The Haunting (1963)
Widely considered to be one of the scariest movies, if not the quintessential horror flick ever made, "The Haunting" is a spook story at its core. Four fractured people find their way to a haunted house—for what purpose?—to see if it is really haunted. A doctor has summoned two subjects to act as a catalyst for the paranormal activities that he is certain will ensue.
The house in question—as we are told in a prologue—was bad from the beginning. This is Hill House. It was built by an eccentric man who was taking his wife and daughter to live there when the horses threw the woman from the carriage and killed her. This was the first death. Soon after the man married again and that wife number two met her end by tumbling down a staircase after seeing something. The daughter grew up in the house, her father drowned while out of the country. She never left the nursery that she spent her early years in. Later in her life she took a maid and died in the night. The lady who would care for her was so devastated (or perhaps possessed) that she threw herself off a balcony with a rope tied around her neck.
Dr. Markway is keen on knowing about the spiritual and supernatural. He is an anthropologist who delights in ghosts and ghouls—though he makes sure that everyone know the difference between the two. Positive that Hill House is genuinely haunted, he sends out requests for people to join him at the house. These people have to have had some dealing with the supernatural prior to their coming to Hill House.
A letter gets sent to Eleanor Lance, a reclusive, nervous woman who has had to care for her—now deceased—mother for eleven years. The results of her efforts have turned her into a paranoid woman with severe mommy issues. All she wants is to be loved. She wishes to have a place in the world.
So when the letter arrives, she seizes the opportunity. Sneaking away in the middle of the night away from her controlling sister and brother-in-law, Eleanor takes the car and drives all the way to Hill House, not bothering to look behind her.
She sees this period of time as her vacation—her transition towards true independence.
Yet when she comes to Hill House, she is immediately struck with the oddity of the place. There is an evil aura that hangs like a cloud over the old brick building. She is tempted to turn her car around and head "home".
But then she meets the other people there—an odd caretaker and his wife and the rest of the group. Dr. Markway is there with a woman named Theo and a young man named Luke. Theo and Eleanor are the only real subjects in this experiment. Luke is there because he is observing what Dr. Markway observes. Hill House is going to be inherited by Luke so he doesn't want any damage done to the place.
But the nights will turn the believers into screamers and the unbelievers into cold statues of fear.
For a movie that relies entirely on the creature on the other side of the door, "The Haunting" never feels manipulative. It's the house itself that is haunted, not some ghost as it was in "The Changeling".
Eleanor is singled out because of her dark past and her longing to be loved. The worst horrors happen to her.
There comes mysterious banging at the doors during the night. If it weren't for the constant voice-over (played out like we were hearing Eleanor's thoughts), we might be entirely lost in "The Haunting".
In the end, "The Haunting" is a fraudulent piece, since none of its scares were justified and all the intense moments aren't truly explained.
But I didn't really have a problem with that. The film is cool and swift, never boring and quite chilling at times. To be fair, I've seen scarier movies.
It was very entertaining; but it is hardly haunting.
Score: 3 stars out of 4
Posted by Micah Jones