Director – Robert Wise
Cast – Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn, Fay Compton, Rosalie Crutchley, Lois Maxwell, Valentine Dyall, Diane Clare, Ronald Adam
Release Year – 1963
Reviewed by John of the Dead
To this day The Haunting remains one of horror’s most iconic films, and one that many(but not me) believe to be the greatest haunted house film of all time. Given to us by legendary director Robert Wise(West Side Story), much like every other great haunted house film The Haunting delivers excellent atmosphere, and although the scares are not as great as those of other similar films such as The Changeling, this truly is a horror masterpiece that has stood the test of time.
In this film Dr. Markaway, a leading researcher in the realm of the paranormal, acquires permission to investigate Hill House, a large and eerie home with a history of violence and other atrocities. Dr. Markaway has invited with him a group of people mostly hand selected by him to partake in this experiment, which includes Luke, a young skeptic only participating because he is next in line to inherit the home, Theodora, a mysterious psychic also prominent in clairvoyance, and Eleanor, a shy and timid woman with a dark past that Hill House eventually latches onto. The idea to stay in Hill House proves costly to the group, as they are bombarded with the evils Hill House has to offer, and with violent results.
Much like The Exorcist may be the scariest film of all time when considering the era in which it debuted, the same goes for The Haunting, which for its time makes this film one of horror’s best. Robert Wise’s direction is top-notch, and he expertly portrays the dark and gloomy Hill House in excellent fashion, which includes many unique and awesome sets, incredible sound effects, and camera angles edited to provide the utmost quality in scares and creepiness. At times his pacing does suffer due to this being such a long film containing a vast amount of dialogue and development, but part of that fault lies in the screenplay itself. A director can only do so much with the palette he/she is given.
Story-wise The Haunting is much more complex than what originally meets the eye. I figured I was going into the usual haunted house flick with inanimate objects moving on their own and whatnot, but the element of psychological horror played a prevalent role in providing conflict and moving the story. Much of this falls on the role of the weak Eleanor, who slowly succumbs to the house’s evil intentions. For today’s time this element is quite subtle and doesn’t come off as freaky as some would like, but for its time I found it effective and well done. The rest of the storyline comes off with a lot of dialogue and overly-long development that I felt in the end really held this film back from giving me what I came to see. Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of proper/necessary development, but most of the overly-long development in this film felt unnecessary to me and left me feeling as if this film should have been edited and tightened up on those parts. This may be due to this film being based off of Shirley Jackson’s novel titled “The Legend of Hill House”, in which this film’s screenwriter may have tried to make this too much like the book, and included much of the overly long dialogue that worked for the book, but never truly works for a haunted house film.
Overall, this is a fantastic film that despite debuting over 40 years ago has still held its ground as one of the genre’s best films, as well as one of the best, if not THE best haunted house film to date. Great direction leads to creepy and moody atmosphere and comes accompanied with a storyline that is much more complex than meets the eye.