Disembodied screams, rattling chains and ghoulish groans amidst creaking doors - all a delicious mixture of frightful sounds that emanate from a jet black screen. Suddenly Watson Pritchardís (Elisha Cook) floating head narrates the evening's spooky tale.
Watson: The ghosts are moving tonight, restless . . . hungry. May I introduce myself? Iím Watson Pritchard. In just a moment Iíll show you the only really haunted house in the world. Since it was built a century ago, seven people including my brother have been murdered in it, since then, I've owned the house. Iíve only spent one night there and when they found me in the morning, I . . . I was almost dead.
Frederick Loren (Vincent Price), an eccentric millionaire, sporting a plucky mustache and highbrow tone introduces himself in front of the imposing Modern-Ancient structure.
Frederick: Iím Frederick Loren and Iíve rented the house on haunted hill tonight so my wife can give a party. A haunted house party. . . Sheís so amusing. Thereíll be food and drink and ghosts and perhaps even a few murders. Youíre all invited. If any of you will spend the next twelve hours in this house, Iíll give you each $10,000. Or your next of kin in case you donít survive. Ah, but here come our other guests. . . .
Frederick: It was my wifeís idea to have our guests come in funeral cars. . . Sheís so amusing. Her sense of humor is shall we say, original. I dreamt up the hearse. Itís empty now but after a night in the house on haunted hill, who knows.
Lance Schroeder (Richard Long), a test pilot, so no doubt a brave man, but donít you think you can be much braver if youíre paid for it? And I happen to know that Lance needs the 10,000 I'll give him, if he's brave enough to stay all night.
Frederick: This is Ruth Bridgers (Julie Mitchum). You've no doubt read her column in the newspaper. She says her reason for her coming to the party is to write a feature article on ghosts. Sheís also desperate for money. Gambles.
You've already met Watson Pritchard, a man living in mortal fear of a house, and yet he is risking his life to spend another night here. I wonder why. He says for money.
Frederick: This is Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal), a psychiatrist. He claims that my ghosts will help his work on hysteria, but donít you see a little touch of greed there around the mouth and eyes?
This is Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig). I picked her from the thousands of people who work for me because she needed the 10,000 more than most. Supports her whole family. Isnít she pretty?
Frederick: The party's starting now, and you have until midnight to find the House on Haunted Hill.
We are greeted with an eerie funeral dirge while the shiny black gimmicky funeral cars pull up in front the quite sinister post modern Gothic structure that swallows you up with odd motifs and a sense of malignancy within the fortress walls.
As the opening credits roll, we are shown a series images of the creepy house accompanied by Von Dexterís haunting soundtrack. Thereís a pervasive sense of dread in House on Haunted Hill, that makes the house itself a Ďspook.í
Whether the house is haunted or not, itís forbidding presence tells us that it just doesnít matter. The history of the house itself, itís violent past is enough to give one chills.
Lance: Well, where is everybody?
Nora: It isn't a very warm welcome, is it?
Watson: Only the ghosts in this house are glade we're here.
Ruth: Are we all strangers to each other? Don't you two know each other?
Lance: I'm afraid I don't even know your name.
Nora: I'm Nora Manning.
Lance: Lance Schroeder.
Ruth: Is Frederick Loren a friend of yours?
Lance: I've heard of him. But I've never met him.
Nora: I work for one of his companies, but I've never seen him.
Ruth: I've never met the man, either. Just a phone call. (to David) Do you know him?
Ruth turns to Watson, a neurotic sot who is riddled with fear, and throughout the story, spouts anecdotes about the houseís grisly history.
Ruth (to Watson): Then you're the only one of us who does.
Watson: I don't know him. All the details about renting the house were done by mail.
David: He's quite wealthy, isn't he?
David: And five wives, I believe.
Ruth: Four, I think, so far.
David: $50,000 party for only five people is a little steep, even for a millionaire.