The Haunting (1963) DVD Review
Written by Peter West
DVD released by Warner Home Video
Directed by Robert Wise
Written by Shirley Jackson (novel) and Nelson Gidding (screenplay)
1963, Region 1 (NTSC), 112 minutes, Rated G
DVD released on August 5th, 2003
Julie Harris as Eleanor Lance
Claire Bloom as Theodora
Richard Johnson as Dr. John Markway
Russ Tamblyn as Luke Sanderson
Fay Compton as Mrs. Sanderson
Rosalie Crutchley as Mrs. Dudley
Lois Maxwell as Grace Markway
Valentine Dyall as Mr. Dudley
Diane Clare as Carrie Fredericks
Ronald Adam as Eldridge Harper
Since it was built nearly one-hundred years ago, Hill House has been a poisoned house filled with death and tragedy. Moments before arriving at the home for the first time, the first owner's wife was killed when one of her horses unexpectedly bolted. Hugh Crain's next wife died as well, suffering a mysterious fall down the stairs one evening. Crain himself passed away in England leaving his daughter Abigail alone to live in the house. Abigail never moved out of her nursery and died as an elderly recluse. Bed-ridden Abigail was banging on the wall for help while her paid companion was outside philandering with a hired hand. The house was willed to the companion who lived there alone for many years until hanging herself from the top of the spiral staircase.
This history brings us to today where Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) wants to rent the house from a distant relative of the companion. Meeting with Mrs. Sanderson, Markway explains he wants to prove or disprove the rumors about the old house. He plans to gather a team to stay and run experiments in the house. Mrs. Sanderson agrees with the stipulation that her nephew and heir Luke (Russ Tamblyn) be part of the team.
The story then shifts to Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris), who was invited by Dr. Markway to be part of the team. She is having difficulties getting permission to take the family car for what she considers a vacation from her drab existence. Eleanor takes the vehicle anyway and leaves Boston for Hill House. Upon arriving, she receives a cold greeting by both Mr. and Mrs. Dudley who are the caretakers of Hill House. Soon after her arrival she meets Theodora (Claire Bloom) another of Markway's team, together they start to explore the great old house. Quickly getting lost, they finally bump into Dr. Markway and after escorting them to the dining room they find that most of the research team has canceled out on the experiment leaving Eleanor and Theodora as the only members joining Dr. Markway and the young Luke.
Markway explains to Eleanor and Theodora that he has chosen them for their individual psychic abilities with the paranormal. Theodora having ESP and Eleanor having been present at a physical manifestation during her childhood. What Dr. Markway was not aware of was that Eleanor is seriously mentally ill and he could be inviting her to disaster! From the first evening at the house, noises are heard, there is banging on the walls and the sounds of a large animal. Slowly the tension builds as the spirits of the house choose Eleanor as their target! Mrs. Markway arrives compounding the situation further when she insists on staying in the late Abigail Crain's nursery which has been vacant since her death. When Mrs. Markway disappears after another episode with the forces in the house, Eleanor is accidentally left alone. The spirits in the house, the voices in her head, will Eleanor go completely mad and suffer the same fate as the house's other residents? Is Hill House really haunted or are these manifestations the result of Eleanor's abilities? The Haunting will keep you on edge as you enter into the world of the paranormal and madness!
This is one of the few movies where I had seen the remake prior to the original. I had found the remake disappointing. The original is a completely different story! Maybe I did not see it as a kid because my mother thought I might not sleep again at night... This is truly one disturbing movie. The combination of the supernatural with Julie Harris character's mental illness really keeps you guessing. A lot of the film has scenes where the voices in Eleanor's head are doing the talking. Her rationalization of events, her fears, her goals, her wants and needs. This is one superb characterization of a woman tormented by her inner demons, now facing demons from the paranormal.
The storyline which is supposed to be very close to the book by Shirley Jackson touches on issues that were controversial at the time. Claire Bloom's character Theodora is a lesbian (there was a scene shot between her and Eleanor that was cut eventually) and subtle references to that fact are used by Eleanor to justify her paranoia. Markway though married knows that Eleanor is starting to become attached to him and does nothing to discourage her. The real villain of the movie is Markway! His experiment is far more important to him than the mental health and physical well being of those assisting him.
The Haunting is a good old fashioned thriller! Relying more on the mind and your imagination to thrill you then gore and CGI special effects as most movies do today. I mean it when I say this is a disturbing movie to watch. I felt very uneasy getting a glimpse into the depths of mental illness Eleanor journeys through. Julie Harris does one amazing job at playing the character and should have been nominated for a award. The director Robert Wise was nominated for a Golden Globe! I would say not everybody would find this movie as appealing as I do. However if you get scared by reading a thriller, The Haunting will make you rest a little uneasy that night! My overall rating: 4.5/5
Video and Audio:
Presented in an anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, The Haunting has been remarkably restored by Warner. The images are sharp and clear, the movie has very few visual flaws. The movie was filmed with outstanding camera work and the clarity of the restoration adds tremendously to the overall enjoyment! My rating 4.5/5
The Haunting DVD preserves the film's original sound with a Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack. It's truly sharp and crisp, emphasizing the film's thrills. The only drawback I found was that I did need to play it at a higher volume level than normal. My rating: 3.5/5
The Haunting is loaded with extras. Included are a commentary by Julie Harris, Richard Johnson, Claire Bloom, Russ Tamblyn, Director Robert Wise, and Screenwriter Nelson Gidding. Two stills galleries that includes the script with director Robert Wise's notes. A theatrical trailer and a desktop image for wallpaper. The commentary was recorded with the actors individually, however it is marvelously blended into the movie for good listening. It's rare to have a commentary with all of the major actors from a fourty-year old film present. Considering how much of a chain-smoker Richard Johnson's Markway character was, I'm really surprised to see he's still around! My rating: 5/5
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