Friday 3 December 2010

The Haunting 1963 Movie Review

The Haunting - 1963
Director - Robert Wise

1) The Haunting Poster

Plot Summary / Review:
The Haunting revolves around Hill House, a mansion which has stood for 90 years and has a history of mysterious deaths. As explained by the narrator in a promising prologue and shown to us in flashbacks, previous tenants and occupants meet untimely ends under the gloomy gaze of the house.

2) Hill House Exterior

Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) investigates paranormal activities and convinces the mansions inherited owner to lease him the property for his investigation. He recruits Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris) who seemingly has been the victim of poltergeist activities in the past, Theodora (Claire Bloom) a clairvoyant and Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn) next in line to inherit the property.

3) Group shot

The movie begins to sag as it delves into the background of Eleanor and her current domestic problems, however, it soon picks up as she comes to Hill House, the star of the film. "But stick with it because the star of the film is undoubtedly the house, and once inside it begins not only to haunt the characters but the viewer too. Cinematographer Davis Boulton extrudes considerable atmosphere from the gothic splendour of the house. Using deliberately unsettling camera angles he captures the movie in icy cold shadow-strewn photography (courtesy of infrared stock)."  (Haflidason, 2000). As the group settle into their new surroundings, Eleanor is constantly on edge, jumping at shadows and her own reflection and is clearly the most affected by the house. Doors seemingly open and close by themselves and the house is full of cold spots and in a genuinely frightening scene, Eleanor and Theodora are taunted by thumping sounds, babies crying and "something" trying to get into the room.

Dr. Markway's wife comes to visit, another sceptic, she opts to sleep in the nursery on her first night, a room which was locked earlier, but now mysteriously open. She disappears in the night and Eleanor becomes more erratic, having waking nightmares and walking around the house in a possessed, sleep walking type fashion.

Inevitably, Eleanor trys to escape from the house after the group decide she must leave, in her attempt to leave, she crashes her car into a tree and dies, almost running over Mrs. Markway in the process, who has trouble recollecting what has just happened.

The film is let down by a weak screenplay and an over-long, unnecessary character development plot line at the beginning of the film, which raises questions and doesn't seem to answer them. "What makes the film so effective is not so much the slightly sinister characterisation of the generally neurotic group, but the fact that Wise makes the house itself the central character, a beautifully designed and highly atmospheric entity which, despite the often annoyingly angled camerawork, becomes genuinely frightening."  (Adams, 2000)  However, the film excels by generating real tension and atmosphere, way ahead of it's time, the audience in the 60's no doubt were overwhelmed by the unseen terror and the psychological fear which lead the way for modern films such as Paranormal Activity and the Blair Witch Project.  "And, believe me, before this antique chiller drags to an ectoplasmic end, you'll agree that it does have just about everything in the old-fashioned blood-chilling line except a line of reasoning that makes a degree of sense." (Crowther, 1963).

Robert Wise succeeded in giving the house a personality, the whole way through the film it feels like the inhabitants are being stalked, or watched by the statues and carvings of faces in the walls and door handles, especially in the mirrors, seemingly locked on Eleanor and Theodora:

4) Watchful House


Adams, Derek 23rd September 2006, Time Out review The Haunting Accessed 03/12/10

Crowther, Bosley 19th September 1963, New York Times review The Haunting
Accessed 03/12/10

Haflidason, Almar 12th December 2000, BBC review The Haunting Accessed 03/12/10


1) The Haunting Poster, Accessed 03/12/10

2) Hill House Exterior,,%2520aka%2520ettington%2520park-683.jpg&imgrefurl Accesssed 03/12/10

3) Group shot, Accessed 03/12/10

4) Watchful House, Accessed 03/12/10

1 comment:

  1. a very well administrated review, Paul :-) And yes, whenever I show this film (and I love it) I can always feel the sag that comes everytime the characters sit down to breakfast or dinner, or have a chat about the supernatural; I can feel the audience losing the will to live, but, for me, the film has just so many bravura moments: for instance, I love the simple theatricality of the scene when Eleanor appears to be sucked into the dark heart of the house - and its done simply by tracking the camera away from her and dimming the lights; or all that wonderful stuff with Mrs Dudley, when she just gives that terrible smile, like the sadist I expect that she is! It's such an intelligent, talky, arty movie, and all that lesbian love triangle stuff going on is potent and nicely played. I'm hoping I'll be able to show Repulsion later this week - I'll let everyone know if I can get a slot in a lecture theatre on wednesday...