Friday, April 4, 2014

Movie #247: The Haunting

The Haunting is a 1963 film adaptation of Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House, directed by Robert Wise and starring Russ Tambly, Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, and Richard Johnson.

Dr. Markway (Johnson) is an anthropologist and paranormal investigator who starts us off with a monologue about the various misfortunes of the inhabitants of Hill House, the Crain family. Basically, a lot of death, both accidental and deliberate (by way of suicide). He rounds up two people with paranormal experiences, Theodora (Bloom), who has psychic powers, and Eleanor (Harris), who was present at a poltergeist-like disturbance when she was young.

Eleanor has spent the last 11 years caring for her dying mother, and the experience has left her, in a word, fucked up. She views this trip to Hill House as a vacation, and never wants to go back to living with her sister and brother-in-law. Theo, meanwhile, is a lesbian, and is attracted immediately to Eleanor, which makes for all kinds of awesome tension when Eleanor and Markway show chemistry. And into the mix is Luke (Tamblyn), the probable heir to Hill House, who just wants to chop the place up and sell it.

Various haunt-related things happen, but the real tension is between Eleanor and everyone else. She's fragile and unstable, and obviously catnip both to Theo and Markway. Finally, Markway's wife (Lois Maxwell) shows up, and then promptly vanishes after sleeping in the nursery (where Old Lady Crain died). Everything unravels, Eleanor becomes convinced the house wants her to stay, and she winds up crashing her car into a tree and dying.

The movie routinely gets billed as one of the best horror movies of all time. I don't find it especially scary, but that's only because I wasn't born in the 50s. The camera work, the acting and the pacing of the movie are spot-on, and with some more modern effects, this could be a perfectly workable modern film (avoid, however, the god-awful 1999 remake starring Liam Neeson and Lily Taylor. The only good part is Owen Wilson's head being snipped off by a big stone lion).

My favorite bit is Theo and how obviously playful she is. She isn't predatory, but she can read people (remember, psychic) and she struggles with her attraction to Eleanor and her very wise intuition to not lick the crazy. The censors of the time wouldn't let Bloom touch Harris (because OMG can't admit that lesbians exist!), but she occasionally reaches for her only to get distracted or called away, which is just as effective.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: Heathers