Saturday, February 19, 2011

Terror in the Haunted House (1958)

TERROR IN THE HAUNTED HOUSE is a low budget thriller from Harold Daniels, the man who directed HOUSE OF THE BLACK DEATH, PORT SINISTER, and DATE WITH DEATH. The distributors, Howco International Pictures, devised a gimmicky ad campaign called Psycho-Rama, which is basically a subliminal messaging scheme. During the film’s more atmospheric moments, Psycho-Rama incorporates cartoon imagery (of skulls, devils, bats, etc.) which is intended to instill a sense of dread into the audience. Unfortunately, is only instills laughter. Credit must be given to folks at Rhino Home Video for keeping this gimmick intact, and for even going so far as to add their own subliminal messages (including "Rent more Rhino videos!"). Apparently, this Psycho-Rama gimmick was not approved by the paranoid U.S. government back in the 1950’s, and the movie was subsequently banned (even though the film itself has no offensive material). Rhino presents TERROR IN THE HAUNTED HOUSE (also known as MY WORLD DIES SCREAMING) uncut on their line of budget DVDs.

 Sheila Justin (O’Donnell) was sent to Switzerland for her health when she was a youth. As an adult, she suffers from reoccurring nightmares (about a haunted house) and repressed memories. Her recently married husband Philip (Gerald Mohr) insists that they return to America to start a new life. When Philip informs her he rented a house in Florida for them to live in, the house turns out to be the same one from her nightmares. Sheila doesn’t want anything to do with the house, but Philip persuades her that this house is the key to restore her shattered memory. The house has been lived in for years and is taken care of by the eccentric caretaker (John Qualen). Sheila believes the house is haunted, and witnesses mysterious visions that go unseen by anyone else. Sheila is startled at the arrival of the house’s owner, Mark Schnell (William Ching). It turns out that her husband Philip and Mark Schnell are childhood rivals. When Philip is not around, Mark fills Sheila in on the history of the house and the shadowy past of her husband. Upon hearing this, Sheila is convinced her husband is out to kill her. Before long, the caretaker is murdered and Mark assures Sheila that Philip is the killer. Sheila retrieves her husband’s handgun, and prepares to shoot him in self defense…This is a very low budget film, with only five people in the entire cast. There are also no special effects at all. But the script is intelligent, and keeps the audience guessing. The viewer experiences the narrative through Sheila’s fragile psyche; she doesn’t know the history of those around her and cannot trust her own memories. This makes for some unexpected twists and turns that occupy your mind as you realize this isn’t a ghost story after all. Director Harold Daniels treats the film like it is horror picture, with lots of fake scares and haunted house atmosphere. On a few occasions, Daniels tips his hat to William Castle. The cast is adequate to the task except for Gerald (THE ANGRY RED PLANET) Moore, who suspiciously looks and sounds like a young Morton Downey Jr. Cathy (BURY ME DEAD) O’Donnell overacts as Sheila Wayne, balking with overstated fear at every turn. But O’Donnell is a very plain looking actress, which adds a dose of reality to her performance. William (D.O.A.) Ching is superb as Philip’s conniving adversary. Character actor John (THE SEVEN FACES OF DR. LAO) Qualen steals the show as the nervous caretaker of this supposedly haunted house.

TERROR IN THE HAUNTED HOUSE is presented full frame (1.33.1), as this is how it was originally projected in theaters. The source materials are in very good shape, except for the expected grain. There is very minor print damage, and only a few blemishes. The image has more depth and clarity than Rhino’s other budget transfers. The image exhibits a perfect range of black & white hues. The black levels are pleasing. The soundtrack is a strong Dolby Digital Mono 2.0. Some of Rhino’s other budget titles had poor sound; this disc is clearly superior. The vocals are prominent. Sound effects consist of spooky horror effects, and the score is equally horrific. As usual for Rhino’s budget DVDs, there are no extras other than a main menu and chapter selection.
TERROR IN THE HAUNTED HOUSE suffers from an identity crisis. It has a horror movie gimmick, a horror movie title, and all the expected horror trappings. But it is not a horror movie. If you can get around this fact, you may enjoy this movie for the thriller that it is. There are no true moments of horror or very little action in the picture, and it retains the feeling of a five person play unfurling between your eyes. The good news is technically this is one of Rhino’s best audio visual presentations in their budget series.

76 MIN

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