- Julie Harris as Eleanor
- Claire Bloom as Theo
- Richard Johnson as Dr. John Markway
- Russ Tamblyn as Luke Sannerson
The Haunting has been called one of the most unsettling, psychological horror films ever made. And after viewing it I can wholeheartedly agree with that statement. Chilling, eerie and above all scary, The Haunting is a fine example of what you can do with a horror movie without using blood and gore. Focusing on characters and the ultimate nature of fear, it still provides spine-chilling for those who watch it. A word of warning, Don’t watch this one alone!
Hill House is a famous old house in a remote part of New England that was built ninety odd years ago. The history of Hill House is littered with shocking events, with the mysterious deaths of at least four women occurring over the years. The house has now passed to an elderly woman named Mrs. Sannerson. Dr. John Markway is a scientist with an interest in the supernatural and upon learning about Hill House’s chilling past, inquires about conducting an investigation of the place. Assisting him is Eleanor, a meek woman who recently lost her mother to illness, Theo; a stylish and eccentric medium( who it is strongly implied has feelings for Eleanor) and Luke, the skeptical nephew of Mrs. Sannerson who stands to inherit the house. They all arrive at the house and quickly get to know one another. At first nothing happens, but little by little the creepy surrounding take hold. Loud banging is heard in the night. A child screaming echoes round the walls. A chill drifts through the air. This throws our characters into a tailspin as they attempt to understand the source of terror. All the while, the meek Eleanor begins to mentally crumble as the realm of the supernatural begins to take hold and the patient evil of Hill House unleashes itself upon the quartet, in particular Eleanor. Prepare for shocks galore, unseen terror and terrifying consequences as The Haunting takes hold and refuses to let go.
The first thing to praise in The Haunting is the overall visual style that plunges the viewer deep into the psychological terror that is brought on whilst the characters are in Hill House. Robert Wise utilises distorted angles, fish eyes lenses and unusual tracking shots. All of this further adds to the sheer scariness of the material. Also, keeping the source of terror unseen lets the audience make up for their own mind what is really haunting the house. This is the kind of horror movie I enjoy, with hardly any bloodshed but scares a plenty. The Haunting burrows deep into the mind and it will be weeks before you will not have to look over your shoulder to see if someone is there. Chilling sequences abound such as when Eleanor hears loud banging and believes she is holding Theo’s hand. When she switches the light on, someone has clearly been holding her hand but it isn’t Theo. Eleanor’s mental state beginning to decline is expertly conveyed through an internal monologue. Hearing her thoughts as she attempts to stay sane is frightening and highly effective to watch. The score for The Haunting contributes a Gothic atmosphere to the proceedings and the use of extended silences and sudden noises is terror personified.
Unusually for a horror film, the characters are integral and establishing their personalities is a crucial part to The Haunting. The relatively small cast all create interesting characters. Julie Harris makes the biggest impact with her performance as Eleanor, we see the terror, uncertainty and inner suffering as she comes to believe the house is after her. A lot of the horror in the picture is captured through her terrified eyes. Claire Bloom contributes a mysterious and eccentric quality to the character of the clairvoyant Theo. The fact that Theo is implied to be a lesbian adds an interesting dimension to the story as we see her jealousy at the affection between Markway and Eleanor and we see the shy Eleanor becoming more conflicted with her emotions as a result of this. The Haunting, released in the 60’s when talk of lesbianism was taboo, shows itself as being quite daring for the inclusion of Theo’s character. Richard Johnson is suitably intense as the one who sets up the investigation. Russ Tamblyn, as the skeptical nephew who comes to see the horror of the house he will one day inherit, adds a youthful, non-believing quality that soon withers as the evil of the house encroaches.
In the run up to Halloween, The Haunting is a film you should watch. Prepare for terror, ambiguity and things that go bump in the night as The Haunting weaves its chilling spell upon you.