Eccentric millionaire Frederick Lorien (Vincent Price) invites five people to a party for his fourth wife, Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) in what is supposed to be a haunted house. Each guest will receive $10,000 if they stay the whole night. The doors are locked, the windows barred, and there are no phones or radios. The guests include: Test pilot Lance Schroeder (Richard Long), newspaper columnist Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum), psychiatrist Doctor David Trent (Alan Marshall), Loren’s employee Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig), and the owner of the house Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook). None of them are known to each other and all they have in common is that they need money. Ready? Begin.
The Lorens are not the best couple. Frederick believes that Annabelle tried to poison him, and her denials are a bit suspicious. Watson is a believer in ghosts and thinks the place is haunted by his murdered brother. He gives a tour of the house, including the vat of acid in the basement, in which a former owner killed his wife. Nora is confronted by a ghost and Lance, locked in a room, is struck on the head.
Annabelle warns Lance that her husband is up to something. She thinks he murdered his second and third wife after the first one disappeared. Each guest is given a Colt Model 1903 revolver for protection. What could go wrong? Nora decides to leave, but the doors are locked early. Lance and David hear a scream and find Annabelle hanging on a balcony. Nora tells Lance that an unseen figure strangled her and left her for dead. Lance and David suggest that everyone stay in their rooms and shoot anyone who enters.
Nora is chased into the basement by Annabelle’s ghost. David hears ghostly sounds and suggests that he and Frederick split up to search the house. Always a good idea. Lance finds a secret room but the door shuts behind him and he is trapped. David meets with Annabelle, quite alive, who faked her death with a hanging harness and sedatives. Actually, David and Annabelle are lovers and are trying to manipulate Nora into killing Frederick. Nora sees Frederick enter the basement with a gun and shoots him. She runs away and David comes in to dispose of the body in the acid bath, but the lights go out and it’s David who ends up in the acid.
Annabelle comes to confirm that her husband is dead, but a skeleton rises from the acid and accuses her of murder in Frederick’s voice. The skeleton comes toward her and she falls into the acid too. Frederick emerges from the shadows, holding the puppeteer controls and reveals that he knew about the lovers’ plot all along. Nora, Watson, and Ruth release Lance from the secret room. Nora tells them that she shot Frederick, but Frederick says he put blanks in the gun. His wife and David both ended in the acid and, considering that they both died trying to kill him, he’s ready to be tried for murder. Watson realizes that there are two more ghosts in the house now and he must be next.
The film was produced and directed by William Castle and written by Robb White. It was shot in the historic Ennis House in Los Feliz, California, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1924. In some theaters, a pulley system allowed a plastic skeleton to fly over the audience. The film was a great hit. Alfred Hitchcock was so impressed after seeing it that he wrote Psycho. The script was published in a leather-bound volume, with a pop-up skeleton. The film was well reviewed, called campy and creepy. A remake in 1999 received mixed reviews and a 2007 direct-to-video sequel was panned. Terry Castle’s daughter is said to be writing another remake. Julie Mitchum was Robert Mitchum’s sister. Alan Marshall had acted with Greta Garbo in Conquest (1937) and Charles Laughton in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). He died onstage while playing one of Mae West’s husbands in Sextette.