The Haunting is a classic horror film and a master class in how to handle a ghost story. Centred on the infamous Hill House, a creepy, labyrinth mansion that harbours a malicious evil, this is a cleverly constructed, tense and chilling slice of cinema. It is based on the 1959 novel, The Haunting of Hill House, and it was remade, badly, in 1999. The original remains one of the most powerfully creepy films ever made without ever resorting to any obvious in your face scares or violence.
We open with narration from the male lead, Dr. John Markway, as he delightedly recounts a brief history of Hill House. Although laughed at by his peers, and even his own wife, Dr. Markway is convinced that the supernatural exists. He sees Hill House as the ideal opportunity to prove it and so he hires the mansion and invites a few guests to come along and help him investigate.
The fragile Nell is the first to arrive and she gets a less than warm welcome from the caretaker and his wife. Theodora and Luke soon follow and the four of them begin to explore the mansion and get to know each other. It doesn't take long for strange things to start happening, odd sounds, fleeting glimpses and self-closing doors put everyone on edge.
Directed brilliantly by Robert Wise this is an essential horror film for any genre fan. His economy of direction is excellent, especially in the opening montage that sets the scene for the real star of the show – Hill House itself. He makes the best of an impressive mansion and settings and the pacing is satisfyingly gentle so the tension builds slowly. This seems to be a forgotten art in modern films and yet it is so effective here.
The cast are good and there is plenty of very effective narration. There are some slightly hammy performances but it doesn't detract from the tale. Richard Johnson is wonderfully assured and upstanding as Markway, Claire Bloom strikes the right balance between smart and bitchy as Theo, and Juliet Harris is seriously histrionic as Nell. Russ Tamblyn plays Luke, the sceptic of the bunch who stands to inherit the house.
As the film wears on Nell is clearly not coping, the recent death of her mother has clearly taken a toll, and the others begin to doubt her sanity. When Markway’s wife turns up and insists on sleeping in the old nursery everything begins to spin out of control and we race towards an exciting finale.
The Haunting appears as a highly rated entry on a number of the scariest films of all time lists and it definitely deserves its place. It may seem slightly dated and it is probably a bit slow for some tastes but the atmosphere is excellent and Wise uses some really effective tricks to heighten the tension. It's a really enjoyable horror and stands up well to repeat viewing.Short Review
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