It doesn't get much better than this twin-bill of Vincent Price classics. I consider The House on Haunted Hill to be one of the best haunted house movies ever made. The effects may seem somewhat silly to modern audiences, but the simplest frights are often the most effective. The plot itself is gratifyingly complex and twisted, and the ending is by no means disappointing. Anyone with an interest in the horror genre should find this Vincent Price gem to be quite a hoot. Then there's The Last Man on Earth, which is one of the best horror movies ever made, period.
As a jaded modern horror fan, I can't say The House on Haunted Hill really scared me, but I daresay that if you put a couple of hundred people inside a modern movie theatre and showed this film to them, you would get some delightful screams and jumps out of your audience. A movie such as this belongs in black and white, and the whole mood is appropriately creepy. The director left almost nothing out: creaking doors, apparitions, secret rooms, screams (almost so many they become annoying), skeletons, thunder and lightning, organ music, moments of total darkness, a pit of acid, and - of course - Vincent Price.
Mr. Loren (Price) is an eccentric man of wealth throwing a haunted house party for his fourth wife (who is as anxious to kill him as he is to kill her). He promises to pay $10,000 to anyone who can make it through the night. Five strangers make up the party guests - a former test pilot, a society newspaper columnist, a psychiatrist, an unassuming, vulnerable young lady, and the house's owner, who keeps going on and on about the murders that took place there. Naturally, weird things start to happen, and then all of the party goers find themselves locked in the house prematurely with no hope of escape until morning. Naturally, rather than stay together, the houseguests end up wandering around on their own, and the impressionable young lady is especially traumatized throughout the evening by what she sees and experiences. There are games afoot, the full extent of which are not revealed until the ending of the film. In its original theatrical release, the ever so fiendish director William Castle had a skeleton rigged inside each theater that would appear above the audience's heads at the appropriate time - I would love to have experienced that.
The Last Man on Earth is based on Richard Matheson's incredible novel I Am Legend, in my opinion the second best vampire novel ever written. Price plays Morgan, a man left completely alone in the world by a plague that wiped out the rest of the population, including his wife and young daughter, three years earlier. The virus behind the plague was a vampiric bacillus, so all of the people who died and were not destroyed by fire have come back as vampires. Luckily for Morgan, the vampires are quite weak and simple-minded, for they attack his fortified home every night in an effort to get in and kill him. By day, Morgan goes out hunting the walking nightmares and driving stakes through their hearts, but there are so many that the project seems almost useless. Midway through the movie, we are treated to a pretty extended set of flashbacks to the early days of the virus and the deaths of Morgan's wife and daughter. Toward the end, Morgan is shocked to find a woman wandering outside during the day, the first human being he has seen in three years. He takes her home with him and thus sets the stage for the movie's memorable climax.
Obviously, Vincent Price carries this movie on his own back, given the fact that the vast majority of the action takes place around him and no one else. He plays things rather subtly for the most part, which I found quite effective. His memories make him laugh sometimes, but Price's signature laugh evolves quite effectively into sobs of anger and frustration. The most poignant moments of the film, in my opinion, come when Morgan finds a dog outside his house, the first living creature he has seen in three years. The dog initially runs away from him in fear, but the suffering creature eventually comes back. Morgan cleans him and fixes up his wounds, but the new friendship he exults over soon becomes just another tragedy. The movie doesn't dwell on the dog episode nearly so much as Matheson does in his novel, and for this I am grateful because I find it heartbreaking. The little dog gives an incredible performance, but as is so often the case the canine actor does not even merit a mention in the credits.
The Last Man on Earth really is a remarkably good movie and really showcases the immense acting abilities of Vincent Price. I wish it would have delved into the science of the virus much more intensely than it did; the scientific aspects of Matheson's story are what make it such a phenomenally good vampire novel. The script writers did take some liberties with the concluding scenes, but it is really for the best because the novel's conclusion would not have worked in this medium without the audience being given a much more penetrating look into the minds and motives of the characters involved. Some might find the movie creepy, but there is really nothing here that will disturb the timid viewer-the camera never actually shows any of the gruesome acts that tend to be committed by human beings against vampires and vice versa. Somber and depressing as it can be, The Last Man on Earth is the type of distinguished horror movie that should appeal in some way to just about everyone.