The Haunting (1963)   Leave a comment

The Haunting poster

Based on The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and written for the screen by Nelson Gidding (Andromeda Strain, Odds Against Tomorrow) The Haunting tells the story of a disparate group brought together in a long unoccupied New England mansion by Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) to discover whether or not spooks reside there. The actual house was Ettington Hall in Warwickshire, England and is now the Ettington Park Hotel for those who dare to stay there. Anyway, the house has seen its share of mysterious deaths and weird occupants over the years and the locals won’t go near it. Markway’s archaeologist/parapsychologist wants to prove places can retain the spirits of people and their actions and proposes an experiment. He and a hand-picked group of people with histories of psychic ability will inhabit the manse, study its original owners, the late and somewhat sadistic Hugh Crain and family, and report any ghostly happenings thus justifying Markway’s career choice to his conservative family and possibly securing him a government grant.
Markway’s serious and academic demeanor lends the expedition gravitas and makes the coming events seem that much more real. Julie Harris as the put upon Eleanor Lance gives a terrific performance. Her character narrates the film and her interior dialogue delves into her thoughts without being overly expository. Claire Bloom as Theo, the clairvoyant, gives a layered performance which could easily have descended to mere snarkiness, but shows some real vulnerability and empathy. Russ Tamblyn, as Luke, a playboy related to the wealthy owner of the house, goes along to protect the house from damage, both physical and moral. The owners hold little stock in Markway’s spiritual phenomena. Tamblyn surprised me with the humor, subtlety, and believability of his acting.
Together this motley crew of paranormal researchers begin what they think will be a painless week in a great house. Needless to say, Hill House holds many secrets and, as Eleanor points out, “This house. You have to watch it every minute.”
The Haunting’s main attraction, its cinematography by Davis Boulton (Brighton Rock, Night Train to Munich) gives the house a sinister quality. Gorgeous angles and ominous shadows abound and the direction by the always fantastic Robert Wise fills each scene with a sense of doom. After each frightening encounter, the director cuts to an odd angled shot of Hill House’s exterior, letting the viewer know the house is always watching.
I love The Haunting. It’s one of my favorite films of any kind and you can’t beat it for atmosphere. If you’re looking for a literate, atmosperic haunted house film done in beautiful black and white, pop some corn and watch The Haunting.

Haunting exterior

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