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Regarded as one of the greatest haunted house films of its day, THE HAUNTING is still effective, but not as chilling as it’s reputation would have you believe.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for Robert Wise’s eerie masterpiece of mood and style. Made when color was the norm, he chose to shoot it in glorious black & white which looks absolutely stunning in its Blu-Ray debut.
Based on the Shirley Jackson novel “The Haunting of Hill House,” it’s more a story about character dysfunction than actual supernatural events. Not that the haunting isn’t real, it’s just that how it affects the individuals who have chosen to stay for a few nights as an experiment, is more the point.
Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson) has assembled a small group to study the supposedly haunted house that include Theodore, an ESP Expert (Claire Bloom), Luke, the young heir to the Hill House estate (Russ Tamblyn) and Eleanor (Julie Harris) whose mother just passed away and Dr. Markway feels would be a good addition to the group.
Unfortunately, Eleanor is more unbalanced than the Doctor realized and is either having a complete mental breakdown or is actually under the control of the house. The situation escalates when Dr.Markway’s wife Grace (Lois Maxwell) arrives and provides an ample dose of skepticism.
There are some interesting psychological themes explored in the film, especially repression, including sexual repression. I don’t think I’m reading into it that Theodora (or Theo as she goes by) has more than friendship in mind in regards to her interest in Eleanor.
Primarily about mood, THE HAUNTING is a slow burn and really is about the sounds that go bump in the night. Compared to today’s haunted house films like INSIDIOUS and the exceptional THE CONJURING, THE HAUNTING might seem quaint and limp, but in the context of when it came out, it’s still has merit. It set a lot of groundwork for contemporary scares and viewed that way it’s still quite enjoyable with moments that will raise hairs and goosebumps.