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The Haunting (1963)

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This film needs a thread of its own.

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From the Robert Wise Has Died thread:

…For me, The Haunting is his finest achievement. It's a very clever horror film and a fabulous adaptation of Shirley Jackson's classic novel.
The Haunting is one of the few horror movies that, for me, stands the test of time as being genuinely frightening.

A few people here have been trying to get me to watch this for years. Thank you for the recommendation, it really was a terrific experience. It’s been a week since I saw it, and I’m still a little creeped, to be honest.

To watch it in 2008 you’ve got to first remember that you’re dealing with a different approach to acting. That at this point in film history, quite a few were still bringing stage-acting in front of a camera, which delivers a sort of “over-the-top” quality to quite a few of the scenes.

Here, I think that “over-the-topishness” rather helped the film. Sure, it was corny in places, and kind of felt like Scooby-Doo more than once. But overall, it threw in this campy feel that really took a hard nosedive during the scenes that legitimately scared you – and I think it was this tension between the campiness (some of it intended when it was made) and the scariness that made it an even more visceral experience.

The setting of the house, the story of the house, and the freaked-out acting of Julie Harris and Claire Bloom lent a hand in keeping me up for many hours after I saw this (late at night and alone). At one point, the character of Nell (Harris) is trying to hold Theo’s (Bloom’s) hand in the dark, only to find out it was clearly not her hand, but something else… At that point, the hairs on the back of my neck stood straight to the sky.

For 1963, I thought it interesting the way it handled the gay/lesbian issue. It would seem to me that just having a gay character in a film would be a little “against the grain…” I wonder if there were those in the audience in 1963 in which this element of the film flew over their head.

I would like to point out that I did see the 1999 remake first, when it was first released on DVD. I do not believe I made it to the end. It was really stupid. That’s about all I remember of it, was that it was stupid.

I am the A&F guy that likes the “idea of a horror film more than most actual horror films.” The Haunting, it would seem, is an exception to this rule. It certainly deserves the accolades it gets as “classic horror.”

Edited by stef

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Maybe I'm too in love with this film to recognize its flaws, but "corny," "campy?" These are words justly applied to House on Haunted Hill, but certainly not The Haunting. This is the straight dope, the real McCoy. No showy special effects, no explicit violence. Just atmosphere and psychology.

It's still one of the most genuinely frightening films I've ever seen, and experiencing it in a theater last year only solidified my high opinion of it.

What other horror films do you like, Stef?

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To back up that "real McCoy" comment: If memory serves, isn't this film -- the bit with the knocking on the door, in particular -- sometimes cited as an influence on Tarkovsky's Solaris? Any film that influenced Tarkovsky has to be worthy of SOME respect! :)

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To back up that "real McCoy" comment: If memory serves, isn't this film -- the bit with the knocking on the door, in particular -- sometimes cited as an influence on Tarkovsky's Solaris? Any film that influenced Tarkovsky has to be worthy of SOME respect! :)

I've never heard of that before, Peter, and I doubt I would have ever made the connection. Although, now that I think about it, the idea of the house as some kind of sentient being probing the mind of the protagonist certainly has its similarities. Interesting!

Edited by Nathaniel

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If you enjoyed "The Haunting", Stef, you seriously need to check out "The Innocents", which is far and away the best of the haunted house movies.

The finest of recent times is probably "El Orfanato" (aka "The Orphanage"), which is directed by Juan Antonio Bayona and produced by Guillermo del Toro. This one borrows heavily from "The Innocents" and Nicolas Roeg's "Don't Look Now", and throws in a splash of "Poltergeist" for good measure. It's intelligent, creepy, SFX-lite, and very well acted. It also packs an emotional wallop at its climax to rival that of Hideo Nakata's "Dark Water". Strongly recommended.

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Wow, great suggestion, IM, in fact you and I are so much on the same page that I've already taken you up on it. Diane has been trying to get me to see The Innocents for years, so after I watched The Haunting I did see it (film journal here). And it was a very good experience. Not as scary as The Haunting, IMO, but definitely more of what a movie experience SHOULD offer, especially in its ending. The ending, which a brief glance at the IMDB boards shows that some view as frustrating, to me, was brilliant and spectacular. You go through an entire ghost story only to

get to the end and wonder whether or not there even were any ghosts

. THAT is film.

Thanks for the other suggestions. I really want to see El Orfanato anyway, but I doubt it will show in the area so I'll probably see it on DVD as well.

Edited by stef

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Wow, great suggestion, IM, in fact you and I are so much on the same page that I've already taken you up on it. Diane has been trying to get me to see The Innocents for years, so after I watched The Haunting I did see it (film journal here). And it was a very good experience. Not as scary as The Haunting, IMO, but definitely more of what a movie experience SHOULD offer, especially in its ending. The ending, which a brief glance at the IMDB boards shows that some view as frustrating, to me, was brilliant and spectacular. You go through an entire ghost story only to

get to the end and wonder whether or not there even were any ghosts

. THAT is film.

"El Orfanato" attempts something similar. However,

the smile on the face of the husband in the film's closing scene would seem to indicate that the ghosts are in fact real and not a figment of his wife's imagination.

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I think The Others is the best film in the classical ghost story mode to have surfaced in recent years, and one of precious few that can be legitimately called Jamesian (as in Henry, not M.R.).

The Legend of Hell House is also top-drawer haunted house stuff, but it leaves no question as to whether the ghosts are real. Based on an overwrought Richard Matheson novel, it's slightly more dated in terms of psychology, but it contains two or three moments guaranteed to put some space between you and your seat.

Edgar Wright paid homage to it in his Grindhouse segment, the trailer for the imaginary movie Don't.

Edited by Nathaniel

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I think The Others is the best film in the classical ghost story mode to have surfaced in recent years, and one of precious few that can be legitimately called Jamesian (as in Henry, not M.R.).

The Legend of Hell House is also top-drawer haunted house stuff, but it leaves no question as to whether the ghosts are real. Based on an overwrought Richard Matheson novel, it's slightly more dated in terms of psychology, but it contains two or three moments guaranteed to put some space between you and your seat.

I appear to be in the minority in finding "The Others" hokey (I have only ever seen glowing reviews of this film). I just couldn't cope with Nicole Kidman's performance, and I guessed the ending after about thirty minutes. You know a horror movie is in serious trouble when a director resorts to the cheap trick of suddenly cranking up the volume after a prolonged quiet spell in order to make you jump out of your seat.

While I don't regard it as a classic, I have always held a soft spot for "The Legend of Hell House" because of Pamela Franklin (who was the little girl in "The Innocents").

Edited by The Invisible Man

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Wait. I.M. Are you saying you not only guessed that [a]

all of the main characters in the story are dead

, but also that the "others"

are living human beings

?

Because you get no credit for guessing [a] if you saw The Sixth Sense (surely that possibility, jointly or severally, occurs to everyone in the theater at some point or other who saw The Sixth Sense). But caught me completely flat-footed, and while I know people who guessed the ending of The Sixth Sense, I don't know anyone who claims to have guessed in The Others.

FWIW, I don't find The Others hokey, but I do find it flawed. Incidentally, I told a modified (and IMO improved) version of this story to my nephews and sons as a ghost story two summers ago. Last year I told them a modified version of the story of the Hook Man, and darned if I didn't tell that story better than it's ever been told before. Two of them were up crying in the night. :unsure:

I'm not crazy about The Haunting, and I've never seen The Innocents (though I've read the James story). I do very much like The Uninvited (1944). Anyone seen it?

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I do very much like The Uninvited (1944). Anyone seen it?

Yeah! They actually paired it with The Haunting when I saw it at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. I love the effects in this one: a bouquet of flowers suddenly wilting; candles snuffing out of their own volition; ubiquitous sobbing coming from somewhere (and nowhere) in the house, etc.

Paramount actually tried to duplicate its success the following year with The Unseen. It's good, but not nearly as exciting as The Uninvited.

Pamela Franklin

Did you know she now runs a bookshop in Hollywood with her husband? Lately I've been working up the nerve to visit her there. Been a fan since my early teens.

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Wait. I.M. Are you saying you not only guessed that [a]

all of the main characters in the story are dead

, but also that the "others"

are living human beings

?

Because you get no credit for guessing [a] if you saw The Sixth Sense (surely that possibility, jointly or severally, occurs to everyone in the theater at some point or other who saw The Sixth Sense). But caught me completely flat-footed, and while I know people who guessed the ending of The Sixth Sense, I don't know anyone who claims to have guessed in The Others.

Hey, to be more accurate, I should get no credit for guessing because of "Carnival of Souls" (the film which Shyamalan stole his big surprise ending from). And yes, I guessed both A and B.

Pamela Franklin

Did you know she now runs a bookshop in Hollywood with her husband? Lately I've been working up the nerve to visit her there. Been a fan since my early teens.

Are you bonkers? What are you waiting for?? GO MAKE THAT VISIT AND REPORT BACK TO THIS BOARD FORTHWITH! DO IT!

Edited by The Invisible Man

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Wait. I.M. Are you saying you not only guessed that [a]

all of the main characters in the story are dead

, but also that the "others"

are living human beings

?

Because you get no credit for guessing [a] if you saw The Sixth Sense (surely that possibility, jointly or severally, occurs to everyone in the theater at some point or other who saw The Sixth Sense). But caught me completely flat-footed, and while I know people who guessed the ending of The Sixth Sense, I don't know anyone who claims to have guessed in The Others.

Hey, to be more accurate, I should get no credit for guessing because of "Carnival of Souls" (the film which Shyamalan stole his big surprise ending from). And yes, I guessed both A and B.

Crivens! Regarding the originality of "Carnival of Souls", I just came across this:

The Twilight Zone

Warning! Spoilers Ahoy at link!

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I never heard of The Uninvited, but very little internet investigation reveals a high demand for it on DVD. Is this the kind of film Criterion might eventually pick up? Or how about a Masters in Cinema DVD release of it?

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No one took my bait. ;)

I recently rewatched The Birds for the first time in more than a decade, and I was amazed to discover how loaded it is -- especially for the first hour -- with sexual metaphor and innuendo. I have to say, it would make a pretty brilliant double bill with The Haunting, which, it seems to me, is about the horrors of sexual anxiety in the same way that, say, Eraserhead is about parental anxiety. It's like a Munch portrait of shame and guilt. Very strange and very interesting.

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I recently rewatched The Birds for the first time in more than a decade, and I was amazed to discover how loaded it is -- especially for the first hour -- with sexual metaphor and innuendo.

A Hitchcock film loaded with sexual metaphor and innuendo? Never! :P

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What struck me after watching The Haunting for the first time last night is that it's rated G! Primarily it was fearing for your life, secondarily the horrors of sexual angst.

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