The Vannacutt Psychiatric Institute For the Criminally Insane, 1931: A granite building high atop the Pacific Palisades. The sound of seagulls and faint human screams echo in the fog dense night.
The basement nurse's station, a bleary-eyed male nurse beginning his day. Alone inside a small wood and glass cubicle, he punches a card into the huge, ticking time clock. He goes to the Victrola inside the cubicle and puts the huge needle down on a spinning 78: we hear the song crackling through the empty halls of the hospital -- depression-era Muzak. The Nurse sharpens pencils to needle-points, sits down at his desk, and begins the tedium of jotting entries into a tall stack of Patient Records.
Cerebral Hygiene Room: Two people in surgical scrubs: the moustached Doctor named Vannacutt and a female nurse wielding a 16mm camera. we see the object of their ministrations: A patient on a gurney being filmed as his internal organs are slowly and methodically extracted -- while still alive. They are interrupted by noises above them. They look up and see patient smacking the froted glass ceiling panel.
In the basement nurse's station, the male nurse looks up: a nearly bald emaciated patient is standing there, his eyes as dull and lifeless as marbles. The Nurse ignores the Patient and goes back to his work. The Nurse looks behind him, several patients on the other side of the glass staring silent and dead-eyed at him. Suddenly the glass shatters on all sides of the station.
The mass of Patients outside the cubicle, are now inside surrounding him. A head bandaged patient rams the needle-sharp pencils eraser-deep into his throat. A Patient smashes the Control Panel inside the cubicle until it shorts-out and explodes. Which pops open patient cells and sends dozens more wild, raving Humans rampaging through the hospital, while every electric light in the place strobes maniacally.
A wolfpack of Patients kamikaze down the corridor, fling open a set of double doors marked "Cerebral Hygiene." As the doctor and two nurses whip around, startled by the shouts, all hell breaks loose. The wolf pack descends on Dr. Vannacutt. He manages to yank down a lever on the wall labeled "Lockdown" before he's swallowed by the Mob; From somewhere in the house, we see heavy gear, cables and doors loudly shutting down the house. Therapy rooms filled with devices that look straight out of the Spanish Inquisition are trashed to toothpicks.
Some of the staff are forced into devices and tortured as Patient Records are spindled and ignited, flaming torches used to set everything in the place ablaze. Throughout the asylum, Orderlies and other Nurses are chased down like rabbits by Patients and beaten to a pulp. A patient shoves a nurse into a water filled bathtub to drown her. The nurse with 16mm camera lies on the floor in a pool of blood, the camera right next to her. We see a patient's hand reach for the camera, and we fade to black.
And amidst all the vengeful shouts and wails, a curious thing happens: One of the Patients continues filming the chaos with the Nurse's blood-spattered camera.
Through grainy black and white film, we watch old 16mm footage of what happened next: a blur of scalpels and saws as the Patients viciously vivisect Vannacutt and Nurse, who've been crammed together on that same gurney. The camera pushes in tight on Vannacutt's screaming maw, then the logo of the old Pathe Newsreel. The stentorian Pathe narrator booms over . . .
NARRATOR: October 11, 1931, Los Angeles. A conflagration of biblical proportions incinerates nearly everything and everyone inside what was once the City of Angels most celebrated medical facility: The Vannacutt Psychiatric Institute For the Criminally Insane. But the secret this inferno burned free was far more frightening than any picture Hollywood could produce. A sanitarium of slaughter supervised by a surgeon gone mad: Richard Benjamin Vannacutt.
Smoke and flames shoot from every window and door of the asylum as Firemen look on helplessly. L.A. Sheriff's and Coroner's Investigators are poking through the Institute. Gruesome images of bodies manacled to walls; rows of skulls riddled with drill-holes; a huge vat filled with blood. A video image of the man himself, mustache waxed, eyes intense as a mesmerist's, seeming to stare a hole right through us. The old Pathe news feature then changes to a Peter Graves hosted more modern show . . .
PETER GRAVES: Doctor Richard Benjamin Vannacutt. Little known today, but likely the most prolific mass murderer of this century. He out-butchered Bundy. He made Manson look meek. And the site of his carnage still exists today restored almost to its original state. But it has yet to be inhabited, because some say the spirits of Vannacutt and his victims still live within the walls of the House on Haunted Hill. I'm Peter Graves . . .
EVELYN: No shit.
Evelyn Stockard-Price, a savagely beautiful young woman drinking a Bloody Mary and soaking in a bubble bath like the queen of fucking-England, is watching the show, a look of perverse amusement on her face.
PETER GRAVES: We'll be back with more Terrify But True in a moment.
EVELYN: No need, baby. You just gave me everything I needed.
She zaps the TV dead with a remote and reaches for the phone.