Terror In The Haunted House (1958)

Terror In The Haunted House (1958)‘The First Picture in Psycho-Rama! The Fourth Dimension! Subliminal Communication!’

A young woman in Switzerland is plagued by nightmares of an old dark house. Just married after a whirlwind courtship, back in the States hubby’s choice of residence looks strangely familiar…

Fairly standard mystery thriller than none the less manages to keep the audience guessing, even if the final revelations are a little underwhelming. Our heroine is Cathy O’Donnell; a sanitarium patient with only a fragmentary memory of her past; her hubby is handsome Gerald Mohr whose outward suavity may conceal a more sinister character. So far, so very Hitchcock; with echoes of Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941) and Spellbound (1945).  It’s not exactly original but the setup is persuasive enough with a little effort on the part of the audience.

Arriving at the spooky mansion in the middle of nowhere, our heroine is obviously not a happy bunny, but a quick exit is off the cards when hubby finds their distributor cap has gone walkabout. Suspicion falls on crusty old caretaker Jonah (John Qualen) but does hubby have his own agenda and could he be responsible? Things begin to unravel when the owner of the house (William Ching) turns up and the truth begins to come out.

Terror In The Haunted House (1958)

Oh, bless you, no, Miss. No-one ever stays ‘ere…

Ok, it’s time to address the reason why this film is remembered today and why it was only shown in a cut version on US TV in the 1970s. It was filmed in ‘Psycho-Rama’! And what was this innovative and controversial process? Two words: subliminal images. During crucial moments, individual frames flash on the screen to heighten the terror. And what were these shocking images? Crude drawings and a few helpful phrases such as: ‘Get ready to scream’ and ‘Die! Die! Die!’ Truly shocking.

It’s a crude device; distracting at best; annoying at worst. Its presence may have helped get the film some column inches, but it tends to devalue it as critics focused on the dumb gimmick. Ok, the film’s no world-beater but it’s an acceptable enough thriller, even if the culminating exposition is a little far-fetched. Performances are fine and, although the limited size of the cast and just one major location betray a small budget, the film hits its limited targets pretty effectively.

Subliminal messaging is no longer controversial. Academic studies have shown it has little or no effect. So when Rhino reissued the film for DVD a few years back they inserted their own!  It said ‘Rent Rhino Videos every day.’

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