The Haunting

The Haunting (1963) movie poster

(1963) dir. Robert Wise
viewed: 09/20/08

Another pretty great film from director Robert Wise (The Body Snatcher (1945), The House on Telegraph Hill (1951), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)).  This, an atmospheric ghost story, shows more style and prowess in some ways, more visual play and shock value, with striking compositions, and some strange visual effects.  Actually, the camera goes a little nutso playing out the perspective of dementia and fear.  While not utterly unsettling, it is enjoyably eerie and occasionally striking.

Adapted from a novel by Shirley Jackson titled, The Haunting of Hill House, not to be confused as I have been with director William Castle’s The House on Haunted Hill (1959), was also re-made in 1999 as The Haunting, featuring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Owen Wilson.  It’s a story of a psychic researcher who brings several people together to a notoriously haunted house in hopes of recording some psychic phenomena.  But it turns out that one of the research assistants is a little too tuned in and things go a little sideways.

Wise handles the cast and the whole of the film well.  What feels at times like it could have been a more low-budget picture, the film is allowed the space to develop characters, story, and mood at a more measured pace,…a pace that can seem a little slow, but definitely adds weight to the characters as the narrative unfolds.

The film also features a catty lesbian character, fairly out and obvious one might think for 1963.  I can’t recall, but would be surprised if it hadn’t shown up in the documentary The Celluloid Closet (1995), which featured many such early negative depictions of lesbians and gays in Hollywood.  Overall, I’d say that it’s not utterly negative, as the character of Theodora is not completely unsympathetic, even when referred to as “a monster”.  It’s part of the film’s texture in a sense, the sexual politics that are going on in the casting of the four, the potential attractions that the old maid, Eleanor, is confronted with at the house: the handsome, married professor, the young, drunken rich kid, and Theodora, the psychic, sensitive yet catty woman.  Sexuality is explored to an extent here, in a way that might be more interesting than I am delving into at the moment.

Anyhow, it made for good watching.  A good lead up to Halloween, perhaps.

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