Robert Wise’s multi layered gothic masterpiece just gets better every time you watch it. And every time you watch it you’ll notice another clever and subtle use of cinematography. The crooked angles and unusual perspectives that accentuate either Eleanor’s fragile psyche or the evil within the house, depending on your viewpoint, could have been shot last week.
These kind of tricks are now standard in most haunted house movies but what The Haunting got right and what many modern examples fail to deliver (with the rare exception of something like The Others (2001) and to a degree The Orphanage (2007) ) is the balance of character driven drama and horror. The film is as much about the character of Eleanor as it is the house and the unexplained shit-scary events that occur within.
Ambiguity is the order of the day. The horror in The Haunting stems from ambiguity, allowing your eager imagination to do most of the hard work of scaring you. The film works best on those (like me) willing and wanting to play along.
Its famous for its use of sound (relentless banging combined with silence for example) and what it does not show. It does not show any actual ghosts. It suggests so much with clever cinematography that it does not need any. The endless canted angles give an impression of discomfort and the use of mirrors make it seem as there are more eyes than visitors in Hill House. In a smart postmodern twist Richard Johnson’s Dr Markaway points out these architectural quirks to the guests.
What starts as a science fiction concept, with Dr Markways investigation of the paranormal, twists into Eleanor’s tragic attempt to find happiness and escape her uncaring and selfish family after her mother’s emotionally difficult death. What better way to cheer yourself up than to stay in an isolated house with a reputation for misfortune and evil….? Is Hill House really haunted or are the volunteer’s in Markways experiment experiencing Eleanor’s projected psychosis? Maybe Eleanor is an unwilling catalyst for the house’s evil?
Another standout for The Haunting is Eleanor, played perfectly by Julie Harris. Her character is not the bold, sassy resourceful young woman of many more contemporary horror movies. She is plain, shy, lacking in confidence and unsure of herself. She’s more us than our fantasy of us. She’s not the unwilling offspring of Jason Statham and Ray Mears, she’s normal. And after a truly miserable past her one shot at happiness now lies in the form of married man; Dr Markway.
The perfect tragic set up for a perfect gothic horror tale.
Review by Anthony Gates
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