Hello fellow creatures that go bump in the night! (Erm…sorry got carried away there for a moment). This is the first review to kick things off for the Science Fiction & Horror movie theme month, and it was requested by the amazing blogger Vinnieh. Now Vinnieh stumbled across my blog first, and said a few simple words on my about page ” I really dig your blog”. This was the start of a true friendship that continues to this day. If you don’t know Vinnieh or his blog yet, you are really missing out on something. His knowledge of movies is incredible, and he writes reviews for both modern and classic movies in pretty much any genre. Not just any reviews though, but with a skill that far surpasses my own. They are always a delight to read, and it’s been a blast exchanging comments with him about our mutual love of movies. So, please if you haven’t already do go and check out his blog and leave a comment. I know he will appreciate it. Vinnieh my friend, this review is for you!
With this review of The Haunting I am heading into some uncharted territory as this film is now the oldest movie to date, that I am writing a review for on my blog. Moviemaking has changed so much over the past few decades. Where modern films these days are filled with special effects, in the old days most of these things were simply not available. And that’s why a lot of people of the modern moviegoing generation, are quick to dismiss a classic movie. They either don’t enjoy the lack of color or find the style of filming and acting just not that interesting. It all comes down to one basic thing: giving something an honest chance. Because really people, some of the films of the golden days of cinema so to speak, may lack special effects, but more than make up for this by their charm, incredible stories and amazing actors. In short just because something may be old, doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable. Having never seen the original The Haunting (I only saw the seriously bad remake of 1999), this film certainly falls into the category of enjoyable. More than that even.
There have been rumors about the 90-year old Hill House for years. Some say it is the focal point of all evil, some say it is haunted. One thing is for sure, there have been an incredible amount of disturbing events that happened in or near the house for years. The original creator of the huge mansion, Hugh Crain, built it for his first wife, but before she could even enter it she died under mysterious circumstances. He eventually remarried, but only to have his second wife die as well. His daughter Abigail lived out the remainder of her life in the house, never leaving the nursery until her death. After Abigail’s passing, the house has stood empty for years. Doctor John Markham now wishes to investigate the house, to see if the paranormal events that are supposedly floating around it are true. After securing permission from mrs. Sanderson who has inherited the house, John travels to the mysterious mansion. He is soon joined there by the heir of mrs. Sanderson a young man called Luke and two women that have their own connection to the world of the supernatural, Theodora and Eleanor. When darkness slowly falls, a nightmare not of this world is about to rear up it’s ugly head. John and those with him are about to find out, that some things are not worth discovering…..if they can keep their sanity intact that is…..
Ah nostalgia. This is classic movie making at it’s best. Right from the start of this movie there is one thing that this film does incredibly well: it creates an utterly bone chilling atmosphere that does not let up right until the end. From the first opening shot where you see the mansion covered in shadows and John is beginning his narrative, you feel this sense of unease. As if someone is looking at you with an intense and menacing stare, but when you turn around no one is there. The brilliant atmosphere is accompanied by some truly disturbing camera angles that at times seriously give you the creeps. There is a shot of Eleanor walking up a spiral staircase in an almost trance state and the way it was shot was just incredibly chilling. One has to take into account that this is a movie that is now 55 years old, which is why it is even more impressive that there are effects in this film that are highly effective. Not to mention that sounds, like for instance an adrenaline inducing thumping, play quite an important role in adding to the eerie atmosphere this film has.
But a film of course stands or falls with good performances, and on that from the film also doesn’t disappoint. I was most impressed by Julie Harris who played the role of Eleanor. Upon entering the house she is this somewhat uncertain, and nervous woman. But when the film progresses her mind is becoming increasingly unstable, and it is very terrifying to see that unfolding. In fact I would say her performance is almost as creepy as the film itself. Richard Johnson is the voice of reason in this movie, in his role as John Markham. He really has this calm and totally charismatic demeanor in the film and it’s quite easy to see how Julie’s character falls for him. It was also fun to see Russ Tamblyn in this movie, who most people will probably remember for his role as the gangleader Riff from the West Side Story. In The Haunting he provides a bit of the comedic relief, playing the character of Luke. He is pretty much the only one who doesn’t believe in all the supernatural stuff and tries to explain everything that’s happening in a rational way.
The Haunting is a movie that is tense and gripping right up to it’s dramatic conclusion. If you were to compare the film to today’s standards of the modern horrorfilm, it might fall short. But I do say might, because we still have a highly effective psychological horror movie here, that is incredibly well made. This is one of those horrorfilms that relies more on not showing things, than revealing stuff. And in my opinion, especially in horrormovies, that is usually much more chilling. There is no blood or gore in this film at any point, so if you only like horrorfilms that fall into the ketchup variety, this one is not for you. However if you enjoy watching classic cinema, or want to try out a film like that, this is one I definitely recommend checking out. Just a warning though: don’t be surprised if you jump up in fright every time you might here a small noise in your own house after watching this one.
I give The Haunting a 9 out of 10 score.