Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Haunting (1963)

It was originally my intention to start off this blog with Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which, as far as I am concerned, is the supreme ruler of all horror movies and the namesake of this blog.  
However, I am in the early stages of a screenplay project with my husband Rob and good friend Allen, so we have been doing some ‘research’ (ie, drinking all the beers and talking about movies) and last night we watched the super creepy atmospheric ghost movie, The Haunting (1963).

The movie is based on the Shirley Jackson novel “The Haunting of Hill House,” which I just read this summer. It was part of a collection of Jackson’s short stories and two novels that I bought at Half-Price Books. When the cashier rang me up, he complimented my stellar taste (obviously) and added, “Wait until you read the opening paragraph of ‘The Haunting of Hill House.’ It’s gonna blow your mind.”

And it did:
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

So good! It also sets the stage for a creepy, eerie tale in which you never actually meet the ghost but are completely terrified nonetheless. The movie follows suit, which is awesome—the story could so easily be ruined by ghosties and ghoulies popping out all over the place but it is absolutely tastefully done. The biggest special effect (minor spoiler alert) is a bulging door and everything else is left completely to the imagination.

The story itself is 50% haunted house, 50% descent into madness, and it prominently features one of my favorite horror movie clich├ęs, “the contemplative doctor has a mustache.”

Clearly the entire budget of the film was spent on the lavish set, which is full of insanely creepy shit like veiled statues and statues of eyeless, blank-faced cherubs and dark wallpaper, and this crazy spiral staircase that actually gave me vertigo just to look at it onscreen. I was going to try to MS paint the staircase but 1) I clearly do not have the skills to do it justice and 2) c'mon guy, I have a job! I got stuff to do!

I think the greatness of this film is not only in Jackson's story, but it's also rooted in the use of camera angles, lighting and sound that are presented in such a way that you are totally creeped throughout without ever laying eyes on a villain. I had legitimate goosebumps through a large portion of my viewing experience.

(Don’t let my companions' happy faces fool you, they were creeped too. Except Glenn the cat, he’s only into nunsploitation and torture films, and thought this shit was weak. Glenn has really poor taste; I don't know what to say about that.)

I honestly do hate to start this blog with a review that borders on calling its subject a masterpiece because I am by nature a person who loves (loves!) to make fun of stuff, but I have not a single bad thing to say about this film. Go watch it. 


  1. I saw this movie as a child and didn't get much out of it because it was "black and white and nothing was happening." Did I mention I sucked as a child? Will be giving this one another watch, because I love me a good "descent into madness" story and I need to get the bad Catherine Zeta-Jones remake out of my noggin for good.

  2. For better or worse, I think I have too much in common with Glenn. I should invite him over for some movies at my place.