Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Haunting (1963)

This is another movie where I'm not exactly sure when I first heard of it, although I'm pretty confident that it was around the Millennium, possibly either in a book on horror films at my high school's library that I often read or in another book called The Amazing, Colossal Book of Horror Trivia, which I bought around that time and has a section devoted to haunted house and ghost movies. The release of the remake in 1999, which I can remember seeing a poster for when I was at the theater, as well as TV spots (save for clips and video reviews, I haven't really seen the movie itself), also probably had something to do in my learning of this film. I'm pretty sure that the first time I saw anything of it was on a VHS tape I got as a birthday present in 2001 called The History of Sci-Fi and Horror, hosted by Butch Patrick, which showed clips from a lot of movies and featured the famous scene with the door bending outward. By 2007, when I bought the old Warner Bros. DVD of it, I'd seen a little more of it on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments and had read up on its production and critical analysis in a book simply called Horror Films, one in a series from Virgin Books that talked about notable examples of a specific movie genre. The general consensus that I'd gotten was that it was considered one of the best, if not the best, haunted house movies ever, one of the best horror movies period, and a supreme example of the "less is more" approach, suggesting the presence of rather than showing any ghosts. It sounded like a spooky good time to me, as I enjoy a good haunted house/ghost movie, be it fun, campy stuff like the original House on Haunted Hill and 13 Ghosts, more serious ones like The Changeling and Burnt Offerings, or big budget, elaborate examples like The Shining and Poltergeist. Also, the idea of a film that only alluded to the ghosts rather than actually showed them sounded nice as well, as there are a number of horror films that have done that very effectively. I did put this on a list I did long ago of my 101 favorite horror movies, albeit very near the bottom, but, I must confess, I put it there mainly because I needed something to fill a slot and whenever I update that post, I'll probably remove it because, if I'm going to be completely honest, The Haunting has never really been a movie that I've felt was all it was cracked up to be. I can remember thinking it was well-made but not all that great or creepy when I first saw it and, over the years, that notion hasn't changed. It has good notes to it, yes, and I certainly can't call it a bad movie, but on the whole, I've seen other haunted house and ghost movies that I think are much more effectively atmospheric and spooky, whereas this one leaves me bored and, more significantly, irritated, and I'll get into why presently.

Hill House, a large, imposing, isolated old mansion in New England, is a place with a history that's nothing short of pure malice, consisting of unexplained deaths, scandal, suicide, and sadness. For Dr. John Markway, an anthropologist with a lifelong interest in the supernatural, it's the ideal place for psychic research, and he manages to lease it from its current owner in order to occupy it for some time, with a group of assistants he handpicks himself. One of the people he chooses is Eleanor Lance, a young woman who, unknown to him, has been left emotionally fragile and unstable after eleven years of being forced to care for her invalid mother, who's recently died. Living with her sister, whom she fights with constantly, and her family in a small apartment, Eleanor is denied the use of the car in order to go to Hill House, but she decides to take off in it anyway, arriving at the house late in the afternoon. In spite of the ominous feeling she gets upon seeing the mansion, she decides to stay regardless, desperate to get away from her unenviable living arrangement and have a place for herself. After being shown to her room inside by one of the two caretakers, Eleanor meets the other members of the team: Markway, Theodora, affectionately called "Theo," a psychic whose sexual orientation doesn't seem to be the norm, and Luke, a young, brash non-believer who's to inherit Hill House and intends to exploit it for every cent it's worth. Markway informs them of the nature of their research and how they are to go about it and they begin their stay. The first night, Eleanor and Theo are frightened by the sounds of loud banging, while Markway and Luke are distracted by following what they believe to be a dog into the yard, although they never heard anything. The next day, they find the message, "Help Eleanor Come Home," written in chalk on the wall and while touring the house, a sudden gust of wind blows open a door in the greenhouse, Eleanor is unable to enter the library because of a disturbing smell she claims it has, and she almost falls over the veranda outside. Markway, realizing her instability, begins to think about sending her home but Eleanor begs him not to. Events in the house begin to escalate, Eleanor's fragile mental state becoming more and more fractured as a result, and then, Markway's disbelieving and, what's more, disapproving wife arrives at the house to stay to force him to give up his work. Markway is certain that the house is an evil entity unto itself... and also begins to suspect that what it wants is Eleanor.

The Haunting was the movie that made me begin to realize that Robert Wise is one of those critical darling directors who I'm not the biggest fan of. Granted, I haven't seen too many of his numerous movies, mainly because most of them don't interest me (not liking musicals, I doubt I'll ever see West Side Story or The Sound of Music), but those I have seen have given me very mixed reactions. I do genuinely like the films he did with Val Lewton at the beginning of his career, which were The Curse of the Cat People and The Body Snatcher, but as for others, I think The Day The Earth Stood Still is alright but I don't absolutely love it the way most people do (although, I like it more than The Haunting), and The Andromeda Strain I don't like at all, as it just about caused me to fall asleep. Not being a fan of Star Trek, I haven't seen and don't intend to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture, although I know full well of its reputation for being very slow and talky, which seems to be a trend with him, but I am kind of interested in The Hindenburg, as I do enjoy those 70's disaster flicks, although it's called one of the worst of its kind; on the whole, though, Wise is one director whose filmography just doesn't interest me and from what I have seen, his style doesn't do it for me for the most part.

For me, the best part of the movie is Richard Johnson as Dr. John Markway, the leader and organizer of the research group. Among other things, I like the enthusiasm and zeal he's always had for the supernatural, in spite of the ridicule and ire it gets him from those around him, including his father, who wanted him to have a "practical" profession, his wife, and one of the people staying at Hill House with him, Luke, who's a staunch disbeliever. Instead of being frightened of Hill House, which he does see as a house that was "born bad," he sees it as the perfect opportunity to indulge in his passion for the paranormal and conduct some research on it because, as he says during the opening voiceover, "An evil old house, the kind some people call haunted, is like an undiscovered country waiting to be explored." While he doesn't feel that all of the bizarre phenomena at Hill House is unexplainable, as he comes up with rational theories to explain, he does fully believe in the supernatural and has some interesting and plausible views of it, particularly when it comes to fear of it, which he feels is unwarranted. He explains, "When we become involved in a supernatural event, we're scared out of our wits just because it's unknown. The night cry of a child, a face on the wall. knockings, bangings, what's there to be afraid of? You weren't threatened. It was harmless, like a joke that doesn't come out," and further elaborates, "When people believed the Earth was flat, the idea of a round world scared them silly. Then they found out how the round world works. It's the same with the world of the supernatural. Until we know how it works, we'll continue to carry around this unnecessary burden of fear." He also doesn't feel that ghosts can harm people, feeling that overwhelming fear does far more damage, and is why he tries to get Luke to believe in the supernatural, worrying about what might happen when his skeptical mind comes face-to-face with it, telling him, "If it happens to you, your liable to have that shut door in your mind ripped right off it's hinges." In addition, Markway is just a very charming and likable guy, one whose enthusiasm for the supernatural is akin to that of an excited little kid, such as when he introduces himself to Eleanor and Theo by telling them, "You wouldn't believe this but five minutes ago, I left this door wide open so you could find your way," as well as a sense of humor about himself, like when he gets confused by Hill House's design and walks right into a broom closet, stepping out with a broom and tells the girls, "This proves it: one of you is a witch."

Of his three assistants, Markway grows the closest to Eleanor, mainly out of concern for her fragile mental state, which he doesn't learn of until after the first night at the house, and tries to make her overcome the guilt she feels of contributing to her mother's recent death, telling her that the way she felt was how anybody would in the same situation. He's also concerned over her excitement about the prospect of the house being haunted, which he feels is a sign that she's falling under the house's spell, and when she nearly falls over the edge of the veranda, he contemplates sending her home but when she begs him not to, he agrees to let her stay, admitting that he wants her to for the sake of the experiment and because her presence seems to ensure that paranormal activity occurs. He can sense that Eleanor is attracted to him as well and tries to tell her that he's married but doesn't get the chance before his wife shows up at the house, unannounced. In spite of her disbelief and the strain it must put on their relationship, Markway does not want his wife staying there, particularly in the nursery, which he feels is the heart of the house and the center of the activity, and when she insists and disappears that night, he's intent upon finding her. However, his search is distracted when Eleanor ends up on the unstable spiraling, metal staircase in the library and he has to climb up after her in order to get her down safely. With that, he's now determined to send her away, regretting having not done it sooner, and promises that he'll write to her when she gets back, but Eleanor, in her desperation not to return to her miserable life, drives off alone and dies when she crashes into a tree on the property. Though opinions differ on what caused her to crash, Markway is convinced that it was the house, which he feels now has what it wants... for now.

To answer the question you might have as to why I find the experience of watching this movie irritating, you need look no further than Julie Harris as Eleanor Lance. She's the most lauded actor in the entire film, with people utterly praising her performance of a mentally fragile woman who completely loses her mind to the influence of the house, but I've always found her to be shrewish, whiney, and annoying as hell. I understand that she's very unstable, having spent her adult life caring for her invalid mother, who seems to have been something of a cruel woman, that she's wracked with guilt that she may have contributed to her death by not checking on her one time as she often did, and isn't happy about being forced to live with her sister and her family in their small apartment (she sleeps on the couch). What's more, her sister refuses to let her use the car to get to Hill House, even though it's half hers, and continues to lord their mother and her ways over her, which adds to Eleanor's pining for some place of her own. It's understandable that her sister's treatment of her pushes her to take the car and that, after everything she's been through, she sees Hill House as a means to escape her unenviable life and doesn't want to leave once she gets there, in spite of the terrifying things that happen to her. And as if that wasn't enough, she falls for Dr. Markway, only to be crushed when she learns that he's married. So, she has a lot of emotional baggage, making it easy for whatever force is within Hill House to break her, but the problem for me is that I find her so annoying and downright unlikable at points that I ultimately don't care what happens to her. I know I shouldn't expect someone who's been through what she has to be the most pleasant or understanding person and I can relate to her getting tired of Theo's constant jabbing at her (I'll get to her in a minute), but her tirades are sometimes so out of the blue and childish that it makes me not like her. For example, as understandable as her irritation with her sister is, especially given what she says to her at one point, there's a moment where she loses it with both her and her brother-in-law, who was on her side about the issue of the car (although, admittedly, he did say kind of a dumb thing), screaming at them to get out of the living room, and another random one where she goes off on Theo when they're spending time together before they go to bed, yelling, "Oh, why do you all pick on me?! Am I the public dump or something for everybody's fear?!", when all Theo said was that she wants to get her back to her "beloved apartment," which Theo doesn't know is made up, as quickly as possible. (Incidentally, other than Theo a lot of the time, the others don't pick on her in the slightest, save maybe some slight teasing from Luke. And yeah, she is a bit tipsy during this scene but still, the outburst comes out of the blue to me.) Plus, when she does lose it, her voice is irritatingly whiney and shrill.

Another thing I tend to really get sick of is Eleanor's constant voice-over. There's barely a scene with her by herself where you don't hear her inner thoughts and while I do feel that kind of thing is sometimes necessary to either clarify things for the audience or to fill what would otherwise be dead air, I think it's done way too much here. I thought it worked for when she was first driving to Hill House, wondering when her sister and brother-in-law would discover that the car was gone (similar to the driving scenes in Psycho where Marion Crane is thinking about the reactions people will have when they realize she's stolen the money), and when she first sees the house and is taken aback by the vibe it gives off, but when she keeps on doing it, talking about how she now has a place to belong to and friends, that the house wants her, that it's coming apart around her, and so on, I get really sick of it, as I think some of this you could leave for the audience to figure out. I will cut Eleanor some slack that she doesn't want anything bad to happen to anyone, tries to do the right thing and find Markway's wife when she disappears, attempts to stop the "entity" in the house from doing what sounds like harming a child, and has enough of a heart to feel guilty about possibly contributing to her mother's death, but, on the whole, I can't enjoy the film because of her. As a result, I don't care about her wanting to stay at Hill House, despite how repulsed she is by it at times, what her connection to it is and why it wants her as much as it does (as fascinating as that is, as we'll get into later), and whether or not if the incident that inspired Markway to pick her was real poltergeist phenomena. You can disagree all you want, and I encourage you to, but for me, Eleanor Lance is among the more annoying leads in a "classic" horror film.



I'm not too keen on Theo (Claire Bloom) either, mainly because she feels like somebody who likes to push people's buttons, particularly Eleanor's, and I dislike that type of person to no end. I know a lot of it comes from her lesbian attraction to Eleanor and that she's flirting with her as well as teasing her, but some of it comes across as sheer bullying, like when she says that she thinks the statue down in the greenhouse wants to dance with her and calls her chicken when she initially refuses to play along, brings up the issue with Eleanor and her mother out of the blue, or when she talks about her attraction to Markway by asking him if he'd like the type of apartment she claims she has, sometimes responding to her angry outbursts with stuff like, "Whoa, can't you take a joke?" and telling her to stop trying to be the center of attention. Again, anybody would get tired of Eleanor's moodiness, and what's more, Theo is clearly insecure about her sexuality, at one point saying that the thing that scares her most is, "Knowing what I really want," which is why she reacts the way she does when Eleanor lashes out at her about it, calling her one of nature's mistakes and the like, but I can't stand Theo's attitude and her constant picking at Eleanor, which is a part of why she herself is so irritating. Granted, she does try to warn Eleanor that getting her hopes up about Markway is not a good idea, and, despite what she says, it's obvious a lot of what she does comes from jealousy over Eleanor's attraction to the doctor, but I ultimately don't like her and I don't buy Eleanor being all friendly with her when she's being forced to leave at the end, despite the crap she's put her through (you could say that she now finally understands Eleanor and her personal problems but, by that point, I'm past caring). And I know I didn't mention the fact that Theo is a psychic but it doesn't play that much into the story, save for a few brief moments, and it seems completely useless when it comes to studying the haunting itself, save for early on when she claims to be able to sense that the house wants Eleanor.

Russ Tamblyn has said that he was reluctant to take the role of Luke Sanderson because he felt that the character was something of a jerk and only did the movie because MGM threatened to suspend his contract if he didn't (although, it ended up becoming one of his personal favorites) but I, however, have never minded him that much. He is rather greedy, seeing Hill House, which he's set to inherit from his aunt, as nothing more than a means to make a lot of money, and is completely opposed to the idea of the supernatural, only being part of the investigation because his aunt insisted that Markway bring him along, but I never found him to be overly obnoxious, loathsome, or sleazy towards the women. He only truly hits on Theo once, and is severely rebuffed for it, and never acts all that mean towards Eleanor, save for when he accuses her of not being able to dance and suggests that she nearly fell over the veranda so Markway would catch her, but other than that and a moment where he's having a bit too much fun reading from an unsettling book the house's original owner made for his daughter, the only thing he does that's really deplorable is when he's acting like a coward during the third act and tries to prevent Markway from going to his wife (whose room he was supposed to have been watching but he came downstairs for a drink) in order to keep whatever they're hearing outside from getting in.

What's more, Luke's not as much of an unbearable dick about his disbelief in the supernatural as he could be, telling Markway early on, "Look, doc, we're pals, okay, but don't try to convert me," and his disbelief, while quite stubborn, is also understandable since, for most of the movie, he doesn't experience anything that can't be explained by other causes, although you can see it starting to crack a bit when he and the others come across an inexplicable cold spot in front of the old nursery and Markway makes him wonder if an admitted superstition of his is the same as believing in the supernatural. It cracks even further when the locked door to the nursery, which no one had a key to, is suddenly found wide open and he questions how that could've happened. Markway tells him, "You're beginning to see the light," and he says, "I haven't seen a damn thing; I just don't like the look of it." Another reason why I like Luke is that he has some really nice lines and moments, like when he boasts about turning the library into a nightclub with show girls dancing down the spiraling staircase in the center, only to discover right then that it's not stable, says that his martinis should be pretty good because, "I majored in them at college," tells Markway, "Only one way to argue with a woman Doc: don't," and, when he and the others are hearing sounds and he's now starting to become convinced more than ever that the house is haunted, "Doc, I'll let you have the house cheap." By the end of the movie, when Eleanor's dead due to the influence of the house, Luke has had a complete change of heart and, understanding that Hill House is an evil place, solemnly says, "It ought to be burned down... and the ground sowed with salt."

Here's a useless bit of trivia: Richard Johnson was one of the actors originally considered for James Bond before Sean Connery got it and Markway's wife, Grace, is played by none other than the original Miss Moneypenny, Lois Maxwell. Grace, who we're told is not at all interested in the supernatural and believes her husband's interest in it is a waste of time, doesn't actually appear in the story until the beginning of the third act, when she arrives at Hill House to inform Markway that a local reporter has learned of his investigation. When her husband makes it clear that he's not leaving regardless, Grace, who expected this, takes the initiative and decides to stay for the duration of the investigation, making it known to the others, especially Eleanor, that she's not as foolish as they are to believe in ghosts and ignores her husband's warnings about the nursery being the heart of Hill House, deciding to stay in there so she can have a better chance of learning if ghosts are real. However, she soon learns the hard way that the supernatural isn't to be taken lightly, as she disappears into thin air when the others search her room after hearing unsettling noises outside of the parlor and, for a little bit, is only seen by Eleanor in a bedraggled, crazed-looking state. She runs out in front of Eleanor's car at the end of the movie, which contributes to the crash that kills her, and is completely guilt-ridden as well as confused, as she has no memory of how she got outside in the first place but does remember getting lost in the house when she tried to find Markway's room in the middle of the night. Now a full-on believer like Luke, Grace is initially terrified for Markway when he says he'll go back into the house to get her things but he assures her that no harm will come to him, as the house now has what it wants.


Among the other notable characters, you have Mr. and Mrs. Dudley, the rather interesting couple who act as caretakers for Hill House. Dudley (Valentine Dyall) is a crotchety guy who initially refuses to let Eleanor in, as there's nobody else at the house when she first arrives, and although she persuades him to open the gate for her, he adds that she'll regret his letting her in and isn't worried about her threat to report him for his behavior, as he doesn't think they can find anyone else to do what he and his wife do. He also makes it clear that he doesn't have much use for "city people" who think they know everything. Mrs. Dudley (Rosalie Crutchley) is even more memorable for her very bizarre manner. She shows Eleanor to her room, doesn't speak to her at first, and then goes on about the rules of her function: when she serves dinner and breakfast, her refusal to act as a waitress for them, and that she leaves right after serving dinner so she and her husband can get to their home in town before it gets dark. She emphasizes that there's nobody who lives any closer to Hill House than in town and that, as a result, nobody will be around to help them should they need it, after which she smiles and walks out. Even stranger than that is the matter-of-fact, almost recording-like way in which she repeats everything verbatim to Theo when she arrives and is shown to her room, and again during a heated conversation between the characters at breakfast the next morning, which irritates the normally cool-headed Markway to the point where he loses his temper with her.



Some others who are worth mentioning are Eleanor's sister, Carrie, and her family. Carrie (Diane Clare), as I mentioned earlier, lords over Eleanor, continuing to enforce their mother's methods of dealing with her, refusing to allow her to take the car for certain reasons that she doesn't elaborate on, as well as the fact that she refuses to tell them where she's going (possibly because she'd then really refuse, thinking it was ridiculous). Her husband, Bud Fredericks (Paul Maxwell), tries to act as a mediator between the two of them, thinking that Eleanor does deserve a chance to get away and understands what she went through, although he gets screamed at along with Carrie when she says that their mother's wishes probably don't mean much to Eleanor (he probably shouldn't have mentioned that she was acting as if her going was like a jailbreak, though). And while she has a couple of lines, it's clear that their young daughter, Dora (Verina Greenlaw), takes after her mother, mocking Eleanor by singing, "Auntie Nell is blinking, Auntie Nell is blinking." Finally, there's Mrs. Sanderson (Fay Compton), the current owner of Hill House and who knows all too well if its reputation, telling Markway that nobody who's ever rented the place has stayed there for more than a few days as, "The dead are not quiet in Hill House." Being in the twilight years of her life, she decides to allow him to conduct his investigation, as she's curious to know whether or not there is an afterlife, and while she doesn't have much confidence in Luke, she decides to have him join the investigation per the suggestion of her attorney in order to ensure that Hill House is taken care of during it.





Like I said in my introduction, although I'm not that big a fan of The Haunting, I can't deny that it does have its merits, especially in the technical sense. Robert Wise was a talent craftsman of a director, making good use of camerawork and production design, and his films often come across as being very well-made, even when they were produced on low budgets, and this is no exception. The film looks very good, with gorgeous black-and-white photography (which Wise decided to use over color since he felt it would work better for the story and genre, which it definitely does; it ended up being the last black-and-white movie he ever made) and a use of widescreen that it makes feel like a movie that had a much bigger budget than the just barely over $1 million they actually had. In order to create the feeling of something unnatural with the house, Wise and his cinematographer, Davis Boulton, used a number of different camera tricks and movements, among them being a number of very high-angle or low-angle shots, often whenever Eleanor is involved; interesting tracking and panning shots, such as those seen during the sequence on the spiral staircase in the library, including a rapid pan up the entire length of it that was accomplished by reversing a backwards pan down the stairs with a handheld camera; instances where the camera will tilt back and forth in either direction to create a sense of disorientation; sudden, quick zooms, such as the one from high above Eleanor right into her face, making it come across as if something really is trying to shove her over the balcony; and the use of a distorted, wide-angle lens from Panavision to make the hallways look longer and darker than they really were (they only allowed Wise to use the lens by having him sign something confirming its imperfect nature). One particularly ingenious idea Wise and Boulton came up with was to use infrared film for exterior shots of the real house, in order to make it really stand out against the sky and clouds.








The production design and art direction is also top-notch, as the sets meant to represent the interior of the house are very detailed and memorable in the way they look. They're done in the Rococo style and range from being somewhat comfortable and inviting, like the big sitting room, the dining room, and the bedrooms, to much more unsettling, especially at night, like the hallways and the library. There are a number of very memorable pieces of architecture and set decoration in the film, such as faces on some of the doorknobs, the leaf pattern of the wallpaper in Eleanor's bedroom looking very much like a face in the scene where she's hearing low, muttering voices, the mirrors that adorn the hallways and other rooms (which allow for one of the film's more memorable moments near the end when it looks like Eleanor's running right at the camera, only for it to be revealed that what you saw was her reflection), a number of unsettling statues, particularly one in the greenhouse that's meant to be of St. Francis curing the lepers but, as they point out, can also be seen as a portrait of some of the house's early, unfortunate inhabitants, and, most memorably, the metal, spiral staircase in the library that's very unstable and threatens to fall whenever someone climbs up it. In construction of the sets, Wise went against the usual haunted house convention by having them be built to be as brightly lit as possible in the casual scenes, although they still manage to be very dark and foreboding in those that are meant to be creepy and atmospheric, and, unlike most sets, they were built with ceilings to give the actors more of a feel of claustrophobia. Indeed, despite its enormous size, there is a feeling of claustrophobia and cabin fever from it since, once the characters get there, we virtually never go back outside until the ending. Speaking of which, the exteriors of the house were done at Ettington Park in Warwickshire, England, and it looks pretty much like what the classic image of an old, haunted mansion is. The entire film was shot in England, as a matter of fact, and the gray, overcast skies and the feeling of cold in all of the exterior scenes, including those that are set in the day, give the whole thing a depressing feel that goes well with the story, especially Eleanor and the crappy life she's stuck in.




But, as good as the production design is, I can't say that I find the house to be truly scary. I can't deny that it's well-done, and there are parts of the architecture that are effectively unsettling and creepy (I always go back to that apparent face in the wallpaper), but I've always found smaller, old rundown houses or pristine, newly built, modern houses to be more effective settings for these types of ghosts stories. I guess it's because I'm able to relate to them more than a big, wealthy Gothic mansion like Hill House, which I feel would work better if this took place in the 1800's, as in the prologue. I'm sure if I were there in person, I'd sing a different tune (the real place at Ettington Park is said to actually be haunted, and Russ Tamblyn claims to have had an unsettling encounter there in the courtyard one night), and I do admit that the scenes inside the house carry a feeling of claustrophobia, as well as that a place like this can be made to work effectively as a setting, but I'd find it more personally frightening if it were a smaller place deep in the woods. I also think they could've done more with the house's structure, which is said to not only be maze-like and disorienting but also full of angles that are off in their design, making for a number of off-center spots and doors that close by themselves when left open. Except for a moment at the beginning when Eleanor and Theo get turned around while trying to find the dining room and run into Dr. Markway, who himself gets lost, and possibly during the third act when Eleanor is running around the house like mad, it's not used to much effect as I think it could be. The idea of being in a house that's both supposedly haunted and easy to get lost in is a scary thought and I think there should've been a sequence where one of them is frightened by something and truly gets lost running through the dark hallways, with the closing doors and weird angles making it all the more confusing (something like that seems to happen to Grace but, of course, we don't see it). Also, why can't we have some creepy scenes outside in the dead of night? Maybe it was to keep with the feeling of claustrophobia but I think it would've been nice to have a sequence where they're outside and they feel as if there's something with them, perhaps in an expansion of when Markway and Luke talk about following what they thought was a dog outside.




I do find the concept that, rather than being haunted by the ghosts of those who've lived and died there over the years, Hill House itself is the evil force and the film's true antagonist to be an interesting one, making this a forerunner to other such films like Burnt Offerings and The Shining. The film opens with Dr. Markway telling us the history of the house and how there was an evil vibe about it virtually from the time it was built in the late 1800's. The house's original owner, Hugh Crain, had it built for his wife and young daughter but his wife died in a sudden carriage accident before she even saw the house, and his second wife died when she fell down the stairs for some unknown reason. Having become an embittered man, Crane left his young daughter, Abigail, in the house with a nurse while he went to England, where he drowned in a freak accident, and Abigail lived in her nursery her entire life, becoming a reclusive invalid by the time she was 80. A local girl was hired to be a nurse/companion for her but ended up contributing to her eventual death when she ignored Abigail's knocking on the wall with her cane for her assistance, instead fooling around with a farmhand on the veranda, until she died. The companion inherited Hill House and lived there for many years, although she eventually hanged herself in the library. In some way or another, Hill House has claimed a number of victims over the years but why it turned out this way or the exact nature of whatever force lies within remains a mystery, save for Markway's explanation that it was simply "born bad."




Another way The Haunting is similar to The Shining is how, like Jack Torrance and the Overlook Hotel, there's some strange connection between Eleanor and Hill House, even though she's never been there before, and is ultimately claimed by it. The most overt one is the parallel between her and Abigail's companion, in that the death of Eleanor's mother was due to her deciding for once not to check in on her when she called for her. This is reiterated when Eleanor is awakened during her first night at Hill House by constant banging and, in her half-asleep state, she says, "Alright, Mother!" before fully waking up, and when Theo suggests that the statues down in the greenhouse could work as portrait of them as well as the house's past residents, she says that Eleanor is the companion. What's more, she nearly falls over the veranda where the companion was making out with the farmhand, being saved by Markway, the man she develops feelings for, and the two of them stand there talking, looking very much like the companion and her lover. And near the end of the movie, she puts Grace Markway's life in danger by suggesting that she can stay in the very nursery where Abigail died, changing the situation around to make it akin to the companion purposefully trying to get rid of Abigail so she can have the farmhand. She almost suffers a fate similar to both the second Mrs. Crain and the companion, as she climbs up the rickety spiral staircase in the library and comes very close to falling to her death, and her ultimate death happens in a manner very similar to the original Mrs. Crain when, after it appears to jerk to the left, she drives her car straight into a tree, namely the very one that the carriage crashed into (the last shot of Eleanor is very similar to the one of the dead Mrs. Crain at the beginning). In the end, Eleanor was looking for a place to call her own and the house itself seemed to want her to join the other women who'd died there, as a message in chalk that says "Help Eleanor Come Home" appears on the wall in the hallway. She said she didn't want to leave Hill House and the place itself appeared to make sure that she got her wish. Her connection to the house is interesting... I just wish I actually liked her so I could get into it more.



Also like The Shining, it is possible to read some of the phenomena that occurs as being completely within Eleanor's deluded mind. In fact, when writer Nelson Gidding read the original novel, The Haunting of Hill House, he felt that the entire story was intended to be seen in that manner, with Eleanor actually being in a mental hospital, that the those around her are either doctors or other patients, and that the sounds and the cold she experiences are the side-effects of shock treatments she's been through. But, when he and Robert Wise met the author of the book, Shirley Jackson, she confirmed that it was indeed meant to be a haunted house story, prompting Gidding to heavily revise the screenplay, although he kept in elements of that original concept. Indeed, there are events that only Eleanor experiences, such as when she thinks she's holding Theo's hand when it turns out she was on the other side of the room from her, her smelling something in the library that reminds her of the putrid stench of her mother's sickroom, and the house appearing to be going crazy around her near the end when she's running around, trying to draw its attention away from Grace Markway. Plus, it could safely be assumed that she simply imagined her car was pulling off the road when she was being forced to leave, a delusion caused by her not wanting to go, and that the only thing that truly caused the crash was her shock at seeing Grace run out in front of her. But, as it is in The Shining, it's obvious that there really are something supernatural things going on, as there are a number of scenes where someone else is with Eleanor and they hear, see, and feel the strange phenomena together, and also because Grace later reveals that when she got lost in the house, it was as if the house was deliberately doing it.




As Jacques Tourneur had done several years before with Night of the Demon, Robert Wise made The Haunting as a tribute to Val Lewton, who'd given him his first shots at directing in the 40's, by employing his understated, suggestive approach to horror. You never actually see any ghosts or, for that matter, anything that could possibly be taken as supernatural, save for the characters' breath when they come across a cold spot in the middle of a hallway, that famous moment where the door to the parlor bends outward, and a couple of other small incidents; instead, the haunting mostly consists of things the characters either hear or feel. Not everything that happens is attributed to being of the supernatural, like the doors closing by themselves being the result of the weird angles built into the house, but a lot of it is left unexplained. I'm sure that if I saw this movie when I was a young kid, I would've found the sounds heard frightening but, for the most part, they don't do much for me. Sounds in the night can be scary (Paranormal Activity is proof of that) but what personally gets to me in that regard is when the sounds come across like they're of a human origin, which is why I find the scene where Eleanor wakes up and hears muttering within the wall to be the most effective one in the movie; the banging and rushing sounds you hear for the most part are certainly strange but they don't leave me shivering with complete fear (some of the sounds you hear when they're in the parlor are more unsettling, though). Plus, while I agree with the theory of something unseen being more terrifying, I've always felt it's scary when you either get or think you got a quick glimpse of something in the dark or at least a sign of its presence, like a shadow, a bush rustling, a door opening by itself, etc. That's why I wish we could've gotten to see the moment where Markway thinks he hears something run past his room, followed up by him and Luke outside and seeing glimpses of something in the dark, or have more moments like that in the house. Maybe they thought doing that would personify it too much but if there were more of this kind of stuff in the movie, it would have been more effective for me personally.




Their first night there, Eleanor is awakened by a pounding in the house that starts off in the distance and grows louder and louder. As mentioned earlier, she at first thinks it's her mother calling for her but when she wakes up fully, she remembers where she is and hears Theo calling for her in her room next door. She runs in and joins her on the bed, as they hear the sound suddenly fade off down the other end of the hall and Eleanor thinks to herself about how cold the room is. As they try to figure out what it could be, the noise becomes loud again, at point almost becoming downright thunderous, only to taper off and be followed up by the sounds of hollow knocking within the walls, a strange, rushing sound, dead silence for a few seconds, and sudden, loud banging outside the door. Theo and Eleanor become so panicked at this that they start shouting, with the latter yelling for Markway while pounding on the door herself. When it stops, she tries to comfort Theo by giving her something to keep her warm and prepares to go outside to call for Markway and Luke, only for the pounding to start up again, reaching right up to the top of the door, followed by the knob turning ever so slightly, rustling around the outside of the door, more pounding, and the eerie sound of a girl laughing. Once that dissipates, they realize that it's over when they feel warm again and when Eleanor opens the door, she sees Markway and Luke out in the hall and tells them of what happened. Markway notes that the wood isn't damaged at all and tells them that he and Luke were outside, following what they thought was a dog... and they didn't hear anything, despite not being that far from the house. Markway theorizes that something may have been trying to separate them from each other.






The next day, several strange events occur: they find "Help Eleanor Come Home" written in chalk (or, as Markway suggests, something that only seems like chalk) on the wall in a hallway, a gust of wind suddenly blows open a door in the greenhouse while Eleanor is acting like she's dancing with the male statue that they see as a substitute for Hugh Crain, Eleanor refuses to go into the library because of a foul smell she claims is in there, and she's apparently nearly forced over the balcony outside by something that comes down at her from up above, only to be caught just in time by Markway. That night, Markway has everybody gather in front of the nursery, where they all feel a sensation of extreme cold. Markway declares it a genuine cold spot, one that probably won't show up on any thermometer, and declares it to be the very heart of the house. Luke suggests going inside the nursery but Markway dissuades, saying that it'd be best to keep the lid on the pressure cooker a little while longer. The girls go back to the bedroom they're now sharing, while Luke still staunchly refuses to believe that the spot is any supernatural, insisting that there has to be a draft or something similar there, but his confidence is slightly cracked when Markway brings up the fact that, despite himself, he does buy into certain superstitions. Later on that night, Eleanor awakens to the sound of a man muttering within the wall and, after asking Theo if she's awake, tells her not to say anything and let it know that they're in the same room together. The muttering is then accompanied by the sound of a girl laughing, prompting Eleanor to ask Theo to hold her hand and not to scream. With that, the muttering turns into distant yelling and chanting, and the sound of the laughing intensifies as well. Suddenly, it stops, and Eleanor asks Theo if she thinks it over. Not getting an answer, she tells Theo that she's squeezing her hand so tight that it feels like she's breaking it. She then hears the sound of a little girl crying, which slowly enrages Eleanor, making her think to herself that she won't let anyone or anything hurt a child, and after she grimaces and again thinks that Theo is breaking her arm, she hears the sound of the man muttering overlap with the crying. Deciding once and for all that this is one thing she will not tolerate, Eleanor yells, "Stop it!" at the top of her lungs and the lights come on, revealing that, rather being next to Theo in her bed, she's on the other side of the room from lying on the couch. Looking down at her hand, which is still hanging down the way it was that whole time, Eleanor wonders aloud exactly whose hand she was holding (that, combined with the sounds and the question of whether she walked over to the couch in her sleep or was moved there, helps make this the film's most effective scene in my opinion).







The next morning, there's a small moment where Markway is in a room by himself when a harp there suddenly plays. However, rather than something paranormal, Markway believes it's actually a preternatural phenomenon that very well may have an explanation one day. Not much happens for a while, save for a disturbing book Luke finds that turns out to have been left behind for Abigail's personal education, but everyone is on edge and arguments begin to break out, when Markway's wife, Grace, arrives and decides to join them in the house when her husband refuses to leave. When Eleanor lets it slip that the nursery is the one place in the house that truly is out of the ordinary, she insists upon staying there. Markway and Eleanor then try to dissuade her, and the former then remembers that he doesn't have a key to that room, only for them to see that the door is wide open when they get to the top of the stairs. With that, and completely undeterred by the others' warnings, Grace settles into the room for the night... alone. Later, everybody moves down into the parlor, per Markway's wishes, while he and Luke take turns keeping watching over the nursery. In the next scene, Markway and the girls are seen sleeping in the parlor, when Luke walks through the door very silently, illuminating the liquor on a nearby table with a flashlight. He opens a bottle and begins drinking, when the door to the room shuts by itself with a loud slam, waking everyone up. Markway asks him why he's not upstairs like he's supposed to be and he says that he needed to have a drink. That's when the strange noises start up, far more eerie than what's been heard before, sounding akin to air howling in a circular motion, footsteps, and the same pounding that was heard before. Worried for his wife, Markway runs for the door but Luke stops him, telling him that the sound is downstairs with them rather up near the nursery. They listen to the rhythmic pounding, which is accompanied by the whirling sound, and after a while, Markway decides to go. Eleanor tries to stop him by asking what the force should hurt Grace if it hasn't hurt her, to which Markway responds, "She might try to do something about it." The sound then stops and Eleanor asks Theo if it's over; she says it isn't, as she's still cold like she was when it started. Right when she says that it's going to start over again, the same loud banging that the girls heard outside the bedroom door the first night starts up, stops after a few seconds, and during a period of eerie silence, the doorknob is seen jiggling slightly, followed by the door being pushed forward from the other side (some sources say that the door was rubber but I've heard that it was actually laminated wood and a really strong stagehand pushed a large object up against it). Seeing this, Luke drops the bottle he's been holding and jokes to Markway that he'll let him have the house cheap. The door pushes forward a couple of more times, accompanied by the sound of the wood creaking, and when it stops, they hear a rushing sound, followed by more air noises and the pounding again, which is now on the second floor. They follow the sound as it moves across the floor above them, sounding it like it's smashing objects in its path, and it arrives at the nursery. Markway tries to go out to check on Grace but Luke tries to keep him from going out; at the same time, Eleanor decides to go out and let the force have her, slipping out through another door nearby.





Running down the hallway, Eleanor recoils at the sight of a freaky statue off in a corner and then, clamps her hands over her ears, as the sound in the house becomes very piercing and high-pitched. Running to another hall, a distorted image of Eleanor is seen running towards the camera, only for it to pull back when she reaches it to reveal that what we were seeing was actually her reflection in a mirror on the wall, a sudden sight that startles. She then runs to the right and tries to go through a door but can't get it open, when the camera goes off-center, accompanied by strange, whipping noises, and Eleanor looks as if she's bracing herself in the doorway to keep from falling. Then, the camera tilts in the opposite direction and she puts her hand on the door as if she's again trying to keep herself from falling. She manages to get through it, whirling through the corridor it connects to and getting tangled up in some drapery and struggling with it, yanking it down off the ceiling, before looking up to see a chandelier moving back and forth above her, accompanied by the sound of glass smashing. She thinks to herself that the house is destroying itself around her, and when she sees a mirror fall forward and smash against the wall below it, she runs again, heading up the nearby stairs to the second floor. Reaching the top, she realizes that the force in the house is now in the nursery and, seeing that the door is open and fearing for Grace's safety, she runs towards it and bursts through, to find it dark and empty, with no sign of her. She looks around frantically for her, when Markway comes running in and, seeing no sign of his wife, asks Eleanor where she is. Eleanor tells him that she wasn't there when she came in, and they're then joined by Theo and Luke, who are told of her disappearance. Markway tells them that they have search the entire house for Grace, none of them noticing Eleanor shuffling off zombie-like into the darkness, thinking to herself that she's disappearing into the house. In the next cut, she's seen in the greenhouse, telling the statue of "Hugh Crain" that the two of them killed Grace and then twirls around the statue, dancing "with him" as she did before.






The others search around the house for Grace, while Theo decides that Markway can search for his wife himself, as she and Eleanor are getting out... and that's when they notice that she's not with them. Downstairs, she's still dancing around, and thinks to herself that she wants to stay at Hill House forever. As the others run around the house, calling for her, Eleanor runs from the sound of their voices into the library and, realizing where she is, thinks to herself that it's not cold and there's no foul smell like before. Looking up at the spiral staircase, Eleanor thinks about how she's broken the spell of Hill House and repeats, "I'm home," four times in a row (this is where I really start to get tired of her voiceover), as she twirls again. Leaning her head against the base of the staircase, she looks up at the top and, appearing to see something, begins climbing, only to cause the unstable structure to shake when she gets quite a ways up. She stops, holding onto the railing of the swaying staircase, and then plops down on the stairs, lying there until the thing stops swaying. Once it does, she smiles and resumes climbing, getting pretty close to the top, when she hears Markway call for her. Eleanor thinks to herself that she won't turn back because they'll then know what she's thinking, but when Markway, who's standing down there with Luke and Theo, yells for her to turn around and come back down, she looks down at them. Markway then tells her to be careful and come down but, after looking at him, Eleanor, thinking, "All that is gone and left behind," and starts back up. Seeing no other choice, Markway, in spite of Luke and Theo's warnings that the staircase is going to collapse, starts up after her, the added wait causing the structure to pull out farther from the wall. Eleanor, sensing this, looks down at Markway, who again tells her to just turn around, but, after staring at him for several seconds, and noticing how close the top is now, she ignores him, prompting him to run up after her. She then reaches the platform up there and smiles happily, while Markway, continuing his own climb up, tells her to stand perfectly still up there. The anchor bolt juts out farther, the staircase continuing to threaten to topple over, but Markway ignores it and makes it up to the top as well, where Eleanor stands and looks at him. He tells her he's coming onto the platform and does so, but she continues to just stare at him and backs away when he reaches for her, leaning backwards over the railing, her hands over her mouth as if she's horrified. She looks down and Markways take the initiative to grab her and pull her to him. When this happens, Eleanor appears to slowly come back to her senses and nuzzles against his hands and chest. Telling her to come back down with them, Eleanor allows him to lead her to the stairs and start back down them, when she turns and sees the sight of a disheveled, dazed Grace look through a panel in the wall, causing Eleanor to scream in fear. The panel slams shut on Grace and the film quickly cuts to black.





In the last scene, despite her pleading with them to let her stay and not send her back to her miserable life, Markway and the others decide to send Eleanor home, especially when she insists that Hill House wants her, not Grace. She's forced into her car, which she's determined to drive and, not wanting to waste time arguing, Markway lets her have her way, although Luke is going to ride with her to the gate. After saying goodbye to Theo and Markway, who promises to write to her, she and Luke are about to drive to the gate, when Luke tells her to wait. He gets out of the car and runs to Markway, telling him that he needs the key to the gate. Markway fumbles around himself, trying to find it, when Eleanor, thinking about how they can't send her away, suddenly drives off by herself down the driveway. The others run after her, calling for her, as she thinks about how she won't go, that Hill House belongs to her, when the wheel seems to jerk out of her hands for an instant. She takes this as a sign that the house doesn't want her to leave and the car begins swaying back and forth as it drives down the road, as she struggles with the wheel as it continuously fights with her. This causes her to panic for a bit, as she wonders why the others don't stop her since they can see what's going on, as she nearly hits a tree and skirts across a bush, but she grows calm again when she thinks to herself that something is finally happening to her. And then, she sees the figure of Grace in the road ahead of her and panics, driving straight into a tree on the left side of the road. Markway reaches the car, which has been turned completely on its side, and inspects Eleanor's limp body that's hanging halfway out of the door. When Theo and Luke catch up to her, he tells them that she's dead, and then, Grace stumbles out from behind the tree, looking dazed and in bad shape. She explains to her husband that she woke up in the middle of the night and tried to find his bedroom, but got lost and ended up in the attic. She was attempting to find a way out when Eleanor was frightened by seeing her, and she mentions that she doesn't even know how she got outside. Luke thinks Eleanor did it to herself, but when Markway notes that the tree she hit is the same one Mrs. Crain's carriage crashed into, he says that he's sure that the house didn't want her to leave and she was in no state to fight it. Theo states that maybe Eleanor is happy now that she got what she wanted, while Markway decides to fetch Grace's things and call the police, assuring her that nothing will happen since, for now anyway, the house has what it wants. Luke mentions how the place should be destroyed and the film ends with Eleanor's voice repeating how Markway described Hill House at the beginning, the last line being, "And we who walk here walk alone."

The Haunting is akin to Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds in that the literal soundtrack was much more important than a music score, although unlike The Birds, there actually is a score to this film. The score was by British composer Humphrey Searle, who mainly worked in theater, operas, and ballets, and didn't do much film composing (The Haunting was the last movie score he ever did), working mostly in the realm of documentaries, shorts, and television. Of the genre, the other noteworthy film he scored was one when we looked at earlier this month, Hammer's The Abominable Snowman, but while I thought the music for that film was pretty effective, I don't think The Haunting's music score is one of its strongest or most memorable aspects. The main theme, which plays during the opening credits, is an okay-sounding, suitably eerie piece, and the same goes for this ghostly, vocalizing melody the two times Eleanor "dances" with Hugh Crain, but otherwise, the music is sometimes too bombastic or too cartoonish for its own good and hurts the mood that Robert Wise was going for, as in the sudden zoom in towards Eleanor on the balcony and when she runs into the nursery to search for Grace Markway. Normally, I like the way music back in the 50's and early 60's sounded but in this instance, where the filmmakers are trying to make a truly scary movie, it's often a detriment and the film is most effective when there's no music playing.

I apologize if this review came across as very muddled or contradictory, as I tend to struggle when talking about beloved movies that I don't particularly care for and this one was particularly tough. To me, The Haunting is not the ultimate haunted house movie that everyone else seems to think it is. I can admit that it is a well-made film, with lovely black-and-white photography, nice use of simple camera tricks and special effects to create mood, and top-notch production design, as well as that some of the actors do good jobs, particularly Richard Johnson and Russ Tamblyn, and there are some effectively eerie moments, but for the most part, I find it to be a little overrated. I don't like the two female leads, particularly Eleanor and her irritating, constant voiceover (as a result, I don't care as much about her connection to Hill House as I should), the setting and most of the sounds that are heard are personally scary to me, I appreciate the "less is more" approach that Robert Wise took but it wasn't done in a way that was as effective to me as it could've been, the movie kind of drags at points, especially during the third act, and the music score could be better. So many people see it as a classic and one of the best horror movies ever made, so what do I know? All I can say is that there are other haunted house movies that I find creepier and can get more out of.