The Haunting
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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags are used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for The Haunting can be found here.

Professor of Anthropology John Markway (Richard Johnson) assembles a group of psychics to help him investigate Hill House, a large mansion with a history of violent death and insanity, such that even the caretakers refuse to stay the night and lock the gates when they leave. Markway's team includes Theodora "Theo" (Claire Bloom) chosen because she identified 19 out of 20 cards in a test at Duke University, and Eleanor "Nell" Lance (Julie Harris), chosen because verified reports from the International Psychic Society described how showers of stones fell on her house for three days when she was 10 years old. Along with Theo and Nell is Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn), the heir to Hill House, who doesn't believe in psychic phenomena and is only looking for a way to make a profit on selling the house. Hill House has other ideas.

The Haunting of Hill House is a 1959 novel by American author Shirley Jackson [1916-1965]. The novel was adapted for the movie by American screenwriter Nelson Gidding. A remake, also called The Haunting, was released in 1999.

Despite rumors that this is closely based on a real-life haunting, the story is fiction, although Jackson did draw on reports of different real-life hauntings for supernatural events in the novel, most notably the famous Borley Rectory haunting in England.

Markway has heard the history of Hill House and believes that the house will provide him with the proof he seeks of the existence of the supernatural.

It is said that the house was built by New Englander Hugh Crain for his wife. Just before she arrived at the house, however, she was killed when the horses bolted and her carriage crashed. Left with young daughter Abigail to raise alone, Crain remarried, but his new wife died when she fell down a prominent spiral staircase in the house. After that, Hugh Crain became so embittered that he left Abigail with a nurse and moved to England where he eventually died in a drowning accident. Abigail grew into an elderly invalid, and the story goes that she died calling for help while her hired nurse/companion fooled around with a hired hand on the veranda. The companion inherited Hill House, and people say that the house drove her mad so that eventually she hung herself from the spiral staircase in the library. The house was then passed to the Sandersons.

Hill House in both the movie and the novel is located in Massachusetts, somewhere southwest of Boston. The actual building used for exterior shots of Hill House is the Ettington Park Hotel, Alderminster, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. Interior shots were all made on a sound stage at Borehamwood Studios, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, England. Photos of the Ettington Park Hotel may be viewed here and here.

At the start of the story, Nell is staying with her sister Carrie (Diane Clare). There's a lot of friction between Nell and Carrie that seems to center on the fact that Nell got the burden of caring for their overbearing, invalid mother, who has just recently died, while her sister escaped by marrying and moving away.

Theodora is a lesbian, which is hinted at in the book. She is also dealing with major emotional turmoil and self-esteem issues. In a scene cut from the movie, Theo is shown having a serious argument with her lover and ending their relationship. She writes "I HATE YOU" on a mirror in lipstick then looks in the mirror and says, "I hate you, too," before leaving for Hill House. The violent breakup gives background to her sometimes vicious and erratic behavior in the main story.

Nell says that she sleeps on her left side because it wears out your heart more quickly. This theory actually has its origins in ancient China and India. Nell, befitting her doomed outlook and depressed life, has apparently been sleeping on her left side to shorten her life.

At one point during the film, Luke calls Nell "Bridey Murphy". Luke is referring to the case of U.S. housewife Virginia Tighe [1923 1995] who caused a sensation in 1952 when, while under hypnosis, she was regressed to what was thought to be a previous existence in which her name was Bridey Murphy. Tighe/Murphy claimed to be a young girl living in 19th century Ireland. Read more about Bridey Murphy here.

Markway decides to send Nell away for her own good. Nell begs to be allowed to stay, convinced that the house wants her, not Grace, and that it will release Grace if it can have her instead. However, Markway is insistent. He packs Nell and Luke into her car. When Luke goes to get the key to the front gate, Nell drives off, telling herself that they can't force her to leave if Hill House wants her to stay. As she drives toward the gate, the car becomes more erratic in its course. Suddenly, Grace Markway appears in the road, and Nell veers head-on into a tree. She is killed instantly. When asked how she got there, Grace explains that she woke up afraid and went looking for her husband. How she ended up in the attic, she doesn't know. She admits to peering through the trapdoor, but she didn't mean to scare Nell. She also doesn't know how she got outside, but she does know that it wasn't because of her that Nell drove into the tree. Luke says that Nell killed herself. Theo believes that Nell got what she wanted and may even now be happy. Markway points out that it was this very tree where the first Mrs Crain also was killed and that he firmly believes Hill House is haunted. Grace only knows that she doesn't want to ever go back inside. Luke thinks the house should be burned to the ground and the ground sown with salt.

Many viewers think that it was Hugh or Abigail Crain who was haunting Hill House. Others have taken the view that Hill House wasn't haunted at all, that everything was either a hallucination on Nell's part or that Nell was responsible for making it look like a haunting because she loved the attention. It is also implicit that Nell has latent telekinetic powers that are running berserk because she's having a nervous breakdown, and some viewers believe that all the paranormal events in the movie are the result of Nell's subconscious psychic powers. In Jackson's novel, however, it was Hill House itself that was evil, although no explanation is given as to where the evil came from, just that it has always been there and that the evil of Hill House will continue to claim victims whenever it wants them.

Those who have both seen the movie and read the book say that the movie is nearly identical to the book. There are some minor changes to details that don't affect the story, e.g., the professor and his wife are older in the book than in the movie. Eleanor's homelessness and guilt over her mother's death aren't revealed until near the end of the book, and her eventual death is a deliberate suicide, not caused by an invisible force. The movie also changes the character of the Professor's wife. In the book, she is rude, self-absorbed, and overbearing, as well as being a wide-eyed believer and uses a planchette to contact the "spirits", getting information that is completely wrong. She believes she knows way more about the supernatural than the Professor and chastises him for his slow deliberate "scientific" method. Professor Montague of the novel becomes Markway in the film, Eleanor Vance's last name becomes Lance in the film. The movie leaves out a few scenes, such as a small occurrence involving a ghoulish nursery rhyme. Again, this doesn't affect the story. One mentionable deviation is that Nell's infatuation with the professor is not in the book, and Nell actually comes on to Luke at one point in the book. One interesting difference is the focus; the book is about the haunting of the house, while the movie focuses more on Nell's nervous breakdown, and raising the question of whether it's really happening, is all in her imagination, or the result of latent psychic powers running wild.

Some supernatural events in the book are not depicted in the movie, as follows:

(1) At one point, Theo returns to her room to find her clothes thrown about, trampled, and smeared with what appears to be red paint or blood, and on the walls and ceiling is written "Eleanor come home Eleanor." They close the room off and Theo wears Nell's clothing, but a few days later Mrs. Montague enters the room and finds nothing wrong, and Theo's clothes neatly put away.

(2) Mrs. Montague's planchette, which gives a number of nonsense messages about ghostly nuns and hidden treasure (a reflection of her romantic and gullible notions of the haunting), but then has a series of messages about "Eleanor Nellie Nell Nell" with repeated references to "home", "lost", and "mother".

(3) One scene of the door being pressed against in Theo's room is noted by complete silence; even Eleanor and Theo cannot hear each other talk. Another time, Theo and Nell fall asleep with a light on, but Nell is wakened by voices and the room is pitch dark; it's not until she screams that suddenly the light is on again. There are other times when characters call to one another but cannot hear each other or hear something else entirely.

(4) Theo and Nell go for a walk outside, and suddenly everything appears in "negative", with a black sky and white trees. They see a ghostly family on a picnic, beckoning them to join, but Theo looks behind her and screams for Eleanor to run and not look back. As soon as they start running for the house everything is normal again. Theo never describes what she saw, but it is clear it was something she found terrifying.

(5) During the next-to-last night, when it sounds like the house is falling apart, Mrs. Montague (asleep in the nursery) and her friend Arthur (asleep elsewhere) don't hear what the others do; Mrs. Montague only complains that her room is stuffy, and Arthur complains of a branch tapping at the window.

(6) Nell, Theo, and Luke take a walk outside, and at one point Nell walks ahead and assumes the others are right behind her. She turns and realizes they're nowhere near, and she sees the grass being moved by an invisible presence, which passes her, crosses a stream, and continues on.

(7) During Nell's last day in the house, she hears a phantom voice singing outside, and in her final insanity runs around the house, led by calls from a phantom voice that sounds like her mother. It is unclear if these voices (and some other events) are really happening or are symptoms of Nell's crumbling sanity.

Stephen King has admitted that Salem's Lot (1979) is a tribute to Jackson's The Haunting. Like Hill House, Marsden House is an evil house in and of itself, and it attracts evil, like vampires, to it. Burnt Offerings is another film that features an evil house that is capable of rejuvenating itself by sucking the life out of its human residents. In The Shining (1980), the Overlook Hotel is evil from decades of ignored bloodshed, debauchery among the rich, and trapped ghosts who continue to repeat what was done in the past.


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