1920s

Film: Haunted House Double Feature

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

     It's a classic set up: a group of near-strangers spend the night in a dark old house, which is of course rumored to be haunted, in hopes of achieving some sort of reward. As the night progresses, imaginations run wild, characters turn on one another, someone (insignificant) dies, and in the end, it appears there was nothing supernatural to fear at all.

    I've always loved films that depend on shadows and creaky floors (rather than blood and gore) for their suspense and fright. It's more enjoyable to watch characters are run from each other rather than from some chainsaw-wielding killer wearing a mask of human skin.

   That said, I suppose it's no surprise that, like most other elements in my life, I like my scary movies old. So for a little pre-Halloween viewing, I chose a couple of chilling haunted house classics: The Cat and the Canary, a silent film from 1927, and House on Haunted Hill, the 1959 Vincent Price classic.
   Both films have the characters lingering in the dark old house in hopes of financial gain.


 In The Cat and the Canary, characters have gathered at the decaying mansion of millionaire Cyrus West, twenty years after his death, for the reading of his will.

from Classic-Horror
     Of course, this being a horror film and all, the prospective heirs meet at midnight and are greeted by the ever-creepy caretaker, Mammy Pleasant (below, left). The house is shadowy, cobwebbed, with the occasional falling portrait and fluttering drapery.

from Silent Film
   With the heir named, the lovely and well-dressed Annabelle West (Laura La Plante, top, right), the other characters linger on, eventually spending the night, waiting to see if West will be deemed sane, a stipulation of the will, or if another heir will be named.

     With the addition of an escaped lunatic, the death of a minor character, and a series of secret passageways that seem to run through the house, the suspense builds.... but quickly fizzles. While this film is incredibly atmospheric, spooky and sometimes quite funny, it concludes quickly and lacks a real satisfying resolution.



     House on Haunted Hill is also atmospheric, however something is lost, for me, since it is a talkie (silents are so naturally spooky!).  The trade off, I suppose, is hearing Vincent Price's soft, yet incredibly spooky voice.

      In this film, millionaire Frederick Loren (Price) and his fourth wife, Annabelle, throw a party in a reportedly haunted house with guests they have never met. Guests attend the "party" in hopes of securing $10,000, or more, that Loren has promised for surviving the night. To make things more interesting, guests are provided with handguns (in tiny coffins!) to defend themselves (guns + scared strangers... great recipe for a horror film!).
wikipedia





      Like The Cat.... , this film is suspenseful, spooky and, at times, quite humorous; the report between Mr. and Mrs. Loren is both sinister and silly! Plus, Mrs. Loren's wardrobe is pretty divine.

from Best-Horror-Movies
   Spooks and specters pop up right away in this film, with falling chandeliers, apparitions, severed heads and mysterious dripping blood stains. Things really get going when a key character is found dangling from the ceiling in a plot twist that will have you wondering what to believe right until the credits roll.

    If you've ever had the pleasure of riding on the Haunted Mansion ride at Walt Disney World, this is some of what you can expect from this film (though the film gets quite a bit darker). Also, if you're looking for some tips on how to have one heck of a Halloween party, this is definitely worth a watch.


     So, if you find yourself in need of a fright of the haunted house variety this Halloween, either of these films might just do the trick! Both are available on Netflix and Amazon Instant video, as well as a variety of free sources around the internet since both films have lapsed into public domain.


 Happy Halloween!



 
And of course,
Happy Sailing
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