Stuff I Watch in October: The Haunting (1963)

The Haunting

Happy October and welcome! All 31 days this month, I will be reviewing all the films I watch in the month of October. They’re mostly a selection of horror or suspense films in my own library or films and shows that have been recommended to me.

Please enjoy and leave a comment!

And if you missed any of our past reflections, take a look:

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Psycho (1960)

Our next film is…

WATCHING: The Haunting (1963)

The Haunting

DIRECTED BY: Robert Wise

WHAT IS IT?: Directed by the great Robert Wise (“The Sound of Music”), this was the first incarnation of Shirley Jackson’s famous novel “The Haunting of Hill House”, shot in black-and-white in almost claustrophobic fashion. Since then, we’ve gotten two other famous adaptations: another film adaptation of the novel (but also with the abbreviated “The Haunting” title) from “Speed” director, Jan DeBont and a straight up reimagining of the novel made into a Netflix series by director Mike Flanagan (who we will re-visit much later down this list).

THE PLOT: The film revolves around a doctor (Richard Johnson) who brings together three people inside of “Hill House”, a Gothic mansion on the remote outskirts of New England, The house happens to have the unfortunate reputation of being so haunted, that the it’s thought of as the incarnation of pure evil. What’s more, out of the quartet of visitors, Eleanor “Nell” Lance (Julie Harris), a woman who has been mentally scarred over the years from exposure to violent spiritual activity, seems the most affected by the house and believes that it’s making an attempt to trap and keep her there for the rest of her life.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID: Despite the hype that the film was one of the most frightening things ever shot, that’s pretty much all it was: hype. The film received mixed reviews and the consensus was that the film had gorgeous camerawork and production design (with a few noting that the house was the “star” of the film) but had a goofy plot and lacked any sort of excitement or real scares. Despite this, directors Martin Scorcese and Steven Spielberg hold the film in very high regard, the latter of the two saying that the movie was an inspiration to them.

WHAT I THOUGHT: While not the greatest adaptation of Jackson’s novel, it’s still far better than the late 90’s remake and the most accurate adaptation. The movie simply suffers from leaving far too much to the viewer’s imagination. Statues “move”, doors “breathe” (though that’s still one of the coolest special effects in a horror film), and spirits stomp their ways through empty corridors — but a lot of this is audio and Eleanor’s inner monologue, wondering if she’s just hearing and seeing things.

This premise worked far better in the novel. Otherwise, this film never really hits that “peak” of fright. Still, it’s beautifully put together with elegant and decadent set design, the performances are good (Julie Harris is outstanding as Eleanor Lance) and the film does a good job emulating what Jackson put on paper.


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