What’s it about?
Dr. Markway, doing research to prove the existence of ghosts, investigates Hill House, a large, eerie mansion with a lurid history of violent death and insanity.
Directed by Robert Wise
Written by Nelson Gidding (screenplay), Shirley Jackson (novel)
9 out of 10
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
– Shirley Jackson / “The Haunting of Hill House”
The dark and cavernous Hill House, in Robert Wise’s brilliant film, The Haunting, is a brooding, beastly menace. It is a character all on it’s own. It is a living, breathing horror that completely devours the protagonists in this nerve tingling classic horror film.
Based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, Robert Wise’s film actually improves on the actual source material. Wise made a very smart decision to have the large Hill mansion come alive in an evil and bleak way.
The film stars Julie Harris as a repressed and suffering woman named Eleanor, who is called to Hill House to participate in an experiment by Richard Johnson who plays Dr Markway. She accepts and is immediately pulled in by the history and dark nature of the House. There she meets others who were invited. One being Claire Bloom who plays the worldly and free spirited psychic, Theodora. The woman bond but not so much at first. There is a repressed sexual tension between them that Wise hints at. Meanwhile when they have all gathered and get settled in by the lanky and spooky Mrs Dudley its from that point onwards that we become involved and immersed in the wicked spell of the house.
Dr Markway proceeds to tell them the history of the house and all of the deaths and suicides that have occurred. He hopes to provoke responses from those gathered. One being a nephew of the current owner of Hill House played by Russ Tamblyn (West Side Story). In the prologue of the film there is a brilliant introduction to the many bizarre happenings that involved the Crane family.
It is in this history that we become witnesses to terror. As the film moves along and unfolds, our protagonists are subjected to the whims of Hill House. Here is where Robert Wise and Cinematographer Davis Boulton really shine. There are deep shadows, unsettling angles and stark and soft focus within shots of the hallways, stairs and rooms of the house. The interior of the house is forbidding and alive. Wise, using his actors remarkably, uses sounds, light and shadow to provoke fear from them. Particularly in the bedroom sequence where Eleanor and Theo are trying to console each other as a loud, evil presence proceeds to scare them and approaches their door. It is what we do not see that scares and unnerves us. Wise makes sure of this.
Make no mistakes, this is a horror film and it does frighten and holds up very well to this day. There is the dread that permeates the very walls of the house and Bloom and Harris excel at showing us their very frightful and vulnerable sides. They cower, yell, scream and unravel during the Haunting. We indeed find out what the real mystery is but not before being subjected to a fearful experience in fantastic black and white photography that completely chills us to the bone.
This film is a marvel to behold. It is creepy. It is classy and elegant. It is well acted and very terrifying. I hold it in very high regard. The score by Humphrey Searle is chilling and effective. The screenplay by Nelson Gidding is pitch perfect capturing and excelling upon the source material wonderfully. I cannot recommend this film any higher. It has a simple and horrific set up and menacing execution. Not since “The Innocents” before it has a film about a very haunted House been this beautifully done. One of Robert Wise’s best films and he has done films in just about every genre. Enjoy!
I was suprised how much I liked this when I watched it recently. With all the special-fx and CGI they put in films today, this manages to be scary with dialogue, scripting, characters and a few sound fx.
exactly! and with light, shadow and implied scares. it goes such a long way here. the remake was not so lucky because De Bont went on a CGI frenzy in order to drum up scares. too bad. Jackson’s novel deserved better.
thanks for stopping by , Mike!
Julie so embraced Nell from the novel. Robert Wise did an amazing job. One of the greatest ghost stories of all time.
So true! Wise knocked this out of the park. I have the audiobook of Jackson’s book and Harris had Nell down pat. One of my favorite haunted house films. Period. Thanks for stopping by!
Great review, Vic! One of my favourite horrors. Definitely agree with your point about Wise’s camerawork. Creates a really unsettling atmosphere using innovative cinematography. Good job man!
Glad you liked the review, Jim! Thanks for the awesome comments. I think Wise was ahead of the curve with his camera work in “The Haunting.”
I was impressed very much by the way the prologue unfolded. The light and shadow play was amazing. Even loved how he made us feel so disoriented especially when the second Mrs Crane falls down the stairs.
Thank you for stopping by, Jim. I appreciate it, man!
Excellent review of a truly chilling film.
Thanks! I appreciate that. “The Haunting” is a very timeless flick. Still carries weight after all these years. Chilling is the perfect word to describe Wise’s iconic movie.
Thanks for stopping by!