The Haunting (1963)

Reid, 9. January 2007, 8:42

The Haunting (1963)
Dir. Robert Wise
Starring: Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn, etc.
112 minutes
2/10

According to the book, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, the movie is based on a Shirley Jackson novel, considered one of the “most frightening tales ever committed to paper.” The book also claims that this is one of the scariest films of all time–if not the scariest. Usually, I try to avoid talking about the genre of the film until later, but given the title and the fact that this film is not the scariest in the least, I figured it didn’t matter. (You can read the above as my confidence that most of you would not enjoy this film.) Oh, I recently read a reviewer on the imdb site say that this film is rated “G.” That’s totally believeable and that should tell you something.

For this film to be the scariest of all-time, the viewer would have to have not seen The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Shinning, among many others. The last one is pertinent, because in that film, the house is both a character and the main source of creepiness. Compare the two houses and the way the directors (Wise and Kubrick) use them, and it’s not even close in my opinion.

There is one or maybe two moments that are somewhat creepy, but for the most part, the extent of spookiness is loud banging noises and the watching the actors get scared.

That’s another reason the film didn’t work. The acting was pretty terrible.
In the film a anthropolgist gathers several people at a reputed “haunted house” to prove that paranormal activity is real. Eleanor (Julie Harris) is a neurotic–almost hysterial–single woman who wants to escape from her sister; she has taken care of her invalid mother, who has recently passed away. Her acting is just bad, almost to the point of being campy. She’s so neurotic and hysterical, even in non-spooky situations, that when she gets freaked out, I felt indifferent.

(spoiler)

The best chance this film has of being interesting is the psychological underpinnings of the story. Let me try to explore that. There’s an important backstory to the history of this house, namely the lady whom the house was built for died, supposedly because her caregiver neglected her. The caregiver eventually commits suicide in the house. (Several other wives of the builder of the house also die in it.)

Eleanor has been caring for her invalid mother for a long time, and she feels her lack of responsiveness to her mother may have caused her death. In the film, the house seems to want Eleanor–because she deserves punishment? because the house lady of the house wants Eleanor to take care of her? Either explanation doesn’t make the film better or scarier.

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