The Haunting

April 1st, 2012 by J. Luis Rivera

The Haunting   haunting english CR 81x120 reviews horror Director: Robert Wise
Nelson Gidding, based on a novel by Shirley Jackson
Release Year:

The Haunting   Offscreen 2012 mini logo reviews horror The tale of a house to die for…

‘The Haunting’ is the story of a house, a house that was just “born bad”. An old mansion named Hill House, after the hills that surround it. But Hill House is not a common house, as for over a century it has been known as one of the most sinister haunted houses, enwrapped in a past filled with death and madness.

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Ever since the beginning of civilization, stories involving ghosts and spirits have existed in many cultures worldwide, as the fascination with death and what comes after it is deeply ingrained in our nature. This fascination found itself at home in the horror genre of storytelling, becoming a trademark of the Gothic and romantic literature of the 18th century; as being an expression of the ancient fears of the unknown, it was a natural source of inspiration for many different kinds of nightmarish stories. Of course, ghost stories would also make the transition to cinema and soon became a staple of the horror film genre as a major source for macabre movies. As an important sub-genre within horror, many movies about ghosts have been made through the years, however, if there is a movie that has captured perfectly the essence of what really makes a good story about haunted houses, elevating the subgenre to a whole new level of artistry, then this movie would definitely be Robert Wise‘s ‘The Haunting’.

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‘The Haunting’ is the story of a house, a house that was just “born bad”. An old mansion named Hill House, after the hills that surround it. But Hill House is not a common house, as for over a century it has been known as one of the most sinister haunted houses with a past filled with death and madness. This past of infamy has earned the house the reputation of being haunted. Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson), a famous scientist obsessed with the supernatural, decides to carry out an experiment in Hill House in his desire to prove that the supernatural exists and that the haunting of Hill House is real. He invites a group of selected people whom he thinks are able to help him in his quest, but only two answer the call: the clairvoyant Theo (Claire Bloom) and Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris), a shy woman with a mysterious past. Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn), heir of the house, joins the group as a skeptical with an interest in his inheritance. However, what they’ll discover at Hill House, will change their lives forever.

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Written by Nelson Gidding, ‘The Haunting’ is an adaptation of Shirley Jackson‘s 1959 novel, “The Haunting of Hill House”, probably the most famous ghost story published in modern times. Despite some changes to the characters, the movie is relatively faithful to its source material in terms of plot, however, Gidding removes the slight touch of comic relief the novel has and completely focuses on the psychological horror of the story. This is best exemplified in the way the script deals with Eleanor, whom is arguably the main character of the story (though actually everyone plays an important role). Eleanor is the most psychologically vulnerable of the group, and this is reflected in the way Hill House reacts to her, and the strange bond that begins to be formed between her and the house. In fact, the house itself works like a character, a presence that surrounds the group, stalking them. The script is remarkably effective in the way it develops its assortment of characters and their relationships, as well as in the subtle ambiguity in which the supernatural events of the haunting take place.

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This subtle ambiguity that impregnates the script is superbly brought to life by director Robert Wise, who in a masterful exercise of the power of suggestion, manages to create an ominous and very powerful atmosphere of dread using only the effects of light and sound. With excellent camera-work and the wonderful black-and-white cinematography by Davis Boulton, Wise remains faithful to the screenplay and literally transforms Hill House into a full fledged character on its own. Having started his directing career at RKO Studios under the guidance of legendary producer Val Lewton, Wise knew exactly how to make atmospheric horror with minimal resources, and in ‘The Haunting’, he takes this approach to the extreme, returning to that subtle, minimalist style to exploit the psychological drama of the story. There’s hardly any special effect; Wise creates his horrors by playing with the oldest fear of all: fear of the unseen. However, ‘The Haunting’ is not only a very good looking film, as Wise‘s skills at directing actors are also a fundamental part of the success of the movie.

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As expected in a film based on the relationships between a group of people, the performances of the cast are of enormous importance as well. While the film relies heavy on its visual style to create atmosphere, most of the film’s strength lies in the development of the characters. Leading the cast is Julie Harris as Eleanor Lance, and she delivers an amazing performance (probably her best) as the shy and troubled woman. Many have criticized her performance as excessively whining, or irritating, but that criticism fails to see that it was natural for her character to come up that way. She acts that way because she is meant to contrast with the uninhibited Theo, played superbly by the beautiful Claire Bloom, who adds a strong sexuality to her character. Playing subtle with the ambiguity of her role, Bloom builds up a complex character that makes great contrast to the frail Eleanor. Richard Johnson plays Dr. Markway, and he is very effective in his role, as he adds a lot of charm to his character. Finally, Russ Tamblyn is pitch perfect as the skeptical rich kid Luke.

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Stylish, elegant and enormously atmospheric, Robert Wise‘s ‘The Haunting’ is perhaps the epitome of that “less is more” style that Wise learned while working with producer Val Lewton at RKO. His use of purely audiovisual elements to create the supernatural presence that inhabits the house adds an element of verisimilitude that still holds up well more than 50 years after its release. Next to Jack Clayton‘s ‘The Innocents’ (1961), Robert Wise‘s film stands as a classic ghost story of the sixties that defined the genre and made the horror believable. If the film has a flaw, it may be the fact that it suffers from a somewhat slow rhythm while the story unfolds, however, this pacing is essential for the development of the events that point towards its grand finale. A marvel of style and technique, ‘The Haunting’ showcases the great talent of Robert Wise as a visual storyteller. With the bizarre architecture of the mansion and Boulton‘s stylish cinematography, Wise has crafted a pure gem of horror cinema.

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In 1999 a remake of ‘The Haunting’ – or perhaps better described as another adaptation of Shirley Jackson‘s novel – was produced and directed by Jan de Bont; a version which oddly followed the complete opposite of the original film’s philosophy: it was an excess in complex visual effects. While it would have been expected that modern techniques could make the ghosts of Hill House look really realistic, it only ended up making them look fake and shattering the ambiguous vibe the original film thrived on. And in fact, the overt reliance on visual effects that the remake had was only further proof that Wise‘s minimalist approach was superior. Considered among the best horror movies ever made, Robert Wise‘s ‘The Haunting’ took the ghost story on film and elevated it to an art-form, becoming the epitome of the genre. 18 Years after making ‘The Body Snatcher’ (1945), Wise made another masterpiece of horror in the shape of ‘The Haunting’, and ghost stories never were the same after it.

Rating: The Haunting   star reviews horror The Haunting   star reviews horror The Haunting   star reviews horror The Haunting   star reviews horror The Haunting   star reviews horror


Trailer on YouTube.


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