Total Pageviews

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Haunting: 1963

Release date: September 18, 1963 (USA)
Director: Robert Wise
Adaptations: The Haunting (1999)
Adapted from: The Haunting of Hill House
MPAA rating: G

Let us all give a hand to one very talented man, by the name of Robert Wise. A man who is able to make one of the greatest musicals of all time, as well as some fantastic horror films. Ending his film making career after close to fifty years, he has come to be known as a true inspiration to us all. Honestly, the guy's a genius! You take the genre of musicals and define it, using one film as a precedent for all musicals to come after, and then you do it again, directing and producing one of the greatest (and in my opinion scariest) ghost stories of all time.  And now, without further ado...The Haunting!

The film follows one Eleanor Lance and her dangerous exploits to feel wanted by someone, anyone. She is invited by Dr. John Markway to take part in an experiment on fear at "Hill House", a residence with a very twisted past. The house is believed to be haunted, but as we continue to lower ourselves even further into the muck of Lane's mind, we are also plagued with the question "Is the house haunted, or is Eleanor?" It's a fantastic premise, and the perfect buildup to a ghost story done right. 

But how do you make a good ghost story? Well, in my opinion, it comes down to a few elements. First you have to have a developed background about the house that the haunting is taking place in. I won't give away the spooky background of the haunting of Hill House, so you'll just have to trust me when I say, "It's kind of a big deal". Next, you need compelling characters to frighten or be frightened by...The character of Eleanor Lance is exceptional for this part because as we get to know her better we are compassionate towards her and don't want her to get into any trouble, but there remains still a sense of lingering uncertainty regarding her actions and delusions of grandeur. There is a duality that I don't think any other character presents to her but herself, and therein lies the craft of her character! We as an audience do not know if she is a character to be trusted for we are introduced to her in a rather violent way. First we don't see her in a very positive light. She argues with her siblings who think she's crazy. We are invited into her inner monologues that tell a great deal about her inner psychosis and deep seeded issues. 

She is invited to Hill House and does not know who else will be there besides Markway, the man who invited her; she only knows that for once in her life she is expected. That someone (it didn't matter who) wanted her to be somewhere (it didn't matter where). Robert Wise deals with this urge to be wanted by someone. Lance is constantly remarking (sometimes silently) that even though she is afraid, she was still expected to be here. And it's actually her inner desires and flaws that haunt her, as opposed to the ghosts of Hill House. But I could talk about Eleanor and her role in the story for hours on end, so it's best that I leave you here in terms of character design and simply say that everything about her , from beginning to end is perfect. And this has a little to do with what I had mentioned earlier as well as the rest of the cast being sort of one sided and simpler than Eleanor's character.

The set design in "The Haunting" is truly frightening. And this brings up an important topic, about what it is that actually scares people. Most people think that "horror", at least in film terms, must be updated to stay fresh in the minds of the consumer. That if you've seen it once, you never want to see it again. Now, this is sort of true. Of course an idea that is used time and time again might seem a little cheap and shallow to general audiences. Like a jump scare, if it's used too many times in the same window it ceases to be scary because you expect it, and you can pick up on certain cues to prepare yourself. And I have no problem with jump scares...when they're done right, but if I start to talk about that, I'll just keep going, and this review will never end. The point is an idea done before can be scary if everything around the stale idea is fresh and, well, executed correctly.

Let's use this film as an example. As Iv'e explained earlier, this is a movie about "ghosts" in a haunted house scaring people. And on the surface, that's all it is. It's what's under the surface that makes this film work, and actually scary. First, there's the house itself. The set and location of "The Haunting" is amazing. I just love it, from the long, creepy, narrow hallways to the damp creepy garden with the creepy statues, and the creepy staircase, and the super scary nursery with the creepy double doors and the dude's all like, "don't go in there, it's the heart of the house," and his wife's all like, "I don't even care if I'm awakening this self aware haunted house that has the souls of hundreds of children trapped in the walls..." "Who careeees?" "I don't care." And then there are, like, all those parts where the camera gets really close to the walls of the house, and the intricate designs start to look like faces and then you start to hear children laughing, and crying faintly, and then you hear like, this one creepy dude that Markway was talking about before. Y'know, the guy who owned the house, and you start to hear the creepy dude making this super scary, far off, moaning noise, that gets louder and louder from the other side of the wall. And then you start to think to yourself, "Hey this house means business! This is scaring the pants off of me! And the worst part is that the only person I know well enough to hide Eleanor Lane. But how can I do that when all this might be in her head? What if she's the haunting of Hill House? How can I trust someone who might not be entirely sane to begin with? Why Robert Wise? Why would you direct a film where the only character we know well enough to consider our main protagonist, our hero, is possibly insane? There's no one to hold onto, is there? There's nowhere to hide, is there? Sweet Jesus someone let me out of this house!!!!!!!!!!!

Sufficed to say, "The Haunting" is ahead of its time. And part of the reason that it stands out among the rest of the sixties schlock that was coming out around the time like "Carnival of Souls",  and "The Brain That Wouldn't Die" was because of the serious tone, and the cinematography. The camera work in "The Haunting" is unlike anything I've seen during that age in film. Everything works to the film's advantage; The acting, set design, shots and angles and tracking, and the story! I'm happy that a film exists containing all these attributes. And I really can't think of anything more to say. I guess it's been awhile since I've written anything. And I think it's been awhile since I've written anything with a lot of substance. I do this for me. And I do it because I like to think about movies. I want to continue, but it's been hard. I turned 18 a few weeks ago. School's been laying it on pretty thick for awhile now. But I don't think I want to grow up. I just want to write.


Watch Trailer Here
Next Review: Misery - 1990