DAAA-DAAAAN-DARRRGH! A horrified woman screams piercingly: “Aarrrgh!”. And a man laughs deeply in enjoyment: “Ha-har-haar”.

The House on the Haunted Hill was a terrifying film, released in 1959 and starring Vincent Price, in which seven house guests encountered ghosts, ghouls, skeletons and acid baths.

“It’s the quiver and quake, shiver and shake picture of the year,” said the advertising slogan.

And it featured the latest advance in cinematograph technology: Emergo.

“There is a sequence in the film when someone is pushed into a tank of acid which bubbles and seethes for a while,” says Don Wilson of Durham who remembers seeing The House on the Haunted Hill at the Grand cinema in West Auckland. “Then a skeleton rises to the surface, climbs out of the tank, looks straight at the audience and launches itself out of the screen.

“Next moment in the cinema, a huge skeleton is dangling above the audience, scaring people out of their wits!”

This was Emergo in action. The plastic skeleton had been hidden in the darkness but at the appropriate moment, wires and pulleys dropped it into full, frightening view – it was as if it had emerged from the screen.

“It’s a pretty frightening film, and when that skeleton leapt out above our heads, we were all screaming and shaking,” says Don.

But that was the first night. It was so good and scary that everyone went back on the second night.

“The place was packed,” says Don. “Word had got round. We settled down, and at the appropriate moment, the skeleton made its startling appearance overhead, only this time, no one was startled.

“Instead, most of us in the first ten rows downstairs produced catapults or elastic bands and metal staplers and let fly at the skeleton.

“The wretched thing was literally shot to pieces, and only a few sad tatters made it back along the wires to its place of safety behind the screen.

“That was one night at The Ranch that went down in cinema history.”

The Grand was “a ramshackle, barn-like building” on East Green in West Auckland, which was known almost universally as “the Ranch” because of the number of westerns that it showed. Some unkind people also called it “the Laugh and Scratch”, because you laughed when you went in and scratched when you came out.

In Don’s day, it was run by Dora Clark and her husband who seems to have been called Pie. Pie was also known as “Searchlight Joe”, because as the film was shown, he would be patrolling the darkness, shining his bright light on the sources of noise and misbehaviour.

Another correspondent tells how the Grand had three double doors down its side out of which everyone exited at the end of the show. These double doors allowed the film to be heard outside so, if you knew the plot, you could follow along outside. Lads would arm themselves with missiles and, at the scariest moment, they would smash them against the doors to petrify the patrons inside.

“Pie once caught us armed with half-a-brick for this purpose and barred us for a month,” says our correspondent. “This was hard on us because we went three or four times a week.”

As our series on coalfield community cinemas is showing, in pre-television days, these venues were absolutely central to people’s lives. The Grand changed its programme three times a week: after Monday to Wednesday, there was a new film for Thursday to Saturday and then a special feature on the Sunday.

And, of course, if that wasn’t enough for you, on another night, you could take a bus to a neighbouring town or village to see something else.

The Grand, which had a balcony, seems to have been built as a cinema, probably around the time of the First World War. Cliff Bird in Shildon remembers how it had its own generator, powered by a gas engine, in an out-house.

No pictures of the Grand seem to survive. It probably closed in the early 1960s and a care home eventually took over its site. That has now been cleared, and houses are now emerging on the spot where once The House on the Haunted Hill was shown.

BACK to Butterknowle where we established last week that the Kino was on Pinfold Lane, which is the village’s main street, in an 1870s miners’ institute that is now used by an agricultural feed merchant.

“I remember going there to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in technicolour at Christmas 1938 and I received a leather purse with Doc, Snow White and Happy printed on the front in colour. To me, as a six-year-old, it was a handbag, and I still have it,” says Ena Gowland, in Bishop Auckland.

“From then on, I was hooked. The programme changed three times a week, and Mr and Mrs Coates were the proprietors who ruled with a rod of iron. They needed to, as the children in the first three rows were whooping and hollering as make-believe cowboys and Indians.

“Through the war years, life consisted of school and work on the farm, and our great escape was our visits to the cinema. I remember going on holiday to Darlington to say with a cousin, and we went to the cinema every night, travelling by trolley bus – there were at least eight different venues.

“After the war, as a teenager, we walked for a night out from Butterknowle to the Crown at Cockfield, or to Evenwood for a Sunday night at the Empire.”

Memories 416 told that the Crown was converted from a temperance hall and is now a garage, and the Empire at Evenwood was in a corrugated shed that became a nightclub in the 1960s and has now been replaced by housing.

RAYMOND KELLETT also remembers the Kino – he adds to Ena’s memories that it was owned by Joe and Dora Coates, of Copley Lodge, South Side.

“I went there several times as a boy, the last time to see Bill Hayley and the Comets in Rock Around the Clock in the late 1950s,” he says. Last week, we told how that 1956 film was greeted with barn-storming enthusiasm at the Palladium in Claypath, Durham, and it was the same at the Kino.

“That night it was packed and when people got up to jive in the aisles, Joe turned off the sound until they sat down,” says Raymond.

ALAN HAMILTON saw Rock Around the Clock in the Regal (later the Essoldo) in North Road, Durham, where there was dancing in the aisles and even in the street. It was, he says, in 1956, the year of the film's release. "I was in the queue and so were some refugees from Hungary, who were in conflict with Russia that year," he says.

THE Palace Theatre in Walkergate, Durham, has cropped up several times in this series, and now Richard Lacey, in Ferryhill, is able to provide a definitive date for its closure. “It closed on February 1, 1964, which must have been a matter of weeks before the bulldozers moved in to prepare for the construction of Milburngate Bridge,” he says.

IN Dean Bank, Ferryhill, there was another cinema nicknamed “the Ranch”. It was the Majestic, which operated in a miners’ welfare hall which was only demolished in 1999. The Majestic was next door to the Dean Bank and Ferryhill Village Literary and Social Institute – a marvellous institution which still stands, and was known to all Ferrhillonians as “the Chute”.

On one side of these two mining buildings was a police station, complete with cells, which is now a private house – do the cells remain?

And on the other, western side was a shed which leaned against the side of the Chute.

In the days when gambling was illegal, this shed was the home of the local bookie.

“Every Saturday, there always seemed to be a queue outside the shed,” says Frank Ripley of Spennymoor, “and in the back room of the Chute, there was a card school – several tables with men with piles of florin pieces (two shilling coins) in front of them. My Dad's favourite game was knockout whist, played for two bob a game, all totally illegal.

“I was sometimes sent round to tell him his tea was ready, and sometimes he would give me a half crown wrapped in a piece of paper with his horse-racing bets on it and he told me to take it into the bookies’ shed.

“It being illegal, he couldn't put his name on in case of a raid, so, like all the punters, he had a nom-de-plume: NAB, which stood for the National Assistance Board, which was the predecessor of our social security!

“He did have a dry wit.

“All this going on less than 100 yards from the local copshop! It used to amuse me then, even as a 10 year old.”

Before anyone suggests that it was highly immoral to inculcate someone of such tender years in an illegal activity, Frank adds: “My Dad usually ended his Saturdays a little better off than he started, and it taught me a valuable lesson: only gamble if you have a good chance of winning.”

ANY other coalfield cinema stories? Please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk