I have watched my share of horror movies, altho I am not an expert on the genre, and I have seen different settings. Of course, there can be mixed settings: a film about Dracula may take you to the Transylvanian outdoors, to streets or graveyards, as well as into the castle or mansion or whatever. But one way horror movies can be categorized is by whether most or all of the film is within a residence, or not. Bearing this in mind, I think something special about horror films is having the victim(s) enclosed inside a mansion or home, with escape difficult or impossible, and terrorized by anything one can imagine -- moving furniture, metamorphosing paintings, spooks in the attic, odd remnants, lights on and off -- as part of the buildup for a real or expected attack, by a person or whatever. The terror, suspense, is believing someone or something is or may be there, but where, and when, will it strike? "The Shining," "Die! Die! My Darling," "Beyond the Door," Behind Locked Doors," "The Haunting." Although claustrophobia might generally be a negative for me in a movie, such as "Rear Window" (unlike most people, I do not really like it), in horror movies it is great, it makes the day. If one looks at things this way, "House on Haunted Hill" can be seen as the quintessential horror film.
Start with having Vincent Price in it, hopefully no arguments there. He plays Frederick Loren, the affluent host of a "party" in which he invites five people, not including himself and his wife, to a haunted mansion on a hill in a challenge for each person to win $10,000 (at today's value, about $100,000) if that person stays in the mansion all night. Among the five are Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook Jr.), an alcoholic, whose endemically spooked countenance sets the tone for what everyone is getting into. Frightface or not, he bears an (eerie?) resemblance to evangelist Pat Robertson, whether or not he is actually as scary. Altho Pritchard owns the house, he has spent little time in it, but he is nevertheless the expert on the circumstances surrounding seven deaths, including that of his brother, on the premises over many years. Quickly, the other four get the message: they may be facing trouble. And trouble begins quickly. Part of the idea is that there is no escape out of the mansion after midnight, when the caretakers leave, and barricades ensure this.
Price's wife, Annabelle, is played by Carol Ohmart. She is striking blond, gorgeous, with very fair skin. In several scenes that I will not specify, her lightness is artfully contrasted against surrounding darkness by Director William Castle -- very beautiful, no special effects needed. Price has a jealous rage toward her and she in turn wants to get rid of him, as she has tried to do in the past. What will happen tonight?
Of the other four characters, the two with the stronger presences in the first half are Lance Schroeder (Richard Long), a handsome pilot, and Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig), a pretty typist for one of Loren's companies and the early lead screamer. The other two are newspaper writer Ruth Bridgers (Julie Mitchum), who has a gambling problem, and Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal), a psychiatrist interested in the subject of scared people. A plot twist brings one of these latter two to greater prominence in the second half.
The creaky doors, the body parts, the unexplained incidents all do their part in a movie in which black & white is such an essential. The black & white cements the atmosphere we need for the "house" (mansion): from a distance, from a close-up at the start of the movie, and then inside the mansion, everywhere. For those who profess love for "Casablanca" and cry "sacrilege" when they see the colored version, I say, OK, the true version to me is the original, but the colorized version is just the colorized version, what's wrong with watching it too? The movie still works in color, doesn't it, even if it is preferable in black & white? To me, anyway. But as to "House on Haunted Hill" -- even if I similarly would not cry "sacrilege" to a colorized version, I ask, can you think of any other movie in which black & while is so essential, in which a colorized version would lose so much? Maybe you can, but I can't.
Loren, with his ulterior motives, has a smug, rather commanding aura, knowing that each of the five needs the $10,000. There can be skeletons in people's closets, yes. And as Loren's plans are threatened with derailment, keep this in mind.