauled over the audience's heads by a pulley system at the film's climax.
House on Haunted Hill tells the story of a ghastly party thrown by millionaire Frederick Loren (played by Vincent Price!) and his wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) at a house that is supposed to be extremely haunted. They offer their guests $10,000 a piece if each of them can last through a night in the creepy mansion. Ultimately the ghosts take a back seat as the real monsters in the tale are clearly Frederick and Annabelle. The hatred that the husband and wife have for each other is the real danger as the two draw their guests into the dysfunctional couple's twisted and deadly games. It is the discomfort of attending a party where your hosts aren't getting along taken to an extreme degree.
The low-budget horror film proved to be a financial success. The box office returns it was getting came to the attention of Alfred Hitchcock. It was apparently then that he decided to adapt Robert Bloch's novel Psycho for the big screen.
The location used for the exterior of the House on Haunted Hill was actually designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Known as the Ennis House, it has appeared in other films and TV shows, including two cult horror TV shows. In one of those shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it served as home to a trio of vampires very popular with fans of the series.
(Note from Tom: House on Haunted Hill is the very first horror film I can recall watching. When I was four-years-old I caught it as a Saturday afternoon creature feature on TV and fell in love with the movie. Along with episodes of ScoobyDoo and Kolchak: The Night Stalker, it helped form my early fascination with all things horror. My daughter and I will definitely be popping some popcorn and sitting down to watch House on Haunted Hill at some point today to celebrate its milestone birthday.)
Another production made its debut on this day in 1991 when the ABC network debuted their television remake of the 1962 classic horror film, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. The new version of the storyline starred real-life sisters, Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave, in the roles of Blanche and Baby Jane Hudson. While some critics hailed the pairing of actual siblings as bringing a new subtext to the story, others argued that it fell far short of the contemptuous portrayal of the original's fiery starlets, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford - whose real-life bitter rivalry is stuff of legends. The remake was shot in the same general area as the first film, but opted to use a new house to double as the residence of the Hudson sisters - even though the original house is only blocks away.