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Terror in the

Haunted House

a/k/a My World Dies Screaming

     "All I know is that death in its most hideous form waits for me at the top of those stairs..."

-- Sheila Wayne, who really doesn't want to go upstairs   




Gonzoid Cinema




Not exactly the Terror we were expecting...


Watch it!



Sights &
Terror in the
Haunted House
 Precon Process & 
 Equipment Corporation /
 Howco International

Newspaper Ads

Fear Flashers
& Horror
World  of

Terror in the Haunted House

Date with Death

Chamber of Horrors


Let's see, we've seen ShawScope, Hypno-Vision, SpectaMation, Dynamation, Illusion-O, and glorious Sepiatone -- and now we can add another film process to that ever growing list: 

Now, PSYCHO-RAMA! allegedly taps into the fourth-dimension via subliminal communication to enhance our viewing experience. And as I scratch my head, wondering what the hell vectors, hyper-planes, and orthogonal compliments -- that's the fourth dimension, right? -- have to do with a haunted house picture, I'll let you know that all Psycho-Rama consists of are quick, subliminal blurbs and warnings that something spooky is going to happen.

Was PSYCHO-RAMA! an effective device to enhance the terror? Results, as they say, vary per customer...

Booga! Booga! Booga!

We open in Switzerland, where our protagonist, Sheila Wayne (Cathy O'Donnell), recounts a horrible dream to her psychotherapist; a reoccurring nightmare that consists of a point of view tour of an old, decrepit mansion, and the dream always ends with the girl at the foot of the attic stairs, which seem to be beckoning her to climb up; but whatever's up there terrifies her so badly that Sheila always wakes up at that point, screaming her head off.

And I gotta say, Miss O'Donnell has got quite a set of lungs on her that she'll be putting to good use during the course of the film. Of course, if my co-star was Gerald Mohr...

Between Sheila and her therapist, we're clued in that the girl was sent to a sanitarium in Switzerland when she was very young to recover from some crippling malady. We also find out that she spent over two years recovering from whatever had happened, but her memories as to exactly what happened to send her there in first place are a little fuzzy -- he typed ominously

But that was a long time ago. Now, reasonably adjusted, Sheila has recently married Philip Justin (Gerald Mohr), and plans to move back to the States with him. Strangely, it was about the same time they were married that the terrible nightmares started. (Why, yes, we've just tripped over a big old PLOT POINT!) When we finally meet Philip, we immediately get the sense that he's kind of a creep (-- or at least I did.) Telling his new wife between smooches about how he used to take girls to the bus stop or train station and then "kiss them goodbye, but not really" ... I don't know about the rest of you, but that sure as hell sounds like a derivation of the old "put out or swim" gag to me. (Like I said -- he's a creep.) And when they reach the States, Philip insists that he can cure Sheila of her malaise with a little peace and quiet in the country. To accomplish this, he's rented a house for them out in the swamps of Florida; but when they arrive, the old house looks a little too familiar to Sheila...

Terror in the Haunted House, better known as My World Dies Screaming, was the brainchild of producers Robert Corrigan and William S. Edwards. Shot in 1958 but not released until 1961, Terror... claimed to have been banned by the U.S. Government, explaining away the time on the shelf. Now it is true that the hammer dropped on subliminal advertising in 1961, making it illegal to use the technique, but I don't think this movie had anything to do with that decision -- but it was more than willing to cash in on it. And Corrigan and Edwards would use the same shifty shenanigans again in their follow up film, Date With Death.

Digging into the nuts and bolts of the film, to say Robert C. Dennis was a prolific screenwriter for the boob-tube would be a bit of understatement. The man wrote for everything from My Mother the Car to The Fugitive to The Outer Limits, and from the The Six Million Dollar Man to Project UFO to Charlie's Angels before he died in 1983. Drawing a lot of inspiration from the psychological/supernatural thrillers of the day, Dennis's script is ambitious but it's already bogging down under its own weight by the end of the first act -- and we've got a ways to go yet. Behind the camera, director Harold Daniels is probably best known for helming a certain steamy little picture starring Peter Graves bedding down with a fifteen year old Lita Milan called Bayou -- but we know it better as Poor White Trash, which notoriously claimed: 

Due to the abnormal subject matter depicted in POOR WHITE TRASH, no-one under 17 will be admitted, and armed policemen will be on hand at all times!!! 

Other films of note on Daniels' résumé include the giant killer crab feature, Port Sinister, and a real snoozer of a turd-burger called House of Black Death, where even the presence of Lon Chaney Jr. and John Carradine couldn't salvage it. 

As for the cast, I can't say enough good things about O'Donnell's honest and earnest performance as Sheila. Back in the late '40s, O'Donnell had starred in a couple of noir classics, Bury Me Dead and Nicolas Ray's They Live By Night, and her future looked bright. However, when she married producer Robert Wyler, a man twenty years her senior (-- she was 23, he was 48), Samuel Goldwyn nullified her contract with MGM, thus casting her adrift, but she continued to work steadily until retiring in 1961. Terror in the Haunted House was her second to last film role. What was the last? Well, the very next year, O'Donnell would play Charlton Heston's sister in Ben-Hur. (Now there's an extreme of spectrum's for you.) Co-star Gerald Mohr's career, meanwhile, solidified with his work in radio, where he played both Philip Marlowe and the Lone Ranger. (He would also go on to voice Mr. Fantastic in the original Fantastic Four cartoon.) But genre fans will probably remember him most from when he fought a giant, mono-optical blob alien and lost in The Angry Red Planet, or when he was fighting a different kind of Red in Invasion U.S.A. 

I seem to recall Mohr lost that battle, too. So I guess we'd better hope Philip has better luck in this film -- or poor Sheila's gonna be in some deep psychological doo-doo. And it doesn't help that when her initial reaction to the house wears off, Philip's behavior turns even more dubious when he demands to know what Sheila is so afraid of. But the Magic 8-Ball in the girl's noggin' says the answer is still unclear. Told that it's all in her head, reluctantly, she agrees to go inside. And as they head in, one has to wonder if this is some kind of an attempt at shock-therapy by Philip -- or does he have something more sinister in mind?

Sheila's uneasiness grows when they meet Jonah (John Qualen), the google-eyed caretaker of the estate. (Sharp ears will recognize Qualen's stammering twang as Muley Graves from The Grapes of Wrath.) And while Philip goes to get the bags out of the car, Jonah goes all creepy and cryptic, telling Sheila that the house has been empty for over seventeen years but he keeps the place up for when the owners come back. When Sheila asks where the family went, Jonah gets even more cryptic, saying they just left and never came back. Asked for at least their names, Jonah reveals that the house belonged to "The Mad Tierneys" but Philip returns, interrupting them, before he can say anymore. But he's said enough -- Tierney is the same name Sheila sees on the mailbox in her dreams.

With these revelations, Sheila starts to get a bad case of deja-vu, but the familiar memories seemed to have happened along time ago, as if they happened when she was child. (And yes, we done tripped over another big old PLOT POINT! Be careful, they've dropped the damned things all over the place in this movie.) And between the creepy caretaker and remembering details of a house she swears she's never been in before -- including rooms she didn't dream about -- Sheila is really spooked, so spooked she begs Philip to take her away from this place as fast as possible. He agrees, but when they try to leave, the car won't start -- someone has stolen the distributor cap. (Hey, wasn't Philip the only one outside? Ah, maybe Jonah's dog took it.)

So they're stuck, but with some coaxing from Philip, the couple decide to try and make the best of it. Later that night, Sheila, having heard someone screaming, awakens to find her husband gone. And while putting on her robe to go and find him, she spies a ghostly figure outside the bedroom window, which, not surprisingly, frightens the holy-hell out of her!

Fleeing from the apparition, screaming the whole way, Sheila runs down the stairs -- right into Jonah's vicious dog, who chases her right back up and into the bedroom, where Philip has mysteriously reappeared. (The hell?) Thinking Jonah is trying to scare them off, Philip leaves to look for the caretaker. After he's gone, looking for her husband's pistol, Sheila digs into their suitcase, where she does find the gun -- but also the missing distributor cap! (Huh? Philip said Jonah must have done that. Maybe it was the dog?) Taking the gun and the doohickey, Sheila heads back into the hallway, where a mysterious shadow frightens her, and then whoever's casting it herds her toward the attic entrance. Faced with a familiar set of steps, she screams and swoons, but Philip catches her before she falls -- Was he the one chasing her? After bringing her around, Philip wants to know what's scaring her so badly, and demands that Sheila remember what she saw up in the attic so long ago. When she refuses to answer, whether she can't or won't, her husband starts behaving like even more of an ass (-- if that's even possible.)

The next morning, while chasing down another fleeting memory, Sheila finds a tree with her initials carved into it. Another set of initial's -- P.T. -- are carved next to hers, with a heart chiseled around them both. And as the evidence mounts that Sheila has been in the Tierney house before, things get even more convoluted when Mark Snell (William Ching) shows up. Claiming to own the place, Snell has no knowledge of anyone wanting to rent it, or anybody named Philip Justin for that matter. Demanding that the squatters leave his property immediately, Snell then gets a closer look at Philip and recognizes his as someone else. Turns out Philip Justin is really Philip Tierney, making him the last of the Mad Tierneys. And that's not an exaggeration. Seems that the eldest Tierney had a nervous breakdown one night and killed Philip's father and older brother with an axe. His rationale? He was trying to end the family curse where all the Tierney men tend to go a little cuckoo and murder their offspring with axes. The only reason he missed Philip was because he was away at school, and after the dirty deed was done, the old man dropped dead of a heart attack.

Warning Sheila that Philip is just as mad, Snell urges her to get away from him. But despite all the evidence, trusting-fool Sheila thinks Philip is still a good man at heart, insisting instead that this evil house has done something to him, corrupting him, and that's what's making him insane.

With that Family Skeleton tumbled out of the closet, about a dozen more subplots are introduced and tripped over as we stumble toward the inevitable climax. Is Philip crazy? Is Sheila crazy? Is Philip trying to make Sheila crazy? Or is Snell up to something? Our answer soon comes with another, violent scream in the night. Finding her bed empty again, Sheila opens the bedroom door in time to see Jonah fall over the rail to his death. Having miraculously healed itself, Philip takes the car into town to notify the Sheriff of the accident. And when Snell tries to warn Sheila not trust her husband again, sure enough, we spy Philip sneaking back into the house, where, also once again, he spooks Sheila toward the attic stairs. When he reveals himself as the culprit, there's kind of a nifty stand-off where Sheila has the opportunity to shoot him, but she can't bring herself to do it -- she still loves him. He begs her to go up into the attic to face her fear, but she freaks again and passes out. Philip catches her again, but this time, he gathers her up and carries her up the steps.

And with a mere five minutes left to go, all those convoluted plot threads and plot points we've been tripping over proceed to piss all over each other when Philip reveals that Sheila has been in this house before -- and those were his initials carved into the tree. You see, the two were childhood sweethearts, but something bad happened in the attic that was so traumatizing, Sheila was sent to a sanitarium in Switzerland to recover. Now you've probably guessed that Sheila witnessed old man Tierney axe his offspring to death, and her nightmares were nothing but repressed memories. Well, you'd be wrong. Close, but wrong. Turns out he didn't do it. You see, old Man Tierney also had a daughter, who turned out to be worse than his sons. After she shacked up with the help and had a son -- the help being Jonah, and the son being Snell -- the mother died during childbirth, and the old man wanted nothing to do with his illegitimate grandson. Deciding to make his son the one and only heir to the Tierney fortune, it was Jonah who killed Philip's father and brother, and then framed the grandfather for it. Then Philip, ashamed of his heritage, changed his name and abandoned the family fortune and fled to Europe, leaving it all for Snell. The only real hitch in Jonah's plan: Sheila. The daughter of the maid (or something), the young girl spent a lot of time playing in the attic. Hiding under the bed on the fateful day when the other men came in, Sheila saw the whole thing. Jonah found her after the deed was done, but she had gone into catatonic shock. Not wanting to kill her -- Why? No, I'm asking you. -- he used some of the Tierney's money to send her far away.

His plan almost worked, too -- until Philip miraculously tracked Sheila down...IN SWITZERLAND! Yeah, I already called "No friggin' way!"

Anyways, Snell overhears all of this, too. He knew all along what his father had done; in fact, he killed Jonah, who was starting to come unhinged, fearing he would spill the beans, and then decides to take care of the last of the Tierney's himself with Jonah's trusty axe. But bitter irony bites Snell in the butt -- well, actually, it kind of stabs him in the back -- and Philip, who contrived the whole thing so his wife would remember what happened to her those many years ago by traumatizing the hell out of her, and Sheila, now miraculously cured, live happily ever after. Leaving us in the audience wanting to...

The End

Like some of William Castle's films, Terror in the Haunted House could almost stand on it's own without the gimmick. It's got quite a few things going for it: a solemn mood, good direction from Daniels, and a great performance by O'Donnell, but its convoluted story is just that -- made worse by a record thirty-six twelfth hour revelations in the last five minutes to explain everything away. And by that time, the film had a helluva lot of explaining to do. I will give Dennis a few props, though; I thought this was just another drive the wife crazy into doing something rash plot, but then it took a left turn on me. And then a right. And then another right. And then back to the left when the chandelier fell. And then another left after it made a u-turn when Sheila found the Tierney family bible -- you get the idea.

I understand that when the film was released theatrically, there was a prologue where Mohr explained the PSYCHO-RAMA process. The DVD I have from Rhino doesn't have it, but an explanation isn't really necessary. So is the gimmick worth it? I can honestly say that nope, it isn't. If anything, the intrusive images are a distraction.

I'm not sure what the original subliminal messages or images were for the film, but Rhino claims to have restored the artwork, provided by cult-film aficionado Johnny Legend. Does that mean they were removed at some point? Who knows for sure. And if you're like me, and spent way too much time pausing and stepping through the DVD, frame by frame, trying to see exactly what those images were, you can't help be disappointed by most of them.

To Quote Ralphie Parker:

"A crummy commercial? Sonofabitch."

Terror in the Haunted House a/k/a My World Dies Screaming (1958) Precon Process & Equipment Corporation :: Howco International / EP: Robert Corrigan / P: William S. Edwards / AP: Taggart Casey, Michael Miller / D: Harold Daniels / W: Robert C. Dennis / C: Frederick E. West / E: Tholen Gladden / S: Gerald Mohr, Cathy O’Donnell, William Ching, John Qualen

Originally Posted: 10/07/05 :: Rehashed: 04/15/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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