Consumed by guilt and grief over her mother's recent death and driven to adventure by her belief in the supernatural, Eleanor Vance (Julie Harris) is the most unstable--and therefore the most vulnerable--visitor to Hill House. She's invited there by anthropologist Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson), along with the bohemian lesbian Theodora (Claire Bloom), who has acute extra-sensory abilities, and glib playboy Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn, from Wise's West Side Story), who will gladly inherit Hill House if it proves to be hospitable. Of course, the shadowy mansion is anything but welcoming to its unwanted intruders. Strange noises, from muffled wails to deafening pounding, set the stage for even scarier occurrences, including a door that appears to breathe (with a slowly turning doorknob that's almost unbearably suspenseful), unexplained writing on walls, and a delicate spiral staircase that seems to have a life of its own.
The genius of The Haunting lies in the restraint of Wise and screenwriter Nelson Gidding, who elicit almost all of the film's mounting terror from the psychology of its characters--particularly Eleanor, whose grip on sanity grows increasingly tenuous. The presence of lurking spirits relies heavily on the power of suggestion (likewise the cautious handling of Theodora's attraction to Eleanor) and the film's use of sound is more terrifying than anything Wise could have shown with his camera. Like Jack Clayton's 1961 chiller, The Innocents, The Haunting knows the value of planting the seeds of terror in the mind, as opposed to letting them blossom graphically on the screen. What you don't see is infinitely more frightening than what you do, and with nary a severed head or bloody corpse in sight, The Haunting is guaranteed to chill you to the bone. --Jeff Shannon
Horror film director Robert Wise does a magnificent job with this adaptation of the Shirley Jackson novel. Very few visual effects are used, instead relying on lighting (the one scene with the wallpaper in Eleanor's room is eerie), atmosphere, sound and the viewers own fear to create a creepingly chilling film. They make the viewer feel like actors in the movie instead of bystanders. All the actors give fine performances: Clair Bloom as Theo, Russ Tamblyn as Luke, and Richard Johnson as Dr. Markway. But, Julie Harris' performance of Eleanor makes the film. Her almost childlike confusion, fear and determination to stay the course keep you enrapt in the film.
It's very refreshing to see a horror film that doesn't rely so much on expensive special effects to get the chills across, instead using acting, lighting and story to convey terror and fright. This is a classic horror film that still delivers to this day.
After her mother's recent death-and driven by a total belief in the supernatural, Eleanor Vance (Julie Harris) deciedes to join an expedition to explore Hill House, a New England mansion. She's invited there by anthropologist Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson), along with the bohemian exotic Theodora (Claire Bloom), who has extrodinary extra-sensory abilities, and a stuck up playboy Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn) who will inherit Hill House if it is clean of any strange goings on. As you might imagine, strange things start to happen, shortly after the group arrives.
The character's fears (as well as our own) propel the film. The scares in the movie are driven by the mind. Screenwriter Nelson Gidding crafted a fine adaptation, that along with Wise's atmosheric touches, and a fine ensemble, allows for a fun film watching experience.
Happily the DVD has a great audio commentary with Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Russ Tamblyn, director Robert Wise, and screenwriter Nelson Gidding. Each of whom, offer some fine stories about the making of the film and bring a unique perspective to the track. For someone who has been around awhile as a director, Wise still exhibits wit, wisdom, and class, that infects the others as well.Read more ›