Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Haunting

The Haunting; horror, UK, 1963; D: Robert Wise, S: Julie Harris, Richard Johnson, Claire Bloom, Russ Tamblyn

A remote English mansion has the reputation of a haunted house and in its 90 years of existence several of its owners either died from mysterious circumstances or committed suicide. When Dr. Markaway, a parapsychology enthusiast, is given the opportunity to investigate it, he invites three other guests: Theodora, Luke and the outsider Eleanor. The latter hears strange knocks on the door of her room during the night. When a fifth lady shows up, she disappears. Feeling she is disoriented, Dr. Markaway sends Eleanor home, but she loses herself and crashes with her car into a tree, dying. It turns out that the missing lady accidentally caused the accident when she showed up on the road.

"The Haunting" was not one of the first 'haunted house' movies, yet its distinctive creepy tone helped to cement the aforementioned setting as a genre for itself. Using some brilliant camera tricks (wide angle or fish eye lenses; "rotation" of the camera around an object which creates the feeling of dizziness; camera climbing up spiral stairs) combined with the spooky location assured a moody 'kammerspiel' for "The Haunting" which is why some consider it as a small classic of psychological horror. The characters are also well rounded up, especially the outsider Eleanor who arrives to the mansion since she simply hates her life with her mean sister, yet the story is inconsistent. For instance, during their first night in the mysterious mansion, Eleanor and Theodora are shocked when they hear strange, undeniably paranormal knocking sounds on the door of their bedroom. A short while later, Dr. Markaway and Luke arrive from the hallway but claim they did not hear anything outside, upon which Eleanor and Theodora burst in laughter, joking that someone "knocked on their door with a cannon". That is an entirely illogical reaction for the two women: they just experienced a genuine paranormal fright and yet joke at it as if it was not such a big deal? Likewise, the story again resorts to double explanation, i.e. the ending can be interpreted both ways: that ghosts indeed exist or that Eleanor was just crazy, which is slightly contrived. Still, it is a good psychological horror and the sequence with the spiral stairs and the image of a woman emerging from the trap door is an anthology of suspense.


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