With the phenomenal worldwide success of the stage version of Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller The Thirty Nine Steps and Kneehigh’s multi-award-winning re-imagining of Brief Encounter, it’s hardly surprising that others have also been trawling the back catalogue of cinema for suitable subjects. In choosing House on Haunted Hill, a thriller from 1959, comedy group The Lampoons have taken on a greater challenge than most for the simple reason that, although the film’s director may have taken it seriously, its star – Vincent Price -plainly did not.
From the moment you enter the intimate downstairs bar at the Leicester Square Theatre it is clear that audience participation is expected although the starting time, 8.30pm, was perhaps a little early – and unlubricated – for the level of engagement the company craved, as one cast member put it when a gag fell flat – “It’s going to be really shit if we don’t all join in”.
With a four-doored set, four principals, and two guest stars, the bar is a reasonably tight fit for this very active show. Like the Lampoons’ 2016 trolling of “Attack of the Giant Leeches” – a ‘creature feature’, also from 1959 – their production of “House on Haunted Hill” is admirably chaotic. Vincent Price himself makes an early appearance – actually several Vincent Prices make several appearances. There are some funny jokes and mishaps, which – though many will be familiar to pantomime-goers over the age of 30 – went down very well with the 20-somethings in the audience who seemed more than willing to laugh at anything even vaguely funny. The Lampoons are very good at what they do and this was managed mayhem at its best. There are ghosts. And skeletons. And shaving foam.
Masked ghosts pop up in unexpected places.
Ping pong balls are thrown.
Heads are severed …
Josh Harvey and Adam Elliott are outstanding, executing a fine piece of physical comedy towards the end of the show. And all of the cast were upstaged by a life-size dancing cat.
The only jarring note was a totally unfunny reference to ISIS and the sound, which was sometimes far too loud for the venue and only served to underline the weaknesses of the overlong and repetitive musical “outbursts”. But these are minor quibbles. This is polished entertainment, which is genuinely funny and one feels would be even funnier if put on later at night.
Review by Louis Mazzini
What happens when the doors are locked? Who will survive the night?
Why is there blood dripping from the ceiling? Is that normal?
Someone should fix that.
From the minds that brought you Attack of the Giant Leeches comes another twisted B-movie clowning classic.
Join the Lampoons and find out if the guests of this haunted house can survive the night for a chance to win $10,000 – which back then was bloody loads… you could buy a house… or a hill… not both.
Join us if you dare, inside…
House On Haunted Hill
Running Time 75 mins
Leicester Square Theatre