FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 14, 2006

THE HAUNTING

Of course...of course I'm referring to Robert Wise's 1963 triumph of supernatural terror. Not only is the 1999 Jan de Bont remake not only not worthy of the title The Haunting but it's also a plain ol' cinematic atrocity, Lili Taylor or no Lili Taylor. In my humble opinion, that is. You might like it. You might also enjoy having flaming matchsticks crammed under your fingernails and eyelids whilst stiletto-clad dwarves tap dance on your private no-no parts, I can't really say. Whatever floats your boat, baby.

What floats my boat, baby, is The Haunting. My brain is starting to glaze over ever so slightly and I'm sure that my brief posting about the movie will not do it justice. Let's just call it the mother of all haunted house movies, shall we?

It's simply an astounding piece of filmmaking any way you slice it. Only a master craftsman such as Wise be able to evoke such a huge reaction in an audience by giving the, really, so very little. A horror film with one special effect? How can that succeed? It works because the visuals, the lighting, and the sound are utilized to far greater effect than any CGI ghost could ever be. Robert Wise knows that we don't need to know exactly what's lurking on the other side of the door- it's the not knowing who or what is pounding and turning the knob that will make us cower in fear. The Haunting is definitely a film to watch with the lights turned off, and no matter how many times I see it, I still feel my heart begin to beat faster when the footsteps and the voices start.

I've really terribly glossed over the plot here because I'm going to assume that all you good horror film fans have seen this one. If you haven't, you're truly missing out on a classic, timeless exercise in terror. Four people, each in their own way wanting desperately to be accepted and to belong, staying in one very, very bad house. Hill House is simply born bad- there are no reasons for its malevolence, there is no appeasing the spirits within so they'll go away. It's purely an evil place, and as Luke (Russ Tamblyn) says, "It ought to be burned down and the ground sown with salt."

If you've yet to read the book upon which the film is based, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, then again- do yourself a favor and get a copy. Jackson manages to evoke more atmosphere and chills in a paragraph than other horror writers can in hundreds of overwrought pages:
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
Oh, and I'm totally in love with Claire Bloom in this movie. That is all.

12 comments:

Bill Walsh said...

Preach on, Stacie. Folks, read the book. If you don't come away profoundly unsettled, I'll give you your money back and then drive a stake through your heart, because you're clearly one of the undead.

Stacie Ponder said...

One of my favorite movies and one of my favorite books. How often to BOTH forms of media hit it right out of the park?

I LOVE Shirley Jackson.

Bill Walsh said...

She's unbelievable. Total original. I don't know who you could really compare her to. Roald Dahl? Flannery O'Connor? Not sure...

"The Lottery" is one of the scariest stories I've ever read.

Amanda By Night said...

I love this movie. There are parts where I'm so scared I can't even scream. No other film has ever had the effect on me.

I also love that this movie is so sad. Julie Harris' character absolutely breaks my heart, and yes, she does walk alone. Every time I hear or read that, I feel something so deep for her character and in the end, we all fell that way sometimes, don't we?

Amanda By Night

Stacie Ponder said...

You're right, Bill, probably Flannery O'Connor is closest, but Jackson has her own way of doing things. They just don't make 'em like her anymore.

I'm soooooo glad you love this movie, Amanda!!!

It's one of the rare, rare films whose impact simply doesn't deteriorate for me whatsoever any time I watch it. It was the only movie I watched last night that caused me to pull the blanket up to my chin and shrink myself down as much as possible. STILL. AS many times as I've seen it. It's an incredibly effective piece of filmmaking.

This IS a sad movie, isn't it? Poor Eleanor. It's her story, obviously, but they're all misfits trying to find their way. Unfortunately, Nell's tale ends at Hill House, though as Theo says, really, it's what she wanted.

Every time I see this film, I notice something new about it that adds more, another layer, more drama or tension. This time, it was the way Eleanor kept repeating "But I'm expected..."- it broke my heart. That sad, all-too-human desire to be wanted, to belong to someone at any cost.

It's just too bad she chose to belong to the malevolent halls of Hill House over Claire Bloom. :P

I love this movie.

Mistah Wade said...

Rachelle first introduced me to this movie an I was amazed by it. As you said in your review, it is astounding what Wise does with so little. It is SCARY! I love it.
I however do not hate the remake. Sorry. The story is good.

theron said...

I'm so glad you watched this. I requested it last year, if you remember (and you probably don't - why should you?). I read this book and saw the movie when I was a kid. Both book and movie are among the best works in their genre. This flick totally creeped me out as a kid, and it's still scary today. A little atmosphere goes a long way. This is the type of movie I wish they made these days. Compare this to the remake for a wonderful illustration of the problems with movies today.

rikp said...

Wow, I just watched this and it's astounding. To think that Robert Wise went from this directly to "The Sound of Music"! How have I missed this all these years? Maybe I was confusing it with the "The Innocents" (1961).

Tea Drinker said...

I absolutely love this film. Every time I watch it, I find something new to appreciate. I've read the book twice and this makes me want to read it again.

WJT said...

I, not sane, have just watched The Haunting for 238 times, I might watch it for 238 more; and I'm in love with Ms Bloom also. Shirley Jackson was a genius, Robert Wise a treasure!

magla345 said...

whenever i check out a horror movie blog, one of the first things i do if there's an index of reviews is to see if the reviewer has seen "the haunting". if the writer doesn't "get" this masterpiece, i surf on. if they have given "the haunting" a bad review, i just assume that i have nothing in common with them. so "final girl" gets my full approval! so why does my approval mean so much? well, uh, actually, it doesn't. but "the haunting" is my favorite horror movie -after 50 years of watching horror movies - and whoever loves it is my friend.

magla345 said...

when you first watch the haunting, you see a really well-made ghost/haunted house story. but when you have watched it enough times that nothing about it surprises you anymore, you will find, beyond the spook show, one extremely powerful illustration of the corrosive effects of guilt and it's power to stunt one's life.

some here will know about the 2012 "sight and sound" movie poll, which voted vertigo the "greatest movie of all time", booting citizen kane from it's 50 year reign in the poll. i do not know what the greatest movie ever made would be, but i am really really sure it ain't vertigo (and i love vertigo). HOWEVER. if they are going to put vertigo up there, then i say the haunting much deserves a place on the top 100 list. and i would place it in the top 20, at least.