Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Haunting 1963

The Haunting 1963
Director: Robert Wise
Writer: Nelson Gidding
Starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn, Fay Compton, Rosalie Crutchley, Lois Maxwell and Valentine Dyall

When it comes to haunted house films there are few that rival the Haunting. The way it uses mood and atmosphere to ratchet up the horror is palatable. This is a film that works on 2 levels, as a fearful ghost story or a tense psychological thriller. The question every viewer must ask is are the hauntings real or is it all just in Eleanor's head? That is what makes the film such a classic of mood and fear and why it is the benchmark for all ghost stories. While the film is a classic, the remake is a prime example on how to screw everything up. That is why if you even mention the 1999 version I would be surprised if you are not pelted by tomatoes by the fans of the classic original. There are also not so hidden themes of lesbianism with the burgeoning relationship in the film between Eleanor and Theodora. IT is very well though out and it is never too pronounced to turn off viewers, but there is enough of it to make viewers think that something is going on between these two. The character of Eleanor causes the viewer to bounce between feelings of empathy for her to feelings of pitifulness on how wishy washy she is and how she never seems to make a solid conscious decision. Also, the neuroticism of Eleanor makes one think that all the eerie happenstance's of the film are all in her head. That is what makes the film so brilliant is it all real or just a fevered figment of this crazed girl's mind?
The plot basics are this, in a remote area of New England, cut off from all of civilization is Hill House. A house with a long history of strange violence and deaths. Dr. John Markway (Johnson) is going to stay there with some specialists to discover or not if it is truly a haunted house. He brings with him 3 other people, Luke (Tamblyn), Eleanor (Harris) and Theodora (Bloom). Eleanor is there due to her past history with ESP and not soon after, she begins to experience horrifying ordeals within the house. IT becomes unclear if it is all actually happening or if it is all in Eleanor's head. It would seem that Eleanor with her repressed feelings of her deceased mother, who she had been caring for has opened the gateways for the malevolent spirits to taunt and oppress her. It also seems that they want her to stay within Hill House, and the question is will Eleanor be able to withstand them and escape or is she doomed to become another lost soul that is trapped within it's evil walls?
This is a fearful and atmospheric film. Wise's direction is unnerving and you always feel that something dreadful is waiting around the corner to strike at any moment. His direction of Harris and her character's Neuroticism is very tense and you really feel that there is something not quite right with this girl. The script balances the feeling of the story being supernatural or psychological very well throughout. The way the film is seen is all subjective to the psyche of who is viewing it at the time. The character interactions between Eleanor and Theodora has a undercurrent of lesbianism that cannot be denied and make the film all that more gripping to watch. The cast is excellent. Harris really carries the film and makes you feel for Eleanor at times and then others become exasperated with her. Bloom as Theodora is very good too and really forces you to see the flaws of Eleanor. Johnson and Tamblyn are great in what really becomes secondary roles after the bravura performances of the ladies. They bring up the exposition needed to tell the story of the house very well and never do it in a boring way. There is little or no SFX in the film, as everything relies on mood and atmosphere and that is better for a genre film such as this. The score by Humphrey Searle is haunting and very eerie and really accentuates the experience of the film. If you only see one haunted house film this is the one to see.
This one gets 5 out of 5

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