Friday, September 4, 2015
The Haunting (1963) review
Though greatly outdated and a tad uneven, The Haunting still remains one of the most prestigious horror films of its time with an excellent cast, expert camerawork, and a harrowing psychological question.
PLOT: The legend of Hill House has been passed down from generation to generation. The house is said to be extremely haunted by the ghosts of the past owners who died inside. One day, anthropologist Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson) invites the house's future heir, Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn), uptight ESP expert, Theodora (Claire Bloom), and unstable friend, Eleanor Vance (Julie Harris) out to the house to spend a few nights and investigate the haunted legends of Hill House. Throughout their stay in the house, things start getting creepier and creepier, instilling a fear that the legends may be true, especially for poor Eleanor, who's either going insane or being taken over by the house. The plot is a very classic idea from a classic novel and is executed fairly well. We're injected with a ton of wavering suspense throughout the film as small scares arise every so often. Along with this aspect, a kind of dramatic story is established through the characters' conversations.
ACTING: The cast in this film did excellent jobs at their parts. One of my favorite parts of this film is probably the chemistry the cast establishes among each other. The best performances were probably from Russ Tamblyn as Luke Sanderson, Julie Harris as Eleanor Vance, and Richard Johnson as Dr. Markway. Tamblyn provided a subtle comedy relief from the spookiness of the house, Harris convinced me of her characters questioning insanity, and Johnson just fit his part well. The cast did very excellent jobs at their parts.
SCORE: The score for this film was very nostalgic and well done. It set the spooky mood very well.
CAMERAWORK: The camerawork in this film was quite excellently done. At each scare and moment of tight suspense, the camera was perfectly suited to catch the creepiest yet clearest angle it could get. The film is shot brilliantly.
OTHER CONTENT: This film was a classic in its time, but compared to today's standards, it stands more as a paranormal suspense or psychological thriller than a horror. The times it felt most like a horror film was the telling of the family history near the beginning and within the scattered scares near the end. The film feels more like anticipation with no release. However, when a scare does pop up, the suspense succeeds in making it decently effective. I think, really, The Haunting works more as a psychological horror of a sort, because throughout the whole film, we're left questioning whether Eleanor is possessed by the house or driven mad by her own paranoid thoughts. This where the film succeeds most, next to the acting and cinematography. Watching her go insane as the house falls down around her is a quite harrowing sequence.
The Haunting is a rather outdated and slow horror film, but it does succeed in promoting a stellar cast, expert cinematography, and the bare bones of a psychological horror. The suspense, though tedious at times, helps create effective jump scares. For its time, The Haunting was probably one of the few horror films containing cinematic style, and not just a cheap thrill.