Synopsis – Hill House has stood for about 90 years and appears haunted: its inhabitants have always met strange, tragic ends. Now Dr John Markway has assembled a team of people who he thinks will prove whether the house is haunted – The Haunting.
Director – Robert Wise
Starring – Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson
Genre – Horror
Released – 1963
If you liked – The Birds, Oculus, The Turning
There have been so many films centred around a group of strangers stuck together in a haunted house, that it’s become increasingly difficult for filmmakers to produce something unique and most importantly scary in this horror sub-genre. Luckily for director Robert Wise, he had Shirley Jackson’s horror classic “The Haunting of Hill House” to work with and the vision to create one of the most frightening and iconic haunted house movies of all time. The Haunting.
Sandwiched between arguably Wise’s biggest successes, West Side Story and The Sound of Music, it must have felt somewhat of a surprise that the film was shot in black & white, but in truth, this decision makes for a better movie as it adds an almost nightmarish quality of the film and turned the house into foreboding presence looming large over all its inhabitants with its gothic exterior and bewitching interior.
Wise’s use of the shadows both inside and outside the house coupled with interesting cinematography helps to make the house a character in its own right, with its windows giving the impression of eyes watching you and walls that seemingly alter and move when you’re not looking.
Each of the characters is equally memorable, my personal favourites being Luke played by Russ Tamblyn, the group’s token wisecracking sceptic and Theo played by Claire Bloom, who’s not afraid to embrace certain emotions she holds and be herself, it’s heavily hinted that she is either a lesbian or at least bi-sexual. Some interactions she has with other members of the group, especially Luke, are a delight and the bond she forms with Nell (Harris) stops either of the female characters from feeling like a damsel in distress in need of rescue by a male.
This brings me to Eleanor “Nell” Lance. whose innocence makes her the heart and soul of the film, you can’t help but get drawn in by her disheartening backstory filled so much with abuse from her family that the trip to Hill House was to Nell an escape and a chance to find her freedom.
It’s true that The Haunting is a slow burn but like with most films that like to go down the route of tension over jump scares, you get used to the pace and the more the film progresses the better the payoff. There are more than a couple of moments where the film will catch you off guard, going from calm and peaceful one minute and leaving you wondering what just happened the next.
All of which results in a collection of genuinely memorable moments that give you chills no matter how many times you watch, however, for me what makes The Haunting truly scary is the mystery surrounding Hill House and what drove its previous inhabitants to do what they did and why this building has become such an unpredictable force of evil?.
Because of this, you’re able to draw your own conclusions and think up your own lore surrounding Hill House, just like Mike Flannigan did when making the equally excellent Haunting of Hill House for Netflix.
All in all, The Haunting remains one of the best and most timeless haunted-house movies of all time, filled with memorable scenes, haunting imagery and layer upon layer of suspense. As someone who’s seen both this and the 1999 remake, it’s pretty safe to say this version is head and shoulders above its predecessor.