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Monday 31 October 2011

Burl reviews The Haunting! (1963)

Ha ha, hi, it’s Burl here, reviewing another movie for my blog, and whoever reviews here, reviews alone! Ha ha, even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to review! But for now, let’s have a look at the original film version of The Haunting!
Of course it was based on Ms. Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House, which is a corker! Naturally it made for a spooky movie, and thank goodness the making of it was taken up by someone with at least a passing acquaintance with the films of Val Lewton, which is to say the director Robert Wise! Of course, Wise had more than a passing acquaintance with Lewton’s works, having directed one and a half of them, but I’d still like to see the film Jacques Tourneur would have made of it! That’s a bit churlish of me to say, since Wise did a fine job, but it’s still fun to speculate!
The Haunting is a classic haunted house movie, perhaps the template for the particular strain of them that I especially love! I really appreciate those movies where an investigative team is assembled which includes a heady admixture of psychics, skeptics and scientists, and where there’s a scene in which everybody sips port in the parlor as they listen to the unsavory history of the house they’re investigating! And after that, it’s on! Boogety-boogety of all sorts is unleashed!
There are other movies in this vein, including The Legend of Hell House and The Evil, and of course a reportedly misbegotten remake of The Haunting which I’ve never seen; but of them all this might be the one to beat! The main character, Eleanor, is perhaps too pathetic by about half, but Julie Harris makes it work! The rest of the acting is strong also, even that of noted oddball Russ "Blood Screams" Tamblyn! And the design of the house is about as spooky as it gets!
Eleanor becomes convinced that the house wants her to stay, and that she’d be happiest if she did indeed stay, as she has nowhere else in particular to go; and of course a variation on that is exactly what happens in the end! The head scientist and instigator of the whole experiment is played by Richard Johnson, and it’s hard to see what his actual investigative plan was intended to be, besides inviting some particularly sensitive people to the house and seeing what happens! It would be nice to read his post-experiment paper on the subject, ha ha!
I’ve heard the remake is simply dreadful, but I’ll tell you one thing I think might have been improved, and that’s the sound design! It’s purely a technical thing: all the times in the older movie when the unearthly thumping comes up and down the hallway, the characters have to tell us where it’s supposed to be! Aiieee, it’s at the top of the door! Ahhh, land o’ Goshen, it’s on the other side of the hallway! Things like that! Whereas modern cinematic sound mixing techniques would allow us to hear it for ourselves, and let the characters be frightened in a more realistically nonverbal fashion!
Of course I haven’t seen the new one, so I don’t know if they took advantage of that! And even if they did, I’ll bet the old one is still far and away the better version! I give the original Robert Wise production of The Haunting three and a half desperately creepy housekeepers!

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