Haunting, The (1963)

The Haunting (1963), directed by Robert Wise.


Eleanor: Who's in the house?

Caretaker: No one you'd want to meet.

First Review:

Pure haunted house story, with psychic researchers lodging where no one else will. Much spookiness, but is it the house or something they brought with them? Is it a supernatural force, or the growing dementia of one of their members?

Strong cast, great house. A combination of nighttime knocks and banging, weird psychodrama between the characters, and the increasingly distracted interior monologue of one of them.

To the contemporary eye this will seem inexplicit and talky, but there are some moments of extreme terror, of the "if I were there I would probably be losing my sanity too" sort.

Set in New England but filmed in England.

Second Review:

I reviewed this before but just read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and had to see it again. The movie follows the book pretty closely in many respects; differences are listed in the wikipedia. The film omits one fright scene (the blood and writing in Theo's room) and adds another: the madness of the doctor's wife (Lois Maxwell, who was Miss Moneypenny in the early Bond films).

It's 40 minutes before the scary stuff begins, which will be too long for many people these days. It's Eleanor's story both in print and on the screen: her loneliness and paranoia, her fear that she is the cause of the happenings, her need to be cherished and belong somewhere, and her growing belief that Hill House is where she belongs.

A favorite bit: she and Theo clutch each other while a mysterious entity slams the walls and doors in the hallway. She jumps up and screams "Go away! Leave us alone!" Silence. She thinks: "It was looking for a room with people inside. Now it knows we're here." Then "it" starts craftily working on the door...

A discussion in the book suggests some thoughts on horror films. The doctor points out that the conscious, rational mind can resist the supernatural, but that no one controls their subconscious, so even skeptics must be careful in haunted houses.

Horror films can range from the barely suggested to the gruesomely explicit. The former end is sometimes called "psychological horror", although that's not well defined. I propose that the explicit can be dealt with by the rational mind, as with any other problem where we apply positive thinking and craft. (Revulsion is another dimension, though: you can't necessarily reason your way out of disgust).

The merely suggested is more insidious: it creeps under your defenses, into the subconscious where intellect and reason cannot cope.

It's like trying to describe a nightmare, one of your really bad ones. Words fail. You can summarize it, but never communicate why it was so bad. You can't even explain it to yourself. Feelings of dread, fear of the inexplicable, the sense of spiritual loathsomeness: these are not engendered in the conscious mind, but come out of the depths. That's scary.

Movies that can prompt those sorts of responses go on a special list.