My love for The Innocents and my recent raving about The Changeling only made the fact that I had not yet seen The Haunting a complete and utter sham. People rave about this movie as being one of or even THE scariest ghost story movie on the planet. Armed with my bowl of popcorn and my cat, I took on the challenge and now kind of wish I wasn't home alone.
The Haunting is simple enough to understand- Dr. Markway is studying the paranormal activity of the mysterious Hill House. A house with one of the most tragic histories imaginable- filled with death, suicide and crazy old ladies that spend their whole lives in creepy nurseries. Dr. Markway enlists the help of those who have experience with the paranormal and they soon find out that there is indeed something living inside the mansion...something very rude and loud.
The way that this movie creates atmosphere is actually very similar to that of The Changeling. The coldness is practically felt, the empty feeling of the rooms is palpable, the overall eerie-ness of things like the statues, mirrors, wall paper and main decor is really just mind boggling at times. The fear created is also extremely real. The movie relies mostly on the sounds being the deal breaker for anyone claiming to not be scared. This isn't entirely surprising as Robert Wise was a sound effects editor. The loud banging is so loud and unsettling that you can almost feel every single pound in your chest. The looks on Nell and Theo's faces are truly petrified and you cannot help but feel like you're right there in the room with them.
The scariest part for me was when Nell heard the different voices. The man's voice in particular doubled over the laughter and then the crying really creeped me out. What they are saying is unimportant. The fact that there is something talking somewhere is really important. We are also never given an explanation for what goes on, which is very exciting to me. We can drum up our own version of the legends and why ghosts were causing a ruckus- but it's really up to the audience to decide how they want to interpret things. I really love that the haunting isn't explained by something really lame- like some real person being responsible or anything like that. The movie relies on the actual moments of fear to make it scary and not the cause of the moments- which is something that is often overlooked. Things should be scary just because they are, not everything needs a reason!
I also loved the camera angles when Nell was walking up the spiral staircase in the library...how fantastic! Her insanity seemed to be spiraling in the same direction as the stairs- and that trap door reveal really made me pee my pants a little bit.
I wasn't entirely crazy about Nell and I thought it was pretty obvious that she was a huge nut job who was obviously dealing with some serious feelings about the recent death of her mother. The way she snapped back and forth between her Eleanor persona and her Nell persona kind of bothered me in a weird way and I'd say she was only a hop, skip and a jump away from kicking it with Gollum/Smeagol.
There's so much to be said about this film but I don't want to go overboard. A part of me still was affected more by The Innocents but The Haunting physically shook me as well. These movies really accomplish a genuine sense of fear that we are seeing less and less of as the years go by and it's kind of depressing. I will also say that the beginning telling of the history of Hill House was wonderful. The presence of the cane made so much sense as opposed to the remake. Actually this movie just makes billions of more sense than the remake. The remake I think dove too deep into the mystery of why Hill House is haunted- and it just became too complicated. The Haunting takes what it is to heart; a haunting. Simple and terrifying as that. No frills, or Owen Wilson decapitations necessary.
Oh-another really great and eerie scene to watch out for- is in the telling of the Hill House's history, when Abigail's face ages...I'm not sure what it is about that shot but it really creeped me out hardcore. I don't like when faces morph into other things, like MJ's Black & White video....bleck no thanks.
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I love The Haunting, but it does scare the crap out of me. How it creates tension through sound and direction is a real lesson in the art of horror film making
Great review!! This has always been one of my favorite haunted house movies. The book is fantastic as well- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson- if you haven't read it, I definately recommend it- it's a pretty quick read, and overall the movie is very close to the book- there are some differences though- i.e. Mrs. Markway (in the book their last name is Montague) is intrigued by the paranormal, and goes to the house to do some investigations of her own
Ooh thanks I will definitely put the book on my reading list. Thanks!
This film establishes an eerie atmosphere and sustains it without gore or special effects. Julie Harris is exceptional as the unhinged Nell. This is a marvelous film and should be an example to filmmakers about how to make a ghost story without showing ghosts.
I just discovered your your review blog, Very good! I like The Haunting, Repulsion, and other quite creepy movies. I would like to read your review of a movie from 1946 called The Uninvited. It is not a horror movie but a good ghost story. Maybe you will watch it someday and do a review.
I finally saw The Haunting last night (Halloween!) and was disappointed.. until I read your review which illuminated many of the cerebral elements, making me appreciate the filmmaking more. I did like the atmospheric elements and how unlike many horror films today, there was not blood and guts, zombies, etc. It was all in your mind, what you feared. It was great to watch a young Julie Harris and Claire Bloom and the interplay between them very interesting. I was disturbed how the group didn't seem sad Nell had died! But great writing, Andre!
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