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.