Performing double duty last night as my Sunday Night Feature and the next up in the Halloween Horror Festival I watched 1963s The Haunting. (Not the terrible 1999 remake. I saw that one in the theater and once was far more than too much.)
Directed by Robert Wise, a talented and one of my favorite filmmakers, The Haunting is an adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s unsettling novel The Haunting of Hill House. The story concerns Professor John Markway who is investigating the supernatural. He has discovered Hill House, a 19th century mansion with a terrible past. Certain that he has found the location that will allow his research to advance to the next level he rents the house and attempts to bring together a group of sensitive persons to provoke events and document them. This is how the story point of view character and protagonists, Eleanor Lance is pulled into the plot. Eleanor is an unbalanced woman. She has spent her entire adult life caring for her bed-ridden mother, which has sparked and nurtured a deep resentment in Eleanor, and now longs for a life and a love of her own. Most of the people Markway had planned to assemble cancel leaving him with only one other sensitive Theodora, a woman with a talent for ESP and an unconventional sexual orientation. Rounding out our cast of ghost hunters is Luke Sanderson, a young man who believes not in the supernatural but rather in drink, women, and money. Luke stands to inherit the house and is on site to protect his future interests.
Filmed with a lens that presents a very mild distortion of the image, and several shots using filmstock that is sensitive to UV light, Robert Wise crafts a horror film that is built upon mood and disquiet rather than gore and monsters. The move boasts a terrific cast all of whom portray their characters with truth and credibility. It is interesting to me that I can watch Russ Tamblyn as a child in the noir Gun Crazy, a young adult man here in The Haunting, and as a senior actor in Twin Peaks: The Return, Claire Bloom as Theodora plays her character with a sublime subtlety. Yes, the production code forced all gay characters to be either coded and villainous but with this film it was required that her character be portrayed more discreetly and her attempted seductions and interest in Eleanor are better for their low key approach.
Among the classic horror films The Haunting ranks as one of the best.