The Haunting

The Haunting is currently available on Amazon Prime.

The Haunting (1963)

“In an old New England house believed to be haunted, an ESP researcher enlists the help of two mediums in the hopes they can learn more about the house’s evil reputation.”

“An evil old house, the kind some people call haunted, is like an undiscovered country waiting to be explored. Hill House had stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more. Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there… walked alone.”

The Haunting is based on the Shirley Jackson story, The Haunting of Hill House. Robert Wise owed MGM one more film (contracts were all the rage then), read a synopsis of Jackson’s novel in Time, and acquired the rights. He had Nelson Gidding (The Andromeda Strain, The Hindenburg) do the screenplay adaptation.

Robert Wise has a stark shot of the house and an ominous voiceover narration start the film as though this were a ghost story told around a campfire. The opening shot of the house contrasted sharply against the sky was made with infrared film.

Wise quickly kills off the two wives of Mr. Crain in stylish fashion. He then ages child Abigail from 6 to 80 in her bed in a dissolve while the narration continues and that is just in the first five minutes.

Wise’s direction and Davis Boulton’s cinematography are superb. There are wonderful effects with different lenses, skewed angles and types of film. All of the deaths are elegantly filmed.

The house itself is the main character in the film. I loved the spiral staircase and vintage mirrors. You could spend the entire movie just watching all the wonderful furniture. It is crowded pell-mell into every nook and cranny – even the doorknobs are fascinating. There is even a rope carried on a silver platter. Even the garden has more statuary than plants.

Julie Harris is sublime as the psychologically damaged Nell. Her portrayal is very complex – part victim, part guilty soul, part protagonist – trying to find the bravery to break out of her shell. Claire Bloom is wonderful as well as the playful Theodora. I really liked that while it was clear that Theo was interested in Nell, it was not given a negative spin – except in Nell’s rather repressed character.

The movie belongs to the ladies and the house but the group of investigators is rounded out by Richard Johnson as Dr. Markaway and Russ Tamblyn as Luke Sanderson. That and the rather unwelcoming caretakers, Valentine Dyall as Mr. Dudley and Rosalie Crutchley as Mrs. Dudley.

The Haunting is one of the best ghost movies ever – skillfully combining psychology with the paranormal. The Haunting is in black and white in spite of the obvious big budget – picture quality is excellent. It is Martin Scorsese’s favorite horror movie.

p.s. Should you dare, you can stay at Hill House – the exterior shots were taken at what is now the Ettington Park Hotel.

People Watch: Look for a young Lois Maxwell as Grace Markway. She had played Miss Moneypenny in Dr. No (1962) the previous year and would go on to play the role in every official Bond film through A View to a Kill (1985).

Remake-itis: In 1999, The Haunting was remade in name only.