House on Haunted Hill is, like most William Castle films, a gimmicky bauble that puts all reason to the side and wants nothing more than to entertain you. And it succeeds, at least for me. A forerunner to such films as Murder by Death and Clue, it follows that well-worn formula of a group of strangers being gathered together in rickety mansion, where bad things happen and they must find out who’s behind it all. The mysterious host is played by Vincent Price in a deviously amusing turn, and the house he’s rented out is supposedly haunted by seven ghosts. His game: entice the strangers to stay locked inside for a night, and if they survive, they get a tidy sum of $10,000 for their pains.
There are a few choice jump scares here, a lot of screaming from the young woman (par for the course), and a handsome man to keep her from flying off the handle. A few characters are sort of extra, not having anything interesting to do except to bulk out the cast, and the “solution” to this one is hardly a surprise if you scrutinize everything and everyone. That doesn’t take away from the campy fun of the affair, though. Castle was also no slouch in the director’s chair, perfectly setting up things with an off-kilter prologue and following through with a sly sense of fun at every turn. Acid vats, floating housekeepers, sentient ropes, haunted skeletons—just another day in the realm of the Castle.