Excellent, Dramatic Horror
Four researchers try to prove the existence of the ethereal.
This chilling as well as intriguing ghost story features four characters in a house to prove the existence of the paranormal – or the uncanny. Directed by Robert Wise and based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, “The Haunting of Hill House”, we are taken on a special ride through a 1963 feature with special effects, and an element of creepiness, that still holds up.
In the tale, Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson) investigates Hill House because it has a history of bearing witness to violent death, rage and insanity. Accompanying the good doctor in his quest to prove the house is actually haunted are Luke (Russ Tamblyn), who has inherited the homestead, wry psychic Theodora (Claire Bloom) and insecure Nell (Julie Harris). Nell is Markway’s ace, not so much because of her ESP capabilities, but because the paranormal has shown itself to her since she was a child. All four characters have to face the uncanny, whether collectively or individually, but must survive the isolation and hidden terrors of Hill House in order to tell the tale.
The four actors did a wonderful job in bringing the tale to life, especially since there are many layers to the story. While Dr. Markway is trying to prove his point, his male counterpart, Luke is a skeptic. Theodora likes woman and is drawn to Nell, who wants little to do with her – after all, the mother she cared for had just past away. Nevertheless, the spirits do come alive and are seemingly attracted to Nell thanks to her guilt-ridden energy and dark secret.
This dramatic horror works because most often audio effects are used in lieu of the visual to get scares out of the audience. The special visual effects that are used, however, especially the expanding door, are well crafted. (This is one of the reasons PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2009) worked so well. Like THE HAUNTING, the horror was often suggested via audio cues and nothing more. Many people I know who despised PA said so because “nothing happened” in the movie. I can only imagine what they would say about THE HAUNTING and other dramatic horrors.)
Though the house is large, claustrophobia abounds thanks in part to the lack of an open floor plan. Each room has a door, which is significant. Opening a closed door and walking through it is akin to entering that mysterious grotto, where no one knows what is inside until one takes that first step. Furthermore, there are few things more enticing for an audience than a closed door they know a character must open. The suspense, as the character approaches the door and turns the knob, does well to keep an audience on edge. This is why the bulging door scene is so important. Audiences were most likely waiting for something to come through the door and never expected it to take on a life of its own.
THE HAUNTING is one of my favorites because of its atmosphere, use of light, shadow and sound, and its strong narrative. Moreover, the end scene with the car, the dark woods and the damsel in distress is very eerie.
4.5 out of 5 stars