Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Haunting (1963)


I am by no means a horror film fan.  I don't go out of my way to seek films that are fraught with killings and dismemberments.  In short, I'n not a fan of gore fests.  I am, however, a fan of great atmospheric pieces and exercises in psychological terror.  Robert Wise's The Haunting is one such film.  I recall, many a moon ago I had the opportunity of seeing it late at night, as Joel had DVRd it.  When we finally got to seeing the film, we weren't prepared for how assaultive it was on the nerves.  First off, there are no ghosts,  ghouls or specters of the paranormal.  All the menace of Hill House is achieved through choice lighting and angles on the house's decor as well as an array of unsettling sound effects.  The least of which is not the disturbing score that employs bellicose trumpets to unnerving effect (unfortunately a soundtrack album is out of the question as there exist no masters).

What completes the hysteria of this very classy haunted house movie is the cast.  Julie Harris and Claire Bloom play off each other wonderfully as Eleanor and Theo.  Richard Johnson plays the confident Dr. Markway and Russ Tamblin is the sarcastic Luke, heir to Hill House.  James Bond alumnus Lois Maxwell also appears as the skeptical Mrs. Markway.  Throughout the film we're never given a completely definite answer to the hauntings, they may as well be in Eleanor's mind...or maybe not.

Probably the most memorably creepy scene occurs when Eleanor hears voices from the room next door as she sleeps.  The muffled voices of a man yelling, a child screaming and devious laughter mount upon the vestige of a face in the wall.  I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen, but the conclusion never fails to put the hairs of my back on end.  The film is thoroughly enjoyable and was utterly petrifying when I first saw it.  However, make sure that when you do watch it, you do so in the night....in the dark...

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