31 Nights, 31 Frights: The Haunting

In observance of that autumn spell when we celebrate the primal, compulsive instinct of fear, Rainestorm highlights 31 days of spooky scares to season the eerie atmosphere of Halloween.

Reign of terror: 1963

The haunting ladies of 'The Haunting'

The horror movie self-manicure.

The horror… the horror: The granddaddy of all haunted house movies. Doctor John Markway, desirous of connecting the worlds of science and the supernatural, gathers his own little group of ghost hunters to spend the summer at Hill House in hopes of doing just that. During their stay they encounter the usual strange occurrences and things that go bump (or bang… or boom) in the night. It is not a movie of overt frights or turgid shocks, but for the patient viewer there is much on which to feast. Julie Harris’ shrill Eleanor Lance may, at times, become too much to bear, but her neurotic naiveté is integral to the proceedings and plays well off of Claire Bloom’s surprisingly frank lesbian overtures. Russ Tamblyn is effectively avaricious as the disbelieving college-boy who stands to inherit the estate, and Richard Johnson is marvelously charming as the ghost-hunting doctor, oblivious to Eleanor’s amorous eye. Robert Wise, whose measured pace positively demands viewer indulgence, usually puts me to sleep. However, here he has crafted a rhythmic ghost story that feeds the intellect as well as the id.

Halloween haunt: Hill House, baroquely ornamented in strange styles, is specifically designed to makes its occupants become lost in maze-like hallways and rooms. The doors close by themselves and the entire exterior seems to look oppressively down on anyone who may dare gaze upon it.

Tastiest treat: Who’s that knocking on the door… and the walls… and the ceiling…

Check the candy for: James Bond’s Miss Moneypenny herself, Lois Maxwell, in a small role as Doctor Markway’s skeptical wife.

Devilish discourse: “No one lives any nearer than town. No one will come any nearer than that. In the night. In the dark.”

Goes great with: The Legend of Hell House (1973). A virtual remake of The Haunting, more overtly sexual and certainly more colorful, with The Innocents‘ Pamela Franklin all grown up as a seductive medium.

  • Mark

    Another honorable mention should be given to Corman’s The Haunted Palace. Ripe with gothic stylings and featuring the talents of Vincent Price, a very weary alcohol-ravaged Lon Chaney, Jr and the film-noir classic character actor Elisha Cook, Jr. A schlocky (it is Corman after all) but entertaining adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (though misleadingly credited to Edgar Allen Poe for publicity reasons).

    And let’s not forget the newly remastered House! (“Hausu,” 1977)