When I was doing research on films about haunted houses, there were three significant ones. ‘The Legend Of Hell House’ (1973). ‘The Others’ (2001). ‘The Haunting’ (1963). Hadn’t come across that one so looked it up and found it available. Directed by Robert Wise, so it had credibility.
Doctor John Markway (actor Richard Johnson) investigates spooky buildings and gets permission to stay at Hill House in New England, where there is a 90 year history of death and no one wants to stay there, especially at night. He has a list of people who he wants to help him but they tend to read up on the place and decline. Only three others join him. Troubled Eleanor ‘Nell’ Lance (actress Julie Harris) whose thoughts we can hear from time to time. Thedora ‘Thea’ (actress Claire Bloom) who is aware of the future. Luke Sanderson (actor Russ Tamblyn) who doesn’t believe in anything.
Eleanor is the first to arrive, believing Hill House was her destiny. In short order afterwards, Thea, Markway and Sanderson. A brief appearance of Rosalie Crutchley as Mrs Dudley is spectacularly spooky and a shame she wasn’t exploited more as she repeatedly tells the two women the dining arrangements and that she and her husband return to the town at night.
The first night, Eleanor and Thea are spooked by loud noises outside the door. Their bedrooms are linked to a bathroom but they find nowhere to go. The two men return later, having chased after an apparent dog. Realising that the house wanted to divide them up, they all sleep in the lounge the next night and this time they all experience the noises. Shortly after, Grace Markway (actress Lois Maxwell) arrives, thinking of her husband’s potential infidelity and doesn’t believe in haunted houses. Any more, then you’ll have to jump for yourself.
Watching this film, my objectivity kicked in on how it makes you jump. Robert Wise’s direction aimed at making you think isolation and making you jump might seem tame by today’s standards but I can understand back in 1963 it would have given an audience something they had never seen before. After all, psychological horror had yet to catch on. You can understand the influence a decade later with ‘The Legend Of Hell House’ which followed a similar format of cast but a different outcome.
I’m less sure that I was scared by ‘The Haunting’ but then as I get older, little will make me jump. Besides, I don’t live in New England. Then again, it was actually filmed in England. Maybe I should jump.
The Stills extras shows cinema posters and some tips to cinemas to build the atmosphere. Oddly, of all the photos shown, there is a singular absence of Lois Maxwell apart from one still.
The audio commentary is shared by Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn with director Robert Wise and scriptwriter Nelson Gidding. With the exception Of Claire Bloom and Russ Tamblyn, the others are long dead so this makes this commentary of historical importance. The commentaries weren’t done together but clipped together from all concerned. Julie Harris explains she her incorporated own depression into her character.
Robert Wise explains the house existed near Stratford-on-Avon. I had a look on-line and found it is now the 5 star Ettington Park Hotel, confirmed by Russ Tamblyn and Richard Johnson. Filmed in England than New England which was still the setting for the book because MGM gave a little more in the needed budget if filmed here.
Richard Johnson explains he was performing in theatre in the evening and filming in ‘The Haunting’ during the day. He explains how Wise taught him how not to blink and how to focus on one eye so as not to allow his eyes to go back and forth. The room sets were built at the Boreham Woods studios. He also relates how he had a lesson from Frank Sinatra on the differences between stage and film acting.
Much of the audio commentary comes from Robert Wise and Richard Johnson, who gives a lot of detail about the acting process. This doesn’t demean what the others have to say but it makes for an interesting experience. One of the end comments from Johnson is that the film matured over the years and hasn’t really dated and how Robert Wise filmed it.
You would have thought ‘The Haunting’ would have appeared on television more in the UK but if you haven’t have a chance to watch it and like psychological horror, be prepared to turn on the lights when you go to bed after watching.
(region 2 DVD: pub: Warner Bros. 1 DVD 107 minute black and white film with a couple extras. Price: about £ 3.95 (UK) if you know where to look. ASIN: Z1 65194)
cast: Julie Harris, Richard Johnson, Claire Bloom, Russ Tamblyn and Lois Maxwell
check out website: www.warnerbros.co.uk