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Subj: Creature Feature 111: The Haunting(1963)
Posted: Mon Dec 18, 2017 at 03:46:55 am EST (Viewed 137 times)
1963’s ghost story The Haunting was produced and directed by Robert Wise. It was adapted from Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel “The Haunting Of Hill House” and starred Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson and Russ Tamblyn. The film was shot at MGM-British Studios. It wasn’t a big success upon release but has gained a reputation as a great film over the years.
Dr. Markway and three others, including Nell Lance(Harris), are staying in Hill House in the hopes of experiencing paranormal phenomena. They encounter some strange things, like loud banging noises, turning doorknobs and a door that bulges almost to bursting. Nell, who seems to have a closer connection to the house due to her past experiences caring for her dying mother for years, decides that she feels she belongs in the house. After all that they’ve seen, the others, fearing for Nell, want to leave, but she drives off on her own and crashes into a tree, killing her, and she becomes one with the house.
The Haunting has the strange distinction of being a movie that I know is great, yet I don't really like. While it could be seen as uneventful, I think the real reason is that it's intended to be very unsettling. If you can't get into it, which has been the case in most of my viewings, it will seem like a boring movie with a few decent bits. For me, I can't get into it because I don't Julie Harris's character Nell. I think this goes along with the unsettling theme, as Nell should be a very sympathetic character given her history. Like the weird story and weird house, it's weird to dislike such a tortured character. I can't help but feel that this was intended.
Claire Bloom is likable enough with her ESP and hinted at lesbianism. She seems a very strong character at times yet also weak. Maybe it's my own dislike of Nell, but I couldn't go along with her feelings for Nell. I felt like they should hate each other. Russ Tamblyn's character was really the only likable one. All the actors give great performances.
Where The Haunting really shines is cinematography and creating atmospheric scares. The house is a brilliant setting, with its weird angles, statues, and shadows. The effects are quite simple: loud noises, turning doorknobs, "faces" seen in wall patterns and suggestive shadowed photography. The black and white photography is amazing.
I'd imagine a film student would have a blast dissecting this movie, with very good reason. For me, I've seen it 3 times and I'm glad I watched it this time with the intention of reviewing it, but it's not a movie I would revisit every October.
The opening story of Hill House. There's great horror here as Dr. Markway narrates the events that lead to Hill House's haunting. They get creepier as time goes on.
The hand holding scene. This is brilliantly creepy as the ghost harasses Nell but the viewer is never sure if what he's seeing is truly happening or just in her mind. Very scary.
The door bending scene. While the viewer is always waiting for something major to happen, this was the strongest scene that made it known that all these hauntings weren't just in Nell and Theo's heads. Great simple effects and great scares.
Grace Markway appearing from the attic. There's such a slow burn as Nell and then Markway climb the wobbly staircase to the attic. When Markway's wife Grace appears from the trap door, it's a true shock. I had forgotten about her by then.
The Haunting trailer
Robert Wise is a Hollywood all-time great, directing such movies as West Side Story, The Sound Of Music, The Sand Pebbles, The Day The Earth Stood Still and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He found Jackson's book frightening and met with the author to determine whether the story should be supernatural or psychological. I think he developed a decent mix that was eventually supernatural.
Julie Harris and Claire Bloom were very successful stage actresses with Harris performing in I Am A Camera and Bloom in A Streetcar Named Desire. Harris appeared in the film version of I Am A Camera as well as in East Of Eden.
Russ Tamblyn starred in such films as High School Confidential(1958) and The War Of The Gargantuas. He also appeared in 1971's Dracula Vs. Frankenstein, which I feel like I want to watch every few years but then always feel let down after I do. I'm sure I'll do a Creature Feature on it before I'm through.
The Haunting was remade in 1999 starring Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Owen Wilson. I haven't seen it but it got poor reviews.
You can watch The Haunting here:
The Haunting Part 1
The Haunting Part 2
Next time: House On Haunted Hill
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