Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Haunting

The Haunting, a black and white ghost story from 1963, remains one of the most respected Gothic horror films ever made.  The 1999 remake, with all its CGI work and star power, cannot hold a candle to the original.

Director Robert Wise (1914 - 2005) also brought us The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), West Side Story (1961), The Andromeda Strain (1971) and Star Trek: The Mo Pic (1979).  WOW!  His talent is amazing.

The cast of The Haunting is not filled with unknown actors and actresses, but they are not what I would call superstars either.  Julie Harris (b. 1925) and Claire Bloom (b. 1931) have major roles, along with Richard Johnson (b. 1927), and Russ Tamblyn (b. 1934) who was hot off his role in West Side Story.

In smaller parts we see Fay Compton (1894 - 1978), and the ever popular Lois Maxwell (1927 - 2007) who played Miss Moneypenny for many James Bond flix.  These and almost every other part in the movie are small, but necessary to add more dimension, and every one of the cast is quite accomplished.  None of them, with the possible exception of Julie Harris, stand out, but they allow the ensemble to work together to achieve a classic performance.

The real star of The Haunting is the house, which was a real house for the outside shots, and the impressive interior sets which were created on a sound stage.  They used infrared film for many exterior shots to heighten the moody look.  Infrared film will darken the sky and cause trees to film as white. 

And then there are the camera angles.  It is mentioned in the film that all the corners in the mansion are a little off to send you in the wrong direction, and the doors are hung so they won't stay open.  The low camera placement, and some quick shots and zooms accentuate this. 

Lighting is also well conceived for every shot.  Faces appear in wallpaper as the light changes, and shadows are everywhere.  Different scenes can appear to be warm, or as cold as ice...and you feel it in your seat.

The use of sound is almost terrifying.  In one scene, the two young women are in their bedroom when a supernatural event unfolds.  Sounds are heard through the walls and in the hallway.  Is the door locked?  Did I see the door knob turn, ever so slightly?  Did you see the face on it?  "Who was holding my hand!?!?"

This is, without question, my favorite Halloween movie.  A decade ago, I watched this film alone, in my cold apartment, with just a candle for light.  (And a glass of Scotch.)  That October night was stormy, but the windows were closed.  My candle was extinguished when the movie was over.  I didn't sleep well that night.

Buy this film and invite some friends over for a Halloween screening.  A few martinis will get everyone in the mood.  Then dowse the lights and get ready for a real experience.  You will see that there is no need for gory special effects and squirting blood.  The Haunting will scare the pants off you, and without ever showing a single ghost.

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