Happy Halloween! I have a special treat for you to mark this holiday. 1985’s comedy classic Clue is obviously based on the popular board game. And yet its plot and characters seem to have quite a bit in common with the ones in 1959’s House on Haunted Hill. The big difference is that Clue is a dark comedy while House on Haunted Hill plays it completely straight as a horror film.
There is a lot to cover in this Movie Matchup, so let’s not dilly dally, but consider each similarity one by one as we discover that Clue is a brilliant parody of House on Haunted Hill.
House on Haunted Hill tells the story of five people who have never met before, as well as a husband and wife, who spend the night in a mansion that is filled with murder and intrigue in 1959.
Clue tells the story of seven people who have never met before who spend the night in a mansion filled with murder and intrigue in 1954. The characters in Clue are clever subversions of the characters in House on Haunted Hill. Let’s go through each one to see what I mean:
Organizer – Fredrick Loren/Wadsworth. Mr. Loren is an eccentric millionaire who has had several wives who died. He believes his current wife is trying to kill him, but he has some tricks up his sleeve to turn the tables on her. Wadsworth is a widower and the organizer of the dinner party, and he is hiding a deadly secret about his true identity.
Coward – Watson Pritchard/Mr. Green. Pritchard’s brother was murdered in the mansion the party is being held at, and Pritchard is convinced the place is haunted. He drinks a lot and spends most of the film drunk and panicky. Green is being blackmailed by an unknown person because he is a homosexual, and he doesn’t want it known publicly. Or is he? He is a coward and is mostly used as comic relief through the majority of the film before his big secret is revealed.
Psychiatrist – Dr. David Trent/Professor Plum. Trent is a licensed psychiatrist who acts as the voice of reason through most of the film. But it turns out he’s having an affair with Mrs. Loren, and he is working with her to murder Mr. Loren. Plum is a former psychiatrist who spends most of the film acting like a philanderer and not at all like a medical professional. He lost his license to practice after he had an affair with a patient. He, too, has murder on his mind.
Older Woman – Ruth Bridges/Mrs. Peacock. Bridges is a newspaper columnist who tends to have delayed reactions to scary events. Mrs. Peacock is the wife of a senator, and she tends to overreact to scary events.
Widow – Annabelle Loren/Mrs. White. Mrs. Loren plans to murder her husband (and make it look like an accident) for the sake of Trent, who she’s having an affair with. White’s previous husbands disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and she plans to kill the maid with whom one of her husbands had an affair.
Military Man – Lance Shroeder/Colonel Mustard. Shroeder is a test pilot who is constantly on the lookout for secret passages. He is also a bit of a bumbling buffoon, truth be told. Mustard is a war profiteer who has a knack for stumbling upon secret passages. He pretends to be a blustering buffoon, but his mannerisms are coldly calculated to hide his true nature and intentions.
Out-of-Control/In-Control Woman – Nora Manning/Ms. Scarlet. Manning is just an average employee of Mr. Loren, and she is slowly driven to the point of panic by a series of frightening events that keep happening to her. Ms. Scarlet runs a not-so-average escort service, and she is able to remain calm and collected despite all of the murder and mayhem going on around her, even cracking jokes as part of her defense mechanism.
It might just be a funny coincidence, but the house in Clue is called the Hill House. For all the talk of the house being haunted in The House on Haunted Hill, we never once get a stock image of the house with a bolt of lightning striking above it with an eerie piece of music playing over it. We do get such a shot in Clue, though, and it’s done perfectly so that it’s both scary and funny at the same time.
Correspondence by Mail
None of the guests in House on Haunted Hill had met the party’s organizer, Fredrick Loren, before the night they all came together. All of their correspondence had been via mail. He induced all of them to spend the night in the house by offering them each $10,000.
The same is true of Wadsworth’s guests in Clue. Wadsworth had invited them all to come to dinner at the Hill House via letters, making it clear that doing so would help them get out from under the expensive blackmail money they had been paying to keep their misdeeds secret.
Close Encounter with a Chandelier
One of the first things that happens after the guests enter the house in House on Haunted Hill is that one of them narrowly escapes being hit by a falling chandelier. The moment is supposed to be scary, but it’s unintentionally hilarious because right before the chandelier falls we see that Manning is not in any danger of actually being hit by it. Even if Shroeder hadn’t pulled her away, she would have been just fine.
Mustard, on the other hand, has not one but two close calls with chandeliers. The first time, we clearly see he’s in the path of the dangling chandelier, and he barely steps out of the way before it falls. He’s unaware that he is in mortal danger until he hears it hit the ground behind him. Later, he has a more Manning-like moment when another chandelier plummets to the floor right behind where he’s standing. He wasn’t in danger of being hit, but his proximity to the impact is enough to scare the living daylights out of him.
In both films, the guests are locked in the house for the night with the windows all barred and the front door shut tight. In House on Haunted Hill, only the caretakers have a key to the house, and they leave just before midnight.
In Clue, Wadsworth has a key, which gets stolen and used at different times to allow certain unexpected guests to enter and be killed.
Mr. and Mrs. Loren give their guests presents inside tiny coffin-shaped boxes. Each one contains a loaded gun, which they are instructed to use in self-defense. Only one of the guns is ever fired, and it’s Manning’s. She shoots at Mr. Loren, but he survives and later reveals that he had put blanks in her gun.
Mr. Boddy, the man who Wadsworth claims is blackmailing all of the guests, gives everyone presents containing the classic Clue weapons: a candlestick, knife, lead pipe, revolver, rope, and wrench. All of the weapons get used at some point to kill someone. In one of the endings, Wadsworth is able to save his own life by convincing Scarlet that her revolver has no more bullets, even though it actually does contain one more.
After Manning shoots Mr. Loren, Trent comes out of hiding in the basement and moves Mr. Loren’s seemingly dead body close to a vat of acid. But the lights go out just before he dumps the body in. We hear the sounds of a struggle and someone grunting before making a splashing sound. We assume Mr. Loren was dissolved in the acid, but we aren’t certain until he emerges later and explains to the surviving party guests what happened.
The lights go out a few times in Clue. Mr. Boddy turns out the lights in the Study after telling everyone to use their weapons to kill Wadsworth. His plan backfires and he winds up on the floor after the revolver is fired at him. Later, an unidentified person shuts off the power in the house, and three more murders occur in the confusion. Both of these lights-out scenes last much longer than the one in House on Haunted Hill, and they generate longer-lasting mysteries.
Pretending to Be Dead
In both films, the psychiatrist examines a person who is pretending to be dead and claims that they are truly dead, despite knowing they are alive. Trent carries Mrs. Loren’s lifeless body to a bed after she apparently hangs herself. He does this to make the others believe Mr. Loren killed her and play into his plan to kill Mr. Loren.
Plum does a quick check of Mr. Boddy’s body on the floor of the Study and declares him to be dead. He lies to cover up the fact that he tried and failed to shoot Mr. Boddy. He needs to distract everyone in order to get another chance to kill Mr. Boddy later.
Maybe He Was Poisoned
Mr. Loren notes that his wife has attempted to kill him in the past by poisoning him, and he doesn’t trust any drink she pours for him. This leads to a very tense scene between them in which they both make veiled threats against each other.
When Mr. Boddy is supposedly dead at the hands of one of the dinner guests, Plum suggests he might have been poisoned, just as Peacock drinks what he was having. This leads to a comical scene when she can’t stop screaming in fear that she’s about to die.
Shroeder gets locked in a room in the basement and is later found with a head wound. But there’s nothing in the room that he could have gotten the wound from, except by running into the wall or getting hit by someone.
Mr. Boddy’s body disappears from the Study, but is soon discovered in the bathroom with a fresh head wound. Now he is most certainly dead, killed by a blow to the head by someone wielding the candlestick. Clue manages to make the reappearance of Mr. Boddy’s body much more shocking than the revelation of Shroeder’s head wound.
The Living Room/Study
The guests keep returning to the Living Room in House on Haunted Hill and the Study in Clue. That’s where most of the alcohol is and where the group can come together and discuss their options. Pritchard gets drunk in that room while the others drink more socially.
As the body count piles up in Clue, Wadsworth comically recommends that the survivors bring the dead bodies to the Study to keep the kitchen and other parts of the house tidy. At first, drinks are poured carefully, but after facing a particularly stressful situation, Mustard asks others if they want a drink and he indiscriminately pours alcohol onto furniture in the process of pouring it into several glasses at the same time.
Is There Anyone Else in the House?
Trent asks Mr. Loren if anyone else is in the house after he hears mysterious sounds. Mr. Loren denies the presence of anyone else besides his party guests. He doesn’t bother sending search parties to make sure his claim is true.
Clue actually follows through on this intriguing setup. After Mustard deliberately (and humorously) confuses the question of whether or not anyone else is in the house, he demands that he and his fellow guests split up into pairs and conduct a thorough search of the house. This decision leads to many humorous and suspenseful scenes.
Shroeder takes it upon himself to search the house, and he quickly stumbles upon a secret passage that apparently goes nowhere. He gets trapped inside a wall and has to be rescued by his fellow party guests.
Scarlet and Mustard stumble upon two secret passages that prove to be vitally important in explaining how certain murders took place and how the murderers managed to get away with them without being seen by the others. The first time they go through a secret passage, they get stranded in a room with a recently murdered corpse. They comically yell for the other dinner guests to let them out while the ones outside yell to let them in. They eventually find a way to get the door open.
The Real Murderer Revealed
In the end, Mr. Loren explains the plot by his wife and Trent to kill him, and that is why he killed them. It’s unclear if he believes he’ll be able to get away with their murders, since it could be argued they were done in self-defense. Pritchard has the last word, reminding the audience that he still believes the house is haunted.
Clue one-ups House on Haunted Hill by offering the audience three internally consistent and satisfying endings. Wadsworth goes through and explains all of the events leading up to the murders in great detail. Then he proceeds to identify the murderers. In the final ending, it turns out that Wadsworth is the real Mr. Boddy and he has been blackmailing all of his dinner guests. Everyone turns out to be guilty of one murder each up to that point, except Green. Wadsworth shows no remorse for what he has done, and he expects to get away with it scot-free. However, Green has the last word. He shoots and kills Wadsworth, reveals himself as a federal agent, tells the police to arrest everyone else for their various murders, and then tells the audience that he’s not a homosexual after all.
For What It’s Worth
It’s definitely too late to make a long story short. I trust you can see the remarkable similarities between the stories of Clue and House on Haunted Hill. Similar stories can be told in lots of different ways. I think the next time you revisit Clue you’ll be in for a rewarding experience discovering just how amazing it is that a film that is covering similar ground as a horror film that came 26 years before it could still feel so fresh and distinct in its tone and execution. That’s my take on it, for Wadsworth.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
All images are the copyright of their respective owners.