REVIEW: HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959)

CAST

Vincet Price (The Fly)
Carol Ohmart (Wild Youth)
Richard Long (The Big Valley)
Alan Marshal (After The Thin Man)
Carolyn Craig (Giant)
Elisa Cook Jr. (Rosemary’s Baby)

House on Haunted Hill (1959) still

Eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) invites five people to a “party” he is throwing for his fourth wife, Annabelle (Carol Ohmart), in an allegedly haunted house he has rented, promising to give them each $10,000 with the stipulation that they must stay the entire night in the house after the doors are locked at midnight. The five guests are test pilot Lance Schroeder (Richard Long); newspaper columnist Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum); psychiatrist Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal), who specializes in hysteria; Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig), who works for one of Loren’s companies; and the house’s owner Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook). Pritchard disapproves of Loren’s use of the house for his “party,” making it unclear how Loren acquired access to the house in the first place.

Still from House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Arriving late at night in separate funeral cars with a hearse leading the procession, Loren’s guests are told the rules of the party, and each is given a .45 caliber pistol for protection. Forced to attend the party, Loren’s wife tries to warn the guests that her husband is psychotic, causing them to be very suspicious of him. Nora becomes convinced that he’s trying to kill her when she keeps seeing frightening ghosts, including the ghost of Annabelle, who had apparently hanged herself some time during the night.
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Almost as frightened as Nora is Watson Pritchard. He is convinced that the house is genuinely haunted by the ghosts of those killed there in the past, including his own brother, and that those ghosts have the power to “come for” (kill) anyone in the house. Schroeder is attacked in a basement room, but is convinced his attacker was real, and tries to calm Nora’s fears. It is eventually revealed that Annabelle, in league with her lover, Dr. Trent, faked her death in an attempt to frighten Nora so badly that she will be compelled to shoot Loren. After being driven into a fit of hysteria by the repeated frights she has experienced during the night, Nora, seeing Loren walking toward her in the basement with a gun in his hand, does indeed shoot Loren. After she flees the room, Dr. Trent slips in and tries to get rid of Loren’s body by pushing it into a vat of acid there (which had been used by a previous resident named Norton to kill his own wife), but the lights go out, and the sounds of a struggle and splash are heard followed by hissing and rapid bubbling.
Carol Ohmart stars as the beautiful but dangerous Annabel Loren
Hearing the gunshot, Annabelle rushes down to the basement to confirm that her husband is dead, but finds the room empty. Suddenly, a skeleton rises from the acid accompanied by Loren’s disembodied voice. As the animated specter approaches, Annabelle recoils and screams in horror, accidentally falling into the acid herself. The real Loren then emerges from the shadows, holding the contraption that he used to manipulate the skeleton which is now revealed to be Dr. Trent’s. Triumphant, he states that when Annabelle and Trent were starting their “little game of murder” and planning to kill him that he was “playing too.” He then tosses Trent’s skeleton in the vat to dissolve in the acid. Nora tells the other guests that she has shot Loren in the basement, but when they all arrive there they find him alive. He tells Nora that the gun she fired at him had been loaded with blanks, and explains to his guests that his wife and Dr. Trent had been trying to kill him and that they have each met their end in the vat of acid, adding solemnly that he is “ready for justice to decide” his guilt or innocence.

Watson Pritchard, still an avid believer in the supernatural, looks into the acid and declares that Annabelle and Dr. Trent have now joined the ranks of the house’s many ghosts. With a terrified expression on his face, he announces that the ghosts are now coming for him, then, he turns toward the audience and adds, “And then they’ll come for you.”

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Vincent Price is definitely the star here — creepy, intelligent, debonair, and he has an acid comment for every occasion (“Don’t stay up thinking of ways to get rid of me. It makes wrinkles”). Ohmart runs a close second with her seductive, devious trophy wife who openly admits that she wants to be a “lovely widow”. The assorted other actors do solid jobs as well, although Craig doesn’t do much except shriek periodically. House on Haunted Hill is a deserving vintage horror movie — a twisty plot, and Price at his finest. A must-see.

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12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS REVIEW: EDWARD SCISSORHANDS

CAST
Johnny Depp (Public Enemies)
Winona Ryder (Black Swan)
Dianne West (The Lost Boys)
Anthony Michael Hall (The Dark Knight)
Kathy Baker (13 Going on 30)
Conchata Ferrell (Two and A Half Men)
Vincent Price (The Fly)
Alan Arkin (Argo)
An elderly woman tells her granddaughter a bedtime story of where snow comes from, by telling her the story of a young man named Edward who has scissors for hands. As the creation of an old Inventor, Edward was a human-like boy who had everything except for hands. The Inventor suffered a fatal heart attack and died before he could give real hands to Edward.
Local Avon saleswoman Peg Boggs visits the decrepit Gothic mansion on the hill where Edward lives. She finds Edward alone. She is at first startled, but, upon realizing he means well and is virtually harmless, takes him to her home. Edward becomes friends with Peg’s young son Kevin and her husband Bill. He later falls in love with the Boggs’ beautiful teenage daughter Kim, despite her initial fear of him.
Peg’s neighbors are impressed by Edward’s adept hedge-trimming and hair-cutting skills, though an eccentric religious fanatic named Esmeralda and Kim’s overbearing boyfriend Jim are fearful and contemptuous of him. Joyce, an ageing, unfaithful housewife in the Boggs’ neighborhood, has become fascinated with Edward and suggests that Edward open a hair-cutting salon with her. While examining a proposed site, she attempts to seduce him in the back room, causing Edward to leave in a panic.
Wanting money for a van, Jim takes advantage of Edward’s ability to pick locks to break into his parents’ house to steal from his wealthy but bullying father. The burglar alarm sounds and everyone except Edward flees after he is trapped by the automatic locks triggered by the alarm, despite Kim’s insistence that they return for him. Edward is arrested and released when a psychological examination reveals that his isolation allowed him to live without a sense of reality and common sense. Upon questioning by Peg, Edward takes full blame for the robbery. Infuriated by Edward’s rejection, Joyce claims that he had tried to rape her. During the Christmas season, Edward is feared and cast out by almost everyone except the Boggs family. When Edward returns home he reveals that he knew it was Jim’s house they were trying to rob and that he did it because Jim asked him to, much to Kim’s shock. This in turn causes Kim to show a sour demeanor towards Jim.
While the family is setting up Christmas decorations, Edward creates a large angel ice sculpture (modelled on Kim). The shavings create an effect of falling snow, which Kim dances under. Jim arrives and calls out to Edward, startling him, resulting in Edward accidentally cutting Kim’s hand. Jim accuses Edward of intentionally harming her and attacks him. Edward runs away, wandering the neighborhood in a rage. Kim, fed up with Jim’s behavior towards Edward, breaks up with him, and he goes to his friend’s van to get drunk. While Peg and Bill search for Edward, he returns and finds Kim alone in the Boggs’ house. She asks Edward to hold her, but he is afraid that he will hurt her. She pulls his arms around her and they embrace. Jim returns to the Boggs’ house in a drunken rage to confront Kim, forcing his friend to drive his van while inebriated. Kevin is almost run over, but Edward pushes him out of the way, cutting Kevin’s arms and face, causing witnesses to think he is attacking him. When the police arrive, Edward flees to his hilltop mansion as the neighbors pursue.
Kim runs to the mansion, reuniting with Edward. Jim follows her and attacks them with a handgun, beating Edward severely, who refuses to fight until Jim strikes Kim across the face when she intervenes. Edward stabs Jim in the stomach, causing him to fall out a window to his death. Kim confesses her love for Edward and they share a kiss before saying goodbye. Kim tells the townspeople that Edward and Jim fought each other to death and tells them that the roof caved in on Edward, showing them a discarded scissor-hand from the Inventor’s lab. The neighbors return home with Joyce feeling guilty for framing Edward being the one causing the neighbors to hate Edward.
The elderly woman, revealed to be Kim herself, finishes telling her granddaughter the story, saying that she never saw Edward again. She chose not to visit him because she wanted him to remember her the way she was in her youth. She believes that Edward is still alive, seemingly immortal since he can never age. It is revealed that Edward creates the town’s snow by carving ice sculptures that scatter shavings over the neighborhood.
This has always been my fav childhood film & now it looks even more amazing than it did back then.

REVIEW: BATMAN: THE COMPLETE 60’S SERIES

CAST

Adam West (Family Guy)
Burt Ward (Legends of The Super Heroes)
Alan Napier (Marnie)
Neil Hamilton (Tarzan The Ape Man)
Stafford Repp (Plunder Road)
Madge Blake (The Long, Long Trailer)
Yvonne Craig (Olivia)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Frank Gorshin (Star Trek)
Jill St. John (Diamonds Are Forever)
Burgess Meredith (Rocky)
David Lewis (The Apartment0
Leslie Parrish (Sex and The Single Girl)
Cesar Romero (The Thin Man)
Nancy Kovack (Marooned)
George Sanders (All About Eve)
Anne Baxter (I Confess)
Susan Silo (James Bond JR)
David Wayne (The Andromeda Strain)
Malachi Throne (Catch Me If You Can)
Myma Fahey (House of Usher)
Julie Newmar (Mckenna’s Gold)
Ziva Rodann (Forty Guns)
Victor Buono (Beneath The Planet of The Apes)
Olan Soule (The Toweing Inferno)
Francine York (The Family Man)
Roddy McDowall (Planet of The Apes)
Sherry Jackson (Brenda Starr, Reporter)
Julie Gregg (The Godfather)
Barbara Nichols (Where the Boys Are)
Art Carney (Last Action Hero)
Van Johnson (The Caine Mutiny)
Phyllis Diller (A Bug’s Life)
Sid Haig (The Devil’s Rejects)
Michael Pataki (Rocky 4)
Bruce Lee (Enter The Dragon)
Van Williams (Surfside 6)
Shelley Winters (Alfie)
Walter Slezak (Lifeboat)
Vincent Price (Edward Scissorhands)
Liberace (Another World)
Woodrow Parfrey (Dirty Harry)
Otto Preminger (Anatomy of Murder)
Carolyn Jones (The Addams Family)
Cliff Robertson (Spider-Man)
Ted Cassidy (Genesis II)
Maurice Evans (Rosemary’s Baby)
Michael Rennie (The Day The Earth Stood Still)
James Brolin (Hotel)
Lesley Gore (The Pied Piper of Astroworld)
Bob Hastings (batman: TAS)
Roger C. Carmel (Star Trek)
Alex Rocco (The Simpsons)
Seymour Cassel (Rushmore)
Lee Meriwether (Barnaby Jones)
Grace Lee Whitney (Star Trek)
Tallulah Bankhead (A Royal Scandal)
Eli Wallach (The Holiday)
Elisha Cook Jr. (Rosemary’s Baby)
Joan Collins (Dynasty)
Ethel Merman (Call Me Madam)
Gary Owens (That 70s Show)
Milton Berle (Hey, Abbott!)
Glynis Johns (Mary Poppins)
Rudy Vallee (Sunburst)
Eartha Kitt (Holes)
Barbara Rush (When Worlds Collide)
Dina Merrill (Caddyshack II)
Linda Harrison (Planet of The Apes)
Ida Lupino (High Sierra)
Howard Duff (Kramer vs Kramer)
Zsa Zsa Gabor (Jack of Diamonds)

This is the show that set the tone for the Batman franchise for decades, good and bad, as its indelible mark is hard to erase. The power of the show is in how iconic it was, with every element so vibrant that it’s impossible to forget. Yes, it had the advantage of being the first modern-era mass-media representation of the character, and it also basically had the stage to itself forever, but there was so many memorable ingredients that made it the definitive Batman for generations. First among those were the performances of Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin. Playing it completely straight–West with thoughtful gravitas, Ward with youthful enthusiasm–these actors kept the show from descending into parody. The world may be crazy, but our heroes remain vigilant defenders and detectives. The contrast makes their square-jawed heroics comedic, and the effect is enhanced when things get unusual like seeing Batman dance or surf, or when the Dynamic Duo are chilling out in the Batmobile eating burgers.
The structure of the series, which leans heavily on the style of the old serials and a well-defined formula, was also a big reason for the show’s success and long-lasting legacy. During the first two seasons, stories were split over two half-hour episodes, shown twice a week. The first episode would always end with Batman and Robin on the edge of destruction in some sort of insane death-dealing set-up, with the now classic refrain “same Bat-time, same Bat-channel” reminding viewers to come back to see the story’s weekly conclusion. These cliffhangers, along with the emphatic narration, the atmospheric music, the wonderfully detailed sets and costumes and the choreographed fight scenes, which feature the show’s famous “Pow!” and “Bam” visual sound effects, all serve to create a larger-than-life adventure series that’s great fun to watch.
Though West doesn’t appreciate the show being described as campy, it’s hard to think of a word that fits the series better. The thing is, you have to separate the ideas of bad and camp. Camp doesn’t have to be bad. It just has to be absurdly silly. So much of the show is obviously aiming for comedy, be it the way Batman solves impossible clues impossibly quick, the goofy names of the bad guys’ labeled henchmen, the villains’ strange obsession with personal branding, the overly literal signs seen all over the place, or the strangely specific gadgets Batman always has at the ready. I mean, really…an empty alphabet soup bat-container? Then there are the overtly humorous parts, like the cameos when Batman and Robin climb up the sides of buildings, which feature celebrity cameos from Sammy Davis Jr., Don Ho, Santa Claus and Lurch from The Addams Family. Elements like this earn plenty of chuckles throughout the series, but they don’t take away from the fun of the action or the crime-fighting plots. They also serve to make for what might be the most accessible Batman ever; enjoyable for young and old alike.
The show burned brightly, but only for three seasons, crashing hard considering the show’s immense popularity. Perhaps it was overexposure due to the twice-a-week schedule, with 58 episodes in season two, but the show was definitely showing signs of slowing down in the final season before cancellation, including mostly eliminating the cliffhanger, instead linking episodes via a coda at the end. Whether it was an artistic choice or otherwise, the weird way the show started to use “suggested sets,” in which parts of a set were placed in an otherwise black room to create the idea of the setting, made it seem like something had changed for the worse. Another major change in the third season also stood out somewhat negatively, as Yvonne Craig’s Batgirl (the crime-fighting alter-ego of police commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara) was added to the show as a regular. She didn’t bring a great deal to the party though, outside of a great costume design, as she often needed saving as much as she helped the team.
The other issue with Batgirl was she was further evidence of the show being a product of its time, as, in addition to the clothes, sets and language all being heavily dated to the ‘60s (especially in the third run), sexism is rampant throughout the series, whether display via the eye-candy molls of the villains or the drooling narration for the new distaff member of the Bat-team. The portrayal of women is pretty much entirely negative in the show, with flippant remarks about the vanity of women or their value, while one villain, Nora Clavicle, is actually a women’s rights activist, who replaces the police force with women, who are only interested in coupons and recipes. The rampant misogyny is odd considering the show was progressive enough to have an interracial flirtation between West’s Batman and Kitt’s Catwoman.
Though the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder are obviously the stars of the show, the villains are what defines the series, as has always been the case with Batman. In addition to his traditional rogues gallery, including Joker, Riddler, Penguin and Catwoman, this series introduced a number of freshly-minted felons, some of which eventually were incorporated into the comic books, like Victor Buono’s over-acted King Tut. The oft-ridiculous nature of these baddies, which were often created to give big celebrities of the day a chance to play, like Zsa Zsa Gabor’s Minerva, Milton Berle’s Louie the Lilac or Liberace’s Fingers, was a big part of why the show was viewed as campy.
As goofy as the new creation were, the originals were wonderfully evil, especially Cesar Romero’s Joker, Frank Gorshin’s Riddler and Julie Newmar’s Catwoman (though that shouldn’t take anything away from Eartha Kitt’s purr-fect turn in the cat suit in the show’s third season.) These three each brought something special to the show, be it Romero’s manic glee, Gorshin’s dark intensity or Newmar’s unrestrained sensuality. The problem with having the villains be such a focal point of the show is it makes the series uneven, as a weak villain, like Van Johnson’s Minstrel or Maurice Evans’ Puzzler, usually makes for a weak episode. The exception to that rule would have to the two-part “A Piece of the Action”/”Batman’s Satisfaction”, which had a terrible nemesis in the stamp-forging Colonel Gumm, but which is great fun because of a crossover with The Green Hornet, which meant Van Williams and Bruce Lee were on hand for twice the crime-fighting action. Just seeing Lee on Batman was great, but having two masked heroes and their rich alter-egos interacting without each other knowing made for a fun twist on the heroes.

Looking at the set as a whole, it’s easy to wonder why the first 12 discs are extras-free. There’s not a commentary to be found. Considering how long the wait has been, and how influential and popular the show is, you’d think there would be plenty of people that would want to sit down and talk about this show. It’s bad enough that the lengthy delays have resulted in many of the cast and creators passing before its release, but to not have any contemporary perspectives is just doubling down on this problem.
There’s also the fact that two separate releases of bonus content that have been released in the past, “Holy Batmania!,” which offered four documentaries on the series, and “Adam West Naked,” a collection of recollections produced by West himself. Some of this contest should have been included on the third disc of season three, which has just two 30 minute episodes. What’s worse is Warner Brothers is offering “Adam West Naked” as part of an odd package online that includes the first 64 episodes, the Batman ‘60s movie and some ephemera.
Thankfully the 13th disc fills in a lot of the gaps holding all of the set’s bonus content, most of which is courtesy of master extra maker Alexander Gray, who has produced and directed this kind of material for loads of DC-related DVDs. It all starts with “Hanging with Batman” (29:56), which focuses on West, looking at his life, from his childhood to his acting career, with plenty of time on his experiences as Batman and the legacy of that performance. The piece, which is loaded with archival photos and video, isn’t fluffy in any way, touching on some of the darker moments of West’s life, including controversy that surrounded him at his peak as a star and his personal and professional struggles in the wake of the show’s cancellation and the character’s rebirth with the Tim Burton movies. An excellent profile of a charismatic man with an interesting life.
“Holy Memorabilia, Batman!” (29:59) looks at the fans, a few in particular, and the collecting that sprung up around the show, including the key pieces and the process of acquiring them. With Toy Hunter’s Jordan Hembrough providing expert (and some personal) perspective, the featurette checks out the collections of actor Ralph Garman (Family Guy, the Hollywood Babble-On podcast) and Guinness record-holder Kevin Silva, as well as the work of Mark Racop, who builds replica Batmobiles. The Garman segments also feature a visit by West to check out (and even try on) the goods, and the result is an excellent look at a side product of the series.
An odd inclusion is “Na Na Na Batman” (12:15) which features a huge roster of producers and directors from Warner Brothers-produced series talking about the Batman series, including their memories of watching the show (if they are old enough) along with the costumes and villains. The connection to the show for most of these participants, which include Kevin Bacon, James Purefoy, Mike O’Malley, Stephen Amell, Jared Padalecki, Misha Collins and Jensen Ackles, is beyond tangential, which coats the whole piece with a sheen of promotion, but if you’re a fan of shows like Supernatural, Arrow, The Following and The Mentalist, perhaps you’ll enjoy these worlds crashing together. Wedged in here with all these people is West and Burt Ward, bringing things back to center a bit.
The point of “Batmania Born!” (29:41) isn’t entirely clear, as it can get a bit scattered in terms of the subject matter, but it seems to mainly talk about the look of the series, and mainly features the voices of people from the world of comic books and related TV series, though some production design and costuming people sneak in as well to discuss the visuals of Batman, including the influences of the comic books, the animated opening, the tights and, most interestingly, the negative effect the show had on comic books in the larger world of entertainment. Among those sitting down to chat are Jim Lee, Bruce Timm and Julie Newmar, long with archival clips of Cesar Romero and Frank Gorshin, making this catnip for comics fans.
Lee and Garman return in “Bats of the Round Table” (45:08), joining Batman superfan Kevin Smith and actor Phil Morris (Smallville), as they sit down for a meal with West. Unsurprisingly, the chat is dominated by Smith–a natural conversationalist–but they all chime in at some point, peppering West with questions and actually getting some interesting answers, including talk about dealing with a difficult Otto Preminger, who West’s favorite guest star and favorite Catwoman was, life on the set and a fun story about Ward and Bruce Lee. One wonders how the mostly unconnected Morris got in on this group (though he does have a Batman story of his own to share), but they all interact well in a smooth-flowing get-together. The ending may be slightly cheesy, but it’s a satisfying featurette.
Though there are no commentaries in this set, there are two pseudo-commentaries, in the form of the two-part “Inventing Batman: In the Words of Adam West.” These pieces, which run a total of 59:08, feature West, in occasional picture-in-picture appearances, reading excerpts from his shooting scripts for “Hi Diddle Riddle” and “Stuck in the Middle” while the episodes play. There’s a tremendous amount of dead air (probably more than half the episodes are just the original audio), which may explain the lack of commentaries, but it’s great when West shares the notes he made on the script during the production process and his thought process for the character.
The bonuses wrap up with a quartet of rarities, which are mostly great to check out. First up is the 7:54 pilot for Batgirl. This never-aired “episode” was intended to show the character could work, in advance of her introduction in Batman’s third season. This compact adventure, which features Batgirl fighting Killer Moth and his gang alongside the Dynamic Duo in a library, feels just like the Batman series, complete with the “Pow!”s, but with a lot more sexism, courtesy of the narrator and Batman himself. Today, it’s really kind of creepy.
Also included are a pair of screen tests for the show, which are truly fascinating. First up is West and Ward (6:16), in a proto-Wayne Manor and the Batcave, doing a pair of scenes, following by a brief tumbling and karate demonstration by Ward and some silent footage of the pair in the ‘Cave. The performances were so fully formed right off the bat (no pun intended) that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the roles. That’s solidified when you see Lyle Waggoner and Peter Deyell try out for the parts (4:23), doing the same roles on the same sets, with the same sketchy costumes. Robin is more childish in Deyell’s performance, while Waggoner doesn’t bring the same measured intensity as West. Watching it though, allows you to picture an entirely different history for Batman.
The final entry is a James Blakely Tribute (2:24). The title is a bit misleading, as it’s just a clip of Blakely, post-production supervisor on the show, discussing the story of the series’ development and the idea of editing in the show’s iconic sound-effects graphics. It’s not really a tribute in the traditional manner.
 It’s only natural that waiting so long for these episodes to arrive on home video has made expectations unmeetable, but between the wonderfully silly show, the quality of the presentation and the excellent extras that actually have been included, this set is one all Batman fans will want to own.