The Haunting (Robert Wise, 1963)
Dr. Markway, doing research to prove the existence of ghosts, investigates Hill House, a large, eerie mansion with a lurid history of violent death and insanity.
Normally, this self proclaimed film critic would stay away from ghost stories and movies about supernatural manifestations because of an uncontrolled fear of the aforementioned made-up from mankind’s imagination. But two things got in the way of my fright of ghosts: first, they are the films that are on the quest I am rambling about all the time, second, my promises to myself and my beloved readers to get in the mood for Halloween and watch many Horror movies during October. Regarding my idiotic fear of ghosts, I know it is childish but I often have nightmares about those bastards. Plus, it probably comes from my childhood; my cousin and I were always watching Ghostbusters and we were four or five years old. Both, we are still afraid of phantoms. Well, enough with the confession and let’s do this.
In New England there was an evil House that a man named Hugh Crain build for his first wife. She died on her way to the house, then a series of strange deaths, suicides, and tragedies occurred in Hill House. With time and gossips, the house became known as a haunted house. To help his researches, Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson) leases the property and invites two women Eleanor (Julie Harris) and Theodora (Claire Bloom) because they have been in contact with the supernatural before. They also have along with them young cocksure Luke (Russ Tamblyn) who his the next heir to own the property.
It is not long after the movie opens that we understand that Eleanor is a tormented woman and that she is the central character of the movie despite her. Apparently, the house has something to do with her presence and the permanent inhabitants quickly manifest themselves. The frightening elements of the film are pretty efficient and the suggestion of the presence instead the showing of the actual ghosts is making the creep very chilling. The confrontation of logic from Dr. Markway and his interest for paranormal are themes that gives a strong foundation to the script of the film and reminds us that the ghosts are real and not some hallucination from one of the character.
For what it is with Robert Wise’s directing and mise en scène we are in for a treat. The editor of Citizen Kane, knows how to direct a wonderfully haunting (yeah, I did it) picture. Every frame is well shot and, at some points, I saw elements that reminded me of The Shining and Shutter Island. It was probably an influence on both Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese. Especially The Shining, might have been influenced by it more than Kubrick might have wanted it to be. The stairs, the presence of the House and its hold on people makes it a distant parent to the Overlook Hotel.
Finally, The Haunting is one of the most successful ghost films I ever saw and the subtlety of the effects along with the depth of the story and Robert Wise’s sumptuous touch makes this a classic that will surely make my list of the best Horror films of all time. Recommended.