The Haunting (1963) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

The Haunting (1963) Review

Horrorific content by adrian on October 26th, 2020 | Movie Review | Classic Horror, Cult Classic, Haunted House

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It's about a small team of people cherry-picked to investigate the source of the supernatural events that plague a sprawling estate.

The Haunting was directed by Robert Wise (who also directed Audrey Rose and A Game Of Death) and stars Julie Harris (from The Dark Half and Home For The Holidays), Richard Johnson (from Screamers and The Monster Club) and Russ Tamblyn (from Necromancer and B.O.R.N.).

You may not believe in ghosts but you cannot deny terror

The Haunting Review

This movie was the first one based off of Shirley Jackson's novel "The Haunting of Hill House" published back in 1959. It stuck pretty close to the book, unlike the second The Haunting from 1999 which essentially only had the house in common. Netflix also released a series called The Haunting of Hill House in 2018 that was basically a mashup of the book and both Haunting adaptations.

The movie starts off with what seems to be a narration by the house itself. It walks you through the history of the place and all of the inexplicable deaths that had happened since the moment it was built. It's a super creative and engaging start. 

What wasn't so creative was how they started the story, after all the exposition. It's basically the same exact start as Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho which came out 3 years prior. A woman rips off someone close to her and takes off out of town. As she's driving she's thinking about what she's done, what others must be thinking and trying to rationalize her actions. The shot, style and even score are exactly the same as Psycho.

The main protagonist, Eleanor, is totally bipolar. She bounces between being sweet and kind to aggressive and abusive throughout the entire film. Her driving force is a need to be wanted, a need to be somewhere she belongs. So, needless to say, when she's invited to participate in the Hill House project she jumps at the chance. 

After pulling off a real-life Grand Theft Auto she road trips it to Hill House and immediately becomes entranced by the place. It seems to grab her and command some kind of supernatural power over her. The movie is about her struggle with the place.

The Haunting is a quality classic horror. Forget The House that Dripped Blood, this house drips raw atmosphere. The sound design is incredible. There are so many creaks and groans and squealing wind (and sometimes a complete absence of sound altogether). The internal dialog that was pulled right out of Psycho in the beginning actually became an instrumental tool for creating terror and dread later. It seriously set a tense mood throughout.

I was honestly surprised by how scary this movie was, considering how old it is. There's an old rickety spiral staircase suicide scene that's going to stick in my mind for probably ever.

What made The Haunting so impactful I think is that the fear relied on psychological terror rather than special effects. You never see a ghost, you never see doors opening and slamming on their own, no self-rocking chairs. There's crazy stuff going on constantly, but you never see it happen, like Eleanor you only see the aftermath. The way it's filmed makes you feel like you're there, sharing in the experience. Might sound cheesy, but this movie was actually able to pull it off.

As of now, this is the best classic haunted house movie I've seen. House on Haunted Hill was great, but it was more campy and was ultimately just a murder mystery. Castle of Blood was good too, but lacked the punch that makes The Haunting special. 

Worth Watching?

Absolutely, if you like classic horror movies then this is one to watch.

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