Dr. Markway, doing research to prove the existence of ghosts, investigates Hill House, a large, eerie mansion with a lurid history of violent death and insanity. With him are the skeptical young Luke, who stands to inherit the house, the mysterious and clairvoyant Theodora and the insecure Eleanor, whose psychic abilities make her feel somehow attuned to whatever spirits inhabit the old mansion. As time goes by it becomes obvious that they have gotten more than they bargained for as the ghostly presence in the house manifests itself in horrific and deadly ways. Written by
Doug Sederberg <email@example.com>
Nelson Gidding's initial concept for the script was that Eleanor had experienced a nervous breakdown and had been hospitalized, and that the house was the hospital, the other characters were staff and patients, and the booms and knockings were the result of shock treatments. The entire story would have been inside the head of a mentally ill woman. However, upon discussing this with author Shirley Jackson (who simply regarded it as a haunted-house story), he decided to backpedal on that idea, but still emphasized Eleanor's crumbling sanity in his final script. See more »
When Nell leaves the Boston garage, we can see through her car's back window that there are two English policemen standing on a street corner. See more »
Dr. John Markway:
An evil old house, the kind some people call haunted, is like an undiscovered country waiting to be explored. Hill House had stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more. Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there... walked alone.
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The Haunting is directed by Robert Wise and adapted to screenplay by Nelson Gidding from the Shirley Jackson novel The Haunting of Hill House. It stars Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn and Lois Maxwell. Music is by Humphrey Searle and cinematography by David Boulton.
Hill House has a troubled history, death, either by accident or by suicide, has occurred there over the years. Today, Dr. Markway, an anthropologist and investigator of paranormal activity, leads a team of four for a stay at Hill House, where they will stay for a period of time in the hope that Markway can prove something paranormal resides there
The haunted house premise has been a staple for horror film makers since forever. To place the viewer in a murky house, alongside some character unfortunates, and then scare the tar out of them has always been the aim. It hasn't often worked to great effect, in fact the number of genuine scary haunted house movies barely trouble the fingers of both hands. How strange, then, that the best of the bunch chose a simple formula that has never been replicated since with the same great effect.
The Haunting thrives not on what it throws at you by way of jumps and peek-a-boo visceral shocks, it deals firmly in the realm of what you can't see scares you the most. Where we have to use our own fretful imaginations to fill in the blanks for us, which is never a good thing in psychological horror parlance. Robert Wise, a most gifted and versatile director, uses oblique camera angles, thundering sound effects and angled close ups of his actors to get the maximum amount of atmosphere from the premise.
Distortion is very much a key component here. We are told the history of the house and some of its structural quirks, the camera angles heighten this for ethereal impact whilst simultaneously marrying up to the distortion of a key character's mental health. The story in essence sounds simple, yet there is much bubbling away in Hill House, both on the page and up there on the screen. This is not simply a case of a group of people being haunted by a spectre or otherwise, the mind is a key player here, very much so.
Along the way are some truly breath holding scenes; a bending door, pounding in the corridor, a face on the wall (the lighting here genius), Nell's hand holding incident, a rickety spiral staircase that we fear from the off, and the ghostly finale as Hill House reveals its hand and what we thought was a simple and true narrative is actually more clever, more chilling than we first imagined. Suggestion is a very big thing in The Haunting, it's what drives it to greatness, but it also has scenes that really bring the gooseflesh jumping up on your arms.
The acting is mostly great, with Tamblyn and Johnson correctly underplaying their roles to let the two girls take centre stage. Both Harris and Bloom are excellent. As Nell, Harris is nervous, introverted and caught up in the atmosphere of the house, it's the pivotal role and Harris instills a heart aching fragility into the character. Bloom as Theodora has mystical qualities, a sexiness and a devilishly playful disposition, things that play off of Harris' egg shell walking quite brilliantly. While the house itself (exterior is Ettington Park Hotel in Stratford-Upon-Avon) is an ominous character all of its own. As Nell first spies the monolithic frontage she muses that it's a monster waiting to swallow her, a small creature, whole; we know exactly how she feels.
Still the template haunted house movie, accept no substitutes and ignore stupid claims of homophobia, this is intelligent, scary and crafted with great skill. 10/10
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