Tuesday, October 12, 2021

31 Days of Scary Movies: “The Haunting” (1963)

     Tonight, I visited a newer friend in the autumnal film rotation: 1963’s “The Haunting.” I had read Shirley Jackson’s novel, “The Haunting of Hill House,” and loved that for years, and even seen the 1990s version with Liam Neeson. I had even seen Mike Flanagan’s 2018 miniseries “The Haunting of Hill House”—which, while being wildly inventive with the elements of the novel, I adored. But last year. After reading Jackson’s novel again for Halloween, I decided to finally watch the 1963 film version. I could not believe it took me so many years. 

 “The Haunting” is a wildly successful, and daring film, which is shockingly faithful to Jackson’s novel. Working from a screenplay by Nelson Gidding, director Robert Wise, just a handful of years before he’d go on to direct “The Sound of Music,” created an immortal classic film based on Jackson’s story. The atmosphere is excellent—creepy, Theremin drenched horror film music, and beautiful old haunted house sets only add to the real fear, and equally real human and psychological drama. The cast is phenomenal, anchored by Julie Harris as Nell and Clare Bloom as Theo. Both understood their assignments beautifully, and have great chemistry together.

 Wise’s film, too, seems at once of its time and before its time. The black and white photography, the music, all scream the early 1960s—but so much of what is discussed, hinted at and even shown seems appropriately transgressive for Jackson’s work. Jackson herself apparently had mixed views on the film, stating publicly that she found it terrifying, but privately didn’t appreciate some of the editing of the script. The script is incredibly faithful, thought; not shying away from implying things like Theo’s lesbianism, which is also heavily implied in the novel. The murkiness between whether Nell is imagining things or if Hill House is truly haunted is also beautifully explored in the movie, giving proper room for all possibilities to breathe.

 One of my favorite things, of so much, in the film is actor Rosalie Crutchley’s performance as Mrs. Dudley. An accomplished stage actor who most famously appeared as Madame Defarge in the 1958 version of “A Tale of Two Cities,” Crutchley plays Dudley, deliciously, delivering lines about how in the night, the town being too far away, no one will be around to hear them scream “… in the night… in the dark.” While even the film has a few nervous laughs at her character, her performance is so good that it still manages to be one of the creepiest moments in the film. 

If you have not seen this film—or if it has been a while—do yourself a favor and revisit “The Haunting” this Halloween.

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