Haunting, The (1963)

“It was an evil house from the beginning — a house that was born bad…”

Haunting

Synopsis:
A lonely spinster (Julie Harris), a parapsychologist (Richard Johnson), a psychic (Claire Bloom), and others spend the night at Hill House while it is being investigated for the presence of ghosts. Eventually, Harris begins to believe that the house is calling out for her in some way…

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
In his review of this “first-rate, thinking person’s horror film” — based on a novel by Shirley Jackson, and recently remade by director Jan de Bont — Peary provides an in-depth analysis of the film’s primary character: Julie Harris’s Eleanor. He points out that because Eleanor is a “virtual nonentity in her life”, she probably feels special for being singled out by the “ghosts” at Hill House; thus, the noises Eleanor hears may very well be subconscious manifestations of her deeper desire to finally be noticed.

It is this kind of ambiguous motivation — are the noises real or a figment of Eleanor’s imagination? — that underlies The Haunting‘s success as a psychological horror film. The emphasis here is on atmosphere and characters rather than cheap thrills; and while the film is slow-going at times, it ultimately provides a unique, provocative perspective on the presence of other-worldly visitors in our midst.

Redeeming Qualities:

  • The inimitable Julie Harris, always fascinating to watch
    Julie Harris
  • Claire Bloom as the psychic Theodora, one of the screen’s first “sympathetic lesbians”

Must See?
Yes. This is an unusual classic of the psychological horror genre.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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3 Responses to “Haunting, The (1963)”

  1. Unfortunately I would have to ultimately say not a must — unless, as a film fanatic, you’re on the younger side and have seen few horror films. Even then, I’m not so sure. Some sequences (the opening backstory of the house, a few middle-of-the-night ‘attacks’) lend potential but effectiveness is lost due to the much-too-talky and hokey script–some of which becomes laughable (i.e., the goofy female caretaker with her mantra of “No one will hear you…in the night…in the dark…”). Among the cast, Bloom comes off best for the reason Peary points out. One could argue that it’s a good genre example for its day — but consider Clayton’s ‘The Innocents’, released two years earlier, which (relying on very little) has lost none of its original strength and ability to spook. I just tried to watch ‘The Haunting’ again on TCM and found it a chore. It was followed by ‘Poltergeist’ — now THAT’S a haunting!

  2. Good point — I agree that much of the script is hokey, and that as a straight horror film, it isn’t overly effective. But I still think it may be a “must see” simply because of its credentials: based on a well-known novel by Shirley Jackson; recently considered an interesting enough premise to do a big-budget remake (which I haven’t seen); and featuring one of Julie Harris’s too-few screen appearances. As always, she brings an uncanny depth to her character, and forces us to focus more on Eleanor’s transformation than anything else.

  3. Agreed re: worth of Jackson and Harris. A more successful adaptation of Jackson’s work is ‘Lizzie’ (in Peary’s additional must-see list), released the same year as the similar ‘Three Faces of Eve’ and in which Eleanor Parker delivers a more believable performance than the one that got Woodward the Oscar. I can’t recall whether I read ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ (so I can’t speak about the character as written) but, as much as I admire Harris, her work as Eleanor makes me want to slap her – that could be because of director Wise, who I don’t think did his best work with actors here. The premise is indeed a great one – and many people do consider ‘The Haunting’ a classic – but, to me, it’s a missed opportunity…missed again with de Bont’s pointless, pathetic remake.

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