Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) and his wife, Annabelle (Carol Ohmart), are throwing a party. It’s all a bit unusual. First off, he rented an old “haunted” mansion to have it at. Secondly, the guests are five strangers. Thirdly, he is offering to pay $10,000 to any of the guests that manage to stay in the house for twelve hours (at night of course).
Frederick is very wealthy and Annabelle is his fourth wife. The first one just disappeared. The second and third suddenly died of heart attacks, both were only in their 20s at the time of death (slightly suspicious I would say). Frederick and Annabelle’s marriage is rather rocky. You get the impression that he is tired of her and she is only interested in his money. Neither of them would be disappointed if the other suddenly dropped dead.
Lance Schroeder (Richard Long) is a test pilot. He is a levelheaded guy that looks for logical explanations.
Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshall) is a psychiatrist. He doesn’t believe in ghosts and thinks it’s all “hysteria”.
Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig) is a secretary at one of Frederick’s companies (although she has never met him). She also seems to panic easily.
Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook) owns the house and is convinced it’s haunted. His sister-in-law murdered her husband (which would be his brother) and her sister in the house. Apparently, she hacked them up. All the body parts were found, except for their heads. He also happens to be a drunk.
Ruth Bridgers (Julie Mitchum) is a columnist for a newspaper. She also has a gambling problem, which is causing her a financial hardship.
The only thing the guests seem to have in common is that they all need money for one reason or another.
The stage is set right from the beginning. All of the guests are driven to the house in funeral cars. No one is at the door to meet them so they wander into the house unescorted. It’s rather spooky inside. Gas lamps light the house, which creates an eerie flickering light. There are also a lot of cobwebs, adding to the haunted vibe. Within minutes of them entering the house, the front door slams shut. Then a chandelier suddenly falls from the ceiling, almost hitting Nora.
Before long, Frederick, comes downstairs alone to greet the guests. Since his wife is now refusing to join the party. He then explains the rules to them. They have until midnight to decide if they want to stay the rest of the night. At that time, the caretakers will leave, locking the front door behind them. Which is only exterior door and no one else has the key. Plus it is a heavy door, made of metal, so it’s impossible to break down. All the windows are barred and there is no telephone.
What all this means is that they will be stuck there until 8:00am when the caretakers come back to let them out. So in order to earn ten-grand they have to stay in the house the whole 12 hours (from their arrival at 8:00pm until 8:00am the next morning).
To get things started, Frederick, has Pritchard give everyone a tour of the house. Which of course includes him showing them the places where the various murders were committed. Seven people had been murdered in the house, four men and three women. Which, coincidentally, is the same number of people staying at the house currently, with the same number of men vs. women.
Spooky things continue to happen. Lights going out, people (or ghosts?) appearing out of nowhere, doors slamming closed and locking themselves, blood dripping from the ceiling, severed heads randomly showing up, and guests being attacked by an unknown assailant. Each guest is given a handgun to protect himself or herself. Which is kind of funny. If ghosts are the problem, then handguns are useless. Plus, do you really want panicking or, in Pritchard’s case, drunken people running around the place armed.
Some of my favorite quotes:
Frederick – “Make a good headline. Playboy kills wife with champagne cork.”
Frederick – “Of all my wives, you’re the least agreeable.”
Annabelle – “But, still alive.”
Frederick – “Would you go away for a million dollars tax free?”
Frederick – “Well, Pritchard here promises us genuine ghosts.”
Pritchard – “Seven now, maybe more before morning.”
Frederick – “That’s cheerful.”
Dr. Trent – “That, Mr. Lauren, is hysteria.”
Frederick – “Well then, Doctor, how do you explain what happened to Lance. Was that hysteria too?”
Annabelle – “Oh, I’m sure we’re not going to go running around the house shooting each other, aren’t you?”
Dr. Trent – “Who knows, fear makes people do amazing things.”
Dr. Trent – “Nora, I think you’re a little upset. Would you care for a sedative?”
I do like old Vincent Price movies, even if they are a bit hokey at times. He has such an amazing screen presence and of course you can’t forget his incredible voice. Vincent was born to play this type of role. He can deliver sinister and creepy, without turning it into an over-the-top caricature. There is also a charm and elegance about him that makes you like him, regardless of whether his is playing a good guy or bad guy.
Sometimes it’s fun to watch old movies like this. To see a horror story being done without a bunch of blood and gore. Granted some of the effects are silly (like the ridiculous looking severed head), but that only adds to the charm of the movie. There is a tendency towards over-acting by some of the actors, particularly the one playing Nora. There were times I was hoping someone or something would kill her so she would just shut up. That being said, I still enjoy the movie. It’s also a nice look into a time when movies and movie making was more simplistic and more innocent.
The exterior shots of this movie were filmed at the historic “Ennis Brown House” in Los Angeles. Frank Lloyd Wright designed the building. It just so happens that the foundation that currently owns it and has been working to preserve and restore the home has put it up for sale. They aren’t able to get enough donations to continue caring for it in the way that is needed. So they feel it will be best to sell it to a private party that can take care of it properly. So if you have $15 million lying around, it could be yours.
By the way, the house was also used in the television show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer“. It was the “mansion” that Spike, Drusilla and Angelus lived in for a while.
Vincent Price is a gourmet chef. He and his wife, Mary, even co-wrote a couple of cookbooks.
In 1982,Tim Burton, made an animated short film titled “Vincent”. Which is a tribute to Vincent Price. You can find it as part of the Bonus Material on his “The Nightmare Before Christmas” DVD. You will find it under “Tim Burton’s Early Films”. Vincent also narrates it.
Vincent received a degree in Art History from Yale.
In 1957, Vincent and his wife, Mary, donated 90 pieces of artwork from their personal collection to the East Los Angeles Community College. This became the start of the Vincent Price Art Museum. He continued to donate additional pieces over the course of the next forty years. In total, he donated about 900 pieces of art to the institution. Other individuals followed his lead and the collection is now around 9,000 pieces.
Following is additional information about the show that contains spoilers. If you don’t want to be spoiled don’t read any further.
Ok, when you have a caretaker that looks like that creepy old woman, no ghost is required.
I liked how there weren’t any actual ghosts. Instead the ghost stories were used to frighten and manipulate people into doing what Annabelle and Dr. Trent wanted. I also thought it was great that Frederick was able to turn the tables on them. So they ended up being the ones that died, not him.