Scary Movies: The Haunting

Ach! Behind by three scary movies! Okay, last time I promised I would review a bad one and a good one, and I did the bad one. This time, we’ll do a good one, The Haunting, directed by Robert Wise in 1963. This was remade just this year, and the reviews are terrible. I think I’ll stick with the older version.

You see so many b-movies when you’re a horror fan, it’s refreshing every once in a while to see a movie that actually had a budget, A-list actors, and a real director (the film Wise directed just before this was West Side Story, and the one right afterwards was The Sound of Music–although he also directed The Day the Earth Stood Still and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, so this may not have been as big a departure for him as it appears at first).

The plot, based on a short story by Shirley Jackson, is pretty simple. Dr. John Markway is a paranormal researcher, and Hill House in rural Massachusetts has the reputation of being the most haunted house in New England. He decides to spend a week investigating the house, and invites several guests who have past experiences with supernatural phenomena, although only two arrive–including Theodora, a psychic who can sometimes read minds, and Eleanor, who had a run-in with a poltergeist as a child– as well as Luke Sanderson, the nephew of the house’s owner, who stands to inherit the place and is completely skeptical.

I don’t suppose it’s a surprise to learn that bizarre things start happening almost immediately. Does Luke Sanderson become a true believer in ghosts? Does Dr. Markway get material for his research? Do any of the characters have secrets that come out in the course of the film? I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying the answer is yes to all three of those.

I will say, unlike many other movies of this era, the movie doesn’t cheat by trying to explain away the various ghostly events at the end. It is also genuinely scary, or at least creepy. My daughter (age 9) watched it with me and though there’s no gore, or really anything inappropriate for a kid, she said she might have trouble going to sleep that night. I can’t blame her–the scares in this movie are really effective.

The Haunting (1963)

Story/Plot/Characters–Great script, great acting, great pacing. I might have wanted a little more development of the characters. Theodora seems really fascinating but we hardly learn anything about her, and Luke Sanderson is two-dimensional. But that’s quibbling–Eleanor is well-rounded, and Dr. Markway turns out to have some surprises. (3 points)
Special Effects–Not really a special effects movie, but what’s used is done well. (1 point)
Scariness–It’s a little hard to pinpoint what’s so effective here, because not a whole lot actually happens–strange noises, things moved around when people aren’t looking, but it’s all done so well that the suspense builds throughout the film. Very scary for a movie from 1963. (1.5 points)
Atmosphere/Freakiness–This is almost the definition of atmospheric– a haunted house in a rural New England setting. (2 points)
Total=7.5 points (Excellent)

3 Comments on “Scary Movies: The Haunting

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