A Short History of the Ennis House in Geek Culture

"Do you dare enter... the HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL?" That's the tagline that introduces the 1959 horror film that's screening tonight at 9 on KCET. It's a legend, this tale of seven unlucky souls trying to outlast each other in a haunted mansion. "House on Haunted Hill" stars horror icon Vincent Price in one of his most famous creepy roles, but you could argue that the spotlight gets stolen, at least briefly, by a different presence: the Ennis House, the fantastic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Los Feliz home that looks like a cross between a Mayan temple and a "Legend of Zelda" dungeon.

The Ennis House, via Scott Beale on Flickr, under a Creative Commons license

Built in 1924, the home still stands today, and you can even get a decent look at it by driving by on Glendower Avenue or snooping around on various online map services. But it's nonetheless a treat to see it as it looked in 1959, when it serves as the exterior set for "Haunted Hill" because you get some angles that the casual passerby can't see today.

Now, it's hard to rival a film career as long and storied as Vincent Price's, but the Ennis House holds its own. Allow me to explain with a brief history of cameos (of one sort or another) that the Ennis House has made in the movies and TV shows beloved by us nerds.

Check out its unmistakable textile blocks in the background of "Blade Runner," for example. There's one exterior shot that was actually filmed at the Ennis House, but the motif was re-created for the set of Deckard's apartment:

It's also used on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" as the mansion where Angel, Spike and Drusilla hang out, and exterior shots really were filmed on location. I can't find a great photo of these scenes, but it's worth noting that "Buffy" creator re-visited the spot with these promo shots for the scifi series "Firefly."

David Lynch used the Ennis House in "Twin Peaks," but specifically for the show-within-the-show, the soap opera "Invitation to Love," on which all the Twin Peaks residents are bizarrely fixated.

And it's often speculated that Lynch sought to evoke the tile design in "Mulholland Drive," specifically on the doors to the mysterious Club Silencio.

Sets used in "Predator 2" allegedly also evoke the Ennis House, though I didn't find photos and can't vouch for the resemblance, but the patterned blocks used in this official "Predator 2" figurine seem Ennis-y enough.

You can see it in "The Rocketeer." It's the lair of the film's villain.

And you can also see it in the 1989 Michael Douglas yakuza movie "Black Rain."

While "Black Rain" isn't on the top of too many lists of cult favorite films, the appearance in "Black Rain" helped get it an appearance on "South Park," which Wikipedia notes is "satirizing the popular association of the Ennis House with criminal and/or Asian characters in films."

And I'm finishing the list with the one of the bleakest depictions of Los Angeles this side of the intro to "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" -- "Day of the Locust," which highlights the pool addition that Wright built for John Nesbitt when he moved into the home in 1940.

The list of doesn't end here -- IMDb's list has even more -- but it's certainly enough to give the Ennis House a solid foundation in geek culture. And remember: Tonight, while you're enjoying Vincent Price living up every sinister moment in "House on Haunted Hill," be sure to keep an eye out for the second-most famous star.


LEAVE A COMMENT Leave Comment