253 of 266 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2003
The story has, by now, been imitated endlessly. Four people on a haunted house just to study it. But this is just the premisse.
The great Robert Wise sets up the most perfect, most classic haunted-house film ever made. The screenplay is built on the principle that you don't have to see it (the gore, the blood, etc.) to feel the fear. So, this is one of those great films where the tension is constructed upon the things you hear... the things you know are there.
In the pre-CGI era, you really had to create something out of what you had. So, Mr. Wise had a great script (years ahead of its time), great characters, great actors, a great cameraman, and settings that are a wow!
This is what makes this film so much better than any other (not to mention its remake - who clearly goes for the predictable cheap-trick CGI effects).
The story is told in the most perfect classic form. From beginning to end, you follow the story in the most careful pace. Beat by beat. From the prologue to the conclusion, the story is peerlessly told.
The characters and actors are great to watch: Julie Harris is the perfect troubled woman haunted by inner ghosts, while Theodora (the beautiful Claire Bloom) is the perfect icy clairvoyant who may or may not be a lesbian (everything is constructed with such taste...). Richard Johnson is great as the Doctor who must keep control of the experiment. Russ Tamblyn is also great as the non-believer who's in just for the adventure. As we will discover, all of them have weak points the house will explore. So it is possible to say that this is one film where the set (in this case the house itself) is one character just like the others.
The house has personality. It's not that unbelievable-monumental-lifeless-overdone-cathedral we see in the remake. This one is more realistic. We all know (and are fascinated by) houses like this one. It has style, visual integrity, proportion and it also puts into the film a nice touch of claustrophobia. As long as the characters are there, they are at its mercy. This "house character" is always present. Trying to get in. Banging at the walls and doors, trying to make itself graphically visible through the shots...
...This is where we get to the camera work - certainly one of the best ever made. In a house so rich with character, the distorted wide-angle lenses (let's not forget that Wise worked with Orson Welles) add much to the final effect. Corridors, statues and other objects are always there to remind you the house is present. They actually keep surprising the characters as if they were saying "we are here". This is why this film is so much superior than its remake: you don't have to see the statues move... for you know they do when you are not there. In fact, this film constructs a state where you know the things that happen when you don't see them happen. That's pure film magic.
I wonder why nobody does films like this any more. Why do they always go now for the CGI obviousness...
I just love the wide-angle lens that smoothly move through the rooms... the time we are allowed to see those beautiful sets. and all the uncontrolled fear that invades the characters. The soundtrack is another great element. The film is constructed in an almost silence (which is very confortable at the beginning). So much that the noises made by the hauntings are almost unbearable when the things get rough.
This is one of those films that were meant to be seen ONLY in widescreen, for the compositions inside the shots make great use of it (in fact I never saw it in a Pan&Scan version - I cannot imagine how awfull it must be). This DVD edition has a great commentary audio track by the actors and director but lacks any kind of documentary about how it was made (which I'd love to see). But we can't have it all...
If (like me), you love the genre, you will love this film, which is a one-of-a-kind effectively constructed cinematic work. Just don't watch it alone... in the dark... in the night...
114 of 124 people found the following review helpful
It is not often I love a book and go on to enjoy the Movie adaptation. To Kill a Mockingbird, comes to mind. But this is the case with the marvellous movie The Haunting. Since I adore spooky, sinister tales, I treasured Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. And forget the silly, inane remake, this is the Mount Everest of Haunted House movies, only rivalled by The Legend of Hell House made nearly a decade later with Clive Revill, Pamela Franklin and Roddy McDowell and the Innocents with Deborah Kerr and Pamela Franklin. These three would make a super triple-feature of Houses with Things that go Bump, since all three deal not only with the supernatural, the complexities of the mind, but the force of the will lingering after death.
The Haunting is a rather faithful adaptation of Jackson's dark and spooky novel. The key word being spooky - not gory. If you are looking for buckets of blood, search on. This is a sophisticated movie that chills rather than shocks. Staring the gorgeous Richard Johnson as Dr. John Markway, a man determined to prove ghosts do exist. And since he believes he will find them at Hill House, he arranges with the current owner to rent the house to carry out his research - though part of the pact is he must accept her grandson Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblin) to keep an eye on things.
Markway invites a wide range of people to come and take part, people with a past that showed their lives were brushed by the paranormal. However, only two come: Theodora, a clairvoyant with vague lesbian hints played by Claire Bloom, and Eleanor Lance brought to aching life by the brilliant Julie Harris.
Eleanor is a timid woman, browbeaten her whole life. She spent her youth tending her ailing mother and is now forced to live with her sister and her family. They are quick to take her money for rent, but show her little respect. In her one act of rebellion in her whole life, she accepts the invitation from Markway. When she arrives at Hill House, no one is there except a cranky gatekeeper and his equally cranky wife, who inform her they leave when it gets dark and there won't be anyone to help her.
Eleanor gets spooked, but finds Theodora, a chic, smart woman with a biting sense of humour. Despite the women being total opposites, they instantly like each other and set about to explore the dark, brooding and nearly suffocating house. Just as they are about to panic, they stumble into the dining room where Markway is. He performs introductions, and takes them on a tour, while giving the strange history of the house. Seems despite the house's ancient feel it is not that old. Hugh Crane built it for his first wife. However, she never saw the house, being killed as the carriage crashed into a tree on the way to occupy it. We learn Hugh was an overbearing, macho, zealot who tormented his daughter with devils and Hell rather than nursery rhymes. The second Mrs. Crane met an equally strange death in the house, leaving it to go to Hugh daughter, Abigail. She grows old and dies in the room that was her nursery, tended by a nurse/companion. Since there was no family, the nurse inherited the house. However, her enjoyment is short lived, as she later hangs herself from the ceiling in the library. Since then, no one has been able to live in the house.
It is not long before all sorts of sinister and chilling todos begin plaguing the women, especially Eleanor, for it seems the House has targeted her, even to a mysterious "welcome home, Eleanor" scrawled across the wall. Eleanor begins to remake her
image into the person she would like to be in her heart. She starts to have romantic illusions about Markway, only to have them shattered when his strong willed wife ( Lois Maxwell, Moneypenny from the Connery Bond films!!) shows up demanding he stop this nonsense about ghosts.
The movie is quite believable, walks the thin line in the Henry James' Turn of the Screw style story, of how much is real and how much is within the mind. The acting is faultless with the four leads turning in understated, yet oh so perfect performances. In Black and White, I could not imagine this movie in the brilliant washes of colour needed for colour filming. The dark lensing of The Haunting lets those shadows rule and give it threatening, disturbing feel that sets the tone for the movie.
So turn out the lights and enjoy one of the best haunted house film, and if you are lucky enough have that triple feature with The Innocents and The Legend of Hell House! A great way to spend a rainy Saturday night!
46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2001
Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House proved to be major force in the world of the ghost story and with its adaptation to film we have what may well be the all time best haunted house story. The movie is one of the last in the classic school of fright were the imagination is what gets you. With its gothic scenes and excellent use of shadow, The Haunting is that rare movie that delivers and continues to do so without having to rely on cheap gimmicks or gratuitous gore. A researcher invites a group of people to stay in the Hill House to determine if it is indeed haunted. We have two women, one an unmarried spinster, the other a free spirited lesbian. Both women have had psychic occurrences in the past and the spinster seems to have been taken by the house, her purpose in life is complete as she looks forward to becoming its caretaker. Yet the house does posses her and in a tragic turn of events claims yet another victim. Whether the house is haunted is undeniable, the actual spirits are not seen but make their presence felt in some of the most frightening scenes involving the classic school of "Fear of the Unseen" that filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock were best noted for. The photography and setting are wonderfully distorted and used to create a sense of fear and sheer terror. It is undeniable that this movie is one of the best made films in the Horror genre and regretfully we may never see another like it in our world of FX and all out gore. I highly recommend this movie to any movie buff to help show what real terror is all about, but make sure you are not alone.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2013
This 1963 version of "The Haunting", starring Julie Harris, is the finest horror film I have ever seen. There is no need for blood, gore and special effects to leave you feeling haunted to the very end of the film and beyond. The beauty of this film is that it creates a feeling of horror in your soul through setting, sound and the very fine acting of all the actors. Kudos in particular to Julie Harris as Eleanor Lance, who leaves you feeling that she isn't exactly who you think she is. This movie plays mind games with your head.
If you want a proper scare on Halloween, watch this version of "The Haunting" which just might keep you up at night. A film in the same vein as "The Innocents", another MASTERPIECE of horror that will also stay with you for days!
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 1999
The key strength of Robert Wise's movie is its ability to keep the idea of a possessed, evil house somewhat down to Earth, somewhat plausible, where eerieness is the goal, not getting audiences to jump out of their seats at the sight of Elm Street slashers or bloody heads floating around. I think the scenes at the beginning of the movie depicting the history of the house are the essence of plausible supernatural creepiness, unlike corny "Poltergeist" or hokey "The Haunting of Hell House." And Wise's work is sophisticated, unlike shock-and-shlock films in the "Halloween" or "Friday the 13th" category. The novel by Shirley Jackson, which "The Haunting" is based on, contained key scenes that were effective and contributed to the eerieness of her story (the rickety spiral staircase, for example). But I thought Robert Wise and his screenwriter were very clever in eliminating scenes that were far too literal-minded (e.g., Theo finding red liquid -- blood? -- splattered all over her clothes and bedroom walls) or that took away from the impenetrable, evil-lurking-inside sense of the mansion (for instance, Nell and Theo encountering apparitions of a family on a picnic out in the garden). The screenplay also eliminated distracting, extraneous characters (e.g., the chauffeur of the doctor's wife) and less creepy plot ideas (2 daughters -- vs Hugh Crain's only child Abigal -- who have legal battles over the mansion, which they both move out of during their lifetime---compared with the story of someone spending her entire spinster life cooped up in the mansion and, most strangely, its nursery.) Also, the idea of the nursery room -- kept locked and unseen until the end -- as the evil heart of the house, with the cold spot directly outside the door, contributes to the movie's eerieness. Technically, Wise's film is well executed -- Citizen Kane-ish -- especially for the genre of ghost/haunted house movies. The sets -- particularly if Wise didn't use the interiors of a real mansion -- are quite realistic and creepy. And I thought Robert Wise using the monologue approach to capture the weak, neurotic nature of the Julie Harris character adds to the film's stressful tone. However, there can be moments bordering on melodrama, such as when the professor, at the foot of the staircase, tells Luke not to be so confident in his disbelief of the supernatural or when Luke gives his little closing line at the end of the film. But, overall, if a truly evil, haunted house could be found and verified, I'd imagine a documentary depicting such a place wouldn't be necessarily far more non-fictional-like and believable than the 1963 movie "The Haunting."
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 1999
As with all truly great horror films, "The Haunting"'s strength lies in what it doesn't show you, but simply suggests - through brilliant use of light and shadow (and pitch darkness), masterful acting (who, apart from Deborah Kerr or Lillian Gish, could match Julie Harris in facially registering such unspeakable horror? ... well, okay, Sigourney Weaver maybe) and cleverly crafted ambiguity (we still don't know for certain whether Hill House is really haunted ... at least until the climax). I had to wait until I was about 17 to see this movie for the first time ... it was released in cinemas here at a time when 'Not Suitable For Children' meant what it said, and I was only 10. It was well worth the wait, though. I'd no idea that a re-make was being done, and the news has very little appeal; given Hollywood's fetish for tomato ketchup, computerised intestines and leery masks, one can only hope that whoever has control of the project doesn't miss or ignore the point of Shirley Jackson's novel. Speaking of the novel, Stephen King deals with it in wonderful detail in his essay collection, 'Danse Macabre'. A recommended read.
As for the film, it had many highlights for me, but nothing will beat that hand-holding scene - during which, I'll swear until Hell freezes over, there was a eye looking at Eleanor (and me) out of that wallpaper!
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2013
It just is.
For one thing, it was shot in the twilight-zoned era of the early-'60s, that almost-the-end-of-the-world period when even Opie losing his baseball in the haunted murder mansion on the edge of Mayberry managed to be bottomlessly creepy (despite being comedic). It was a time when even the most downmarket of "B" pictures seemed to work as long as they were of a eerie bent.
While films like THE UNINVITED (1944) and THE INNOCENTS (1961) and THE OTHERS (2001) do a more admirable job than most in a selling us an unnervingly spooky mood without gore or excessive special effects, none can hold a candelabra to Robert Wise's touchstone psychological ghost flick, THE HAUNTING... Yes, THE INNOCENTS comes the closest (due to being from the same era, and that film's sumptuous direction and cinematography) but somehow THE INNOCENTS always feels like a series of disconnected macabre moments brilliantly realized, yet lacking the forlorn narrative cohesion of THE HAUNTING.
What makes THE HAUNTING different? Because the film itself is haunted.
BTW: Obviously, the silly 1999 remake can't compete. And beware of other similarly-titled flicks (House on Haunted Hill, The Legend of Hell House, et al.) which just aren't the same, literally and otherwise.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2008
It might entice you folks to know that many Seer moons ago, before your beloved Metamorpho purchased his castle, there was another property I was considering. It was Hill House, a huge Victorian era house that was nestled in the countryside of New England. Aside from the fact that no one would go near the place (a selling feature to me since I had so many over zealous admirers out there that thought nothing of finding ways to seek out my advice. You do remember how they climbed up my buiding to try and meet me at my high rise Manhattan apartment on the 21st floor, don't you?). Not only that, but the place was going cheap. Real cheap.
So, after visiting the house with my guides in tow and a shifty realtor, I decided it wasn't for me. Marshy complained there was no powder room if she came to visit. Guido complained that no woman would dare visit the place and he had a reputation to protect. Chance complained about the lack of mirrors with which to practice his grimaces. And I was leary because it had only 1 bathroom and 86 rooms. Somehow, I thought, that might be a problem. Also, I couldn't bear to keep keeping my pets in the Mythical Pet Motel. Fans kept trying to break into the place for their autographs as well, and they were not happy.
Anyway. I didn't know they made a movie about the place until years later. When I saw this people, I knew that, yet again, the innate wisdom of a beloved Seer is the best hedge against certain disaster!
However, the movie is based on a novel by Shirley Jackson called "The Haunting of Hill House". It goes into a bit of history which I will share with you. Seems this guy in the 19th century, a Hugh Crane, built the house with the idea of sharing it with a new wife. Unfortunately, his wife never made it when, for no reason at all, the horses that drove her carriage got "spooked" and the poor woman got crushed against a tree. Very sad. But, Hugh Crane, being the industrious industrialist, was not to be daunted. No. He married again but his second wife suffered the same fate when, inexpicably, she fell down a long staircase. I think you may now be getting the idea that this is not exactly your typical circus funhouse. So, put those clown wigs away. Especially those orange yarn ones!
Hugh had a young child named Abigail, and, after he went away and passed away (yes! Him too!), she stayed in the house doing nothing but growing old and sleeping in the Nursery. Of course, she had caretakers throughout the years. But the last one, boy she was a negligent thing! She was more interested in a farmhand than doing her job. So Abigail, when banging the wall for help, died in her bed. Don't you worry folks, Abigail has a way of getting even.
So, anyway, the house eventually got as bad a reputation as the caretaker - maybe worse! So, bringing you fine folks up to date, a Paranormal Professor, Dr. Markway, asks the current owner, Mrs. Sanderson, for permission to conduct experiments in the house. She grants his request with one proviso, that he take along her card shark nephew Luke. He hopes to inherit the house one day, sell it, and cash in big. Hah! Fat chance.
But really, this story centers on Eleanor. Poor, middle-aged spinster Eleanor who devoted her life to caring for her sick mother. Unfortunately, the one time her mother needed her, she was not there, and the woman died. Are you getting a connection here? Anyway, she begs her horrible in-laws for a vacation, and is soon off as one of the only two people to take Dr. Markway up on his experiment. The other one, Theo, is a woman with E.S.P. abilities who unnerves Eleanor time and time again. Eleanor, upon arriving at Hill House, gets a feeling that the house is alive and watching her. She wants to run away, yet something inside makes her feel that this is the chance she's been waiting for. A chance for what we ponder? But only she and the house know for sure.
Now, despite you wanting to know more at this point, I have to stop or else the college students out there will use my review as Cliff Notes, and we just can't have that.
Suffice to say, this movie is one of the best psychological terror films on the market. Filmed in glorious black and white, you are treated to expert film technique to provide feelings of dread within the viewer. The bleak, ominous construction of the exterior of the house and the ornate, strange furniture and fixtures within the house (i.e., the decaying circular metal staircase; the face on the doorknocker and doorknobs). Since this movie was made well before digital technology, the special effects are minimalist. Thus, the real strength of this movie is how your own imagination takes over and qualifies your own fear of the unknown. It is mood and atmosphere which propels this movie into a class all it's own. It is not only what you see, but what you don't see which makes it so effective.
I saw this movie a long time ago. Suffice to say, there is something about it which has stayed with me ever since. I would be remiss if I didn't take note of the acting here. All the actors are so well suited for their roles. But, the stand out for me is the superb Julie Harris. She portrays the outsider aura of Eleanor to perfection. She runs the gamut of meekness, shyness, anger, doubt, self-assuredness, and finally a kind of madness that very few actresses are capable of. She becomes Eleanor, and she is astounding to watch.
So, in closing, this selection should be high on your list of terror/ thriller films. It hits upon the fear within all of us, and forces us to confront it, or remain in fear. Now, I am so glad I didn't purchase the house. No. Not for the reasons I've given you so far. But for them raising taxes so high. I would have to double my lecture schedule to afford it, and, in that case, I would never be home! ;)
At the local bar, my old haunt -------- Metamorpho
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on December 17, 2001
It's not unusual for Hollywood to take a literary piece and try to adapt it to film. What IS unusual is for it to be done so well. It's been a long time since I read Shirley Jackson's original tale, so I can't really say how faithfull this movie is to it. What I CAN say, though, is that haunted house movies just don't get any better than this. And it's all done without any overt violence, without blood and gore, and without lots of special effects. Instead, this flick relies on subtlety and stimulation of the viewer's imagination.
Make no mistake, though, this movie is plenty scary. Written messages mysteriously appear on walls. A cold spot hovers near the old nursery door. Loud pounding sounds go up and down hallways in the night, focusing on the bedroom door of the main female characters, Nell and Theo, and accompanied by a deliberately rattled doornob. These are only a sampling of what this house has to offer. Mrs. Dudley, the housekeeper, always leaves before sunset. Nobody will come any closer than town in the night, when it's dark, as Mrs. Dudley repeatedly informs everyone.
This is a great haunted house movie. It's all done in black-and-white, but that lends it a certain stark quality that adds to the overall atmosphere. The acting is first-rate. If you haven't seen "The Haunting", by all means give it a look. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes a good ghost story.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2004
Without a doubt my favorite ghost story on film. I'd waited years for this film to be released on DVD only to discover upon receipt of the DVD the black and white photography is ruined by a shoddy transfer. The black tones, so important to the feel of this film, shimmer and move in a way that distracts from the amazing photography and potent story. It took them so long to release this movie on DVD I can't imagine they will ever re-version this film with a better tranfer. Whoever approved this transfer should get their eyes examined. Let's hope when/if they ever release Jack Clayton's version of "The Innocents" on DVD they don't make the same mistake.