Creature Features revisited – Ghosts and Angry Spirits

house on haunted hill pic 10

Creature Features revisited

A look back at the golden age of sci-fi and horror, the 1950‘s/60‘s. Our subject today…

Ghosts and Angry Spirits

The Screaming Skull (1958)
The Haunting (1963)
House on Haunted Hill (1959)
13 Ghosts (1960)

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The Screaming Skull (1958)

The film starts with a dire warning from the film studio. Taking a page from William Castle they offer to pay for funeral expenses to anyone who dies of heart failure do to fright from watching the film, The Screaming Skull. Then music starts, a familiar composition to horror fans, Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique which can more recently be heard in the intro to The Shining. It sets a somber tone and mood for the film. A recently married couple move into the estate mansion that the husband shared with his first wife. She had died unexpectedly a few years ago. But the shadow of the fist wife looms as the new wife hears screams in the middle of the night and is haunted by the vision of a skull. The film gets off to a slow start and the pacing doesn’t improve much until the last 20 minutes. The film tries to provide thrills, but never rises to a level above nostalgic. I imagine in the 1950s the image of a skull might be shocking, the skull image had not yet permeated the culture and was still viewed as a bad omen. Needless to say, after watching the film my wife had no reason to put in a claim for my funerary expenses.

the screaming skull poster the screaming skull pic 2

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The Haunting (1963)

This film begins with a narrative describing the decades of tragedy that has befallen the Hill House. A professor investigating the paranormal invites several people to stay a week at the home. This includes Eleanor, a woman who has lived a sheltered, closed-in life and welcomes a reason to leave her old life behind, even if it’s just for a week. The rest of the film we can hear Eleanor’s thoughts as she talks herself through creepy incidents happening throughout the house. This is the film that provides ghostly chills by never actually showing a visual ghost or spirit. There’s loud banging on the walls, twisting of doorknobs, and wails, screams, and groans, all unnerving to Eleanor and the other guests at Hill House. Many of these simple techniques are used to great success in modern films, The Conjuring and Insidious. The acting in this film is top notch providing a degree of respect to the genre at the time. Despite the slow start and older style, this is still one of my favorite haunted house movies and a textbook example of building psychological suspense in horror.

The-Haunting The haunting - 1963 - pic 1

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House on Haunted Hill (1959)

The film starts with narration explaining the party thrown by millionaire, Frederick Loren. Although it is a no-no by today’s standards, this offers an hospitable charm, as if you’re being invited into the fold of knowledge, and welcomed into the house. It doesn’t take long for the action to begin as doors slam by themselves, and a swinging chandelier crashes to the ground. Frederick and his wife, Annabelle, speak to each other with cordial contempt. One or both will be dead before morning’s light. The film contains one of the creepiest old ladies you will ever see in film. The story is interesting and fast paced and if you like old films this can easily hold your attention today with the many plot twists and wonderful performances. It’s a pleasure to watch Vincent Price in anything he does. In classic William Castle style, there’s a scene where a full skeleton rushes the screen. At the time of the films theatrical run, theater’s were rigged with a full sized skeleton prop on wires that would continue the journey from the screen, right into the theater and zoom overhead down the center aisle. The screams this must’ve caused in theater houses in 1959!

House on Haunted Hill poster house on haunted hill pic 4

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13 Ghosts (1960)

The marvelous intro, a count off of ghostly images representing the spirits we will see in the film, is a real attention grabber. But that’s not all William Castle has in store. How would you like a film that you can’t see the ghosts unless you put on the special ghost detecting glasses. Now, not only can you see them clearly, but they are in 3D. The Zorba family inherits a home from their distant uncle. The uncle has been known to dabble in the occult and is rumored to have even collected ghosts. The family confirms this early in their stay when a few questions on an Ouja board ends with the spirits attempting to harm the children. Margaret Hamilton plays a grumpy house maid. The children refer to her as ‘the witch’ (with a secret eye wink to the audience.) It’s a very active haunted house film and I imagine the effects were quite creepy at the time of its release. It’s nostalgia to watch today but a decent story makes it enjoyable. stars, Charles Herbert, Jo Morrow, Rosemary DeCamp, Martin Milner, Donald Woods. 

13 ghosts 1960 poster13 ghosts 1960 pic 11

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The Screaming Skull

The Haunting

House on Haunted Hill

13 Ghosts

william castle pic 2

3 thoughts on “Creature Features revisited – Ghosts and Angry Spirits

  1. Yeah, The Screaming Skull can usually be found in the bargain bin on a double feature dvd with another clunker. Its not great and its the least impressive of the films reviewed here, but I did enjoy it for some nostalgia- good enough for a one time watch.

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