“The Haunting” – (112 minutes UK-USA 1963)
“It ought to be burned down… And the ground sowed with salt.”
Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson), an anthropologist interested in paranormal phenomena, puts together a diverse group to study Hill House: Theadora (Claire Bloom), a clairvoyant, befriends Eleanor (Julie Harris) who was the subject of unexplained poltergeist activities as a child. Theadora may be attracted to Eleanor, but Eleanor develops a crush on Markway. Russ Tamblyn is the youngest of the owners, trying to figure out what kind of business to make of the old mansion. Together the group explores Hill House and face their own insecurities.
“The Haunting” is the quintessential Midnight Movie, a true masterpiece which almost never happened were it not for Robert Wise’s vision, although I’m not certain he truly knew what acquiring the rights to Shirley Jackson’s book would lead to. Wise ended up setting up production in the UK, since he could secure better financing there. This movie’s influence is felt even today, not as easily defined as a shot or a few bars of music, rather like a suggestion, transcending and advancing several genres.
Is it the story of Eleanor’s (Julie Harris) mental breakdown, or of the house and its haunting?
By the end, you sense that the house is a gestalt, blending suffering souls ended in our dominion, to form a different natural order. Jean Cocteau might have smiled upon this house, though perhaps reservedly.
This is visual poetry, with elements of horror, thriller, and psychological study. No wonder, perhaps, since this movie was based on a book by Shirley Jackson.
Two other recommendations for the subgenre:
“Stir of echoes” (1999) starring Kevin Bacon, Kathryn Erbe and Illeana Douglas;
“The changeling” (1980) starring George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere and Melvyn Douglas.
“The Haunting” gets 5 JellyBeans…