Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Haunting (1963)


Desperate to escape her family issues, Nell (Julie Harris) agrees to join Dr. Markaway's (Richard Johnson) paranormal research project at Hill House. There Nell is joined by Luke (Russ Tamblyn), the house's likely heir with high hopes of selling it, and Theo (Claire Bloom), a clairvoyant with proven ESP abilities.

"It was an evil house from the beginning - a house that was born bad."

The Haunting kicks off a LiE's reviews covering some of the very best in classic horror leading all the way up to Halloween.

Robert Wise's psychological, paranormal, thriller, The Haunting, is an absolute experience to be held. Wise centers on the unseen, wonderfully using the natural dark ambiance black and white photography presents to create a constant sense of fear and tension.

As is not the case with many directors, Wise never feels the temptation to resort of violence, or gore, to sell his fear. Instead Wise centers on noise. Loud, haunting, constant, with no discernible cause... except the unknown. These scenes create a real sense of claustrophobia, combined with fear. Wise delves into what your brain is willing to accept, and what your senses detect. The psychological affect close encounters with the paranormal can have on an individual, and how mental status plays a part in that.

Nell, having just experienced her mother's death, and a childhood poltergeist experience, is the most susceptible, and the house's main target. Harris capture's Nell's psychological and paranormal woes with great attention to the wearing affect it has on the character, while still paying attention to Nell's many personal troubles. As much as Nell fears the house, she also has an odd love for it. Wise and Gidding to a perfect job of letting us in to Nell's inner thoughts, wants, and fears. Harris handles the double standard constantly gnawing at Nell, always looking for attention and acceptance, so perfectly I cannot begin to sing praise high enough.

Claire Bloom stands out among the strong supporting cast for not only playing a lesbian character in the 1960's (implied only), but a strong minded, very aware, one at that. Theo is sexy, smart, and presents a strong front. Though when the paranormal awaken, and the fear begins, Theo, much like Markaway and Luke, must put that strong front to the test.

Johnson and Tamblyn handle their characters with expert fashion. Johnson presents Markaway with just enough sentiment to make him seem equally smart and compassionate. Tumblyn, who is in many respects the comic relief, carries the whimsical nature of Luke perfectly. Luke's sarcastic musings on the paranormal give a sense of relaxation to The Haunting's constant tension. When Luke is ultimately forced to confront the possibility of the paranormal, Tumblyn is there to hit the scene out of the park, bringing the film out of the realm of purely psychological to in your face.

Wise's direction relies heavily on your fear of what's to come more so than what is happening. Wise builds tension through foreshadowing and misdirection. At times the movie veers towards exaggeration, and cheese, but Wise is always there to keep things in proper form.

The Haunting earns its label as a classic horror film several times over. It's wonderful tact with its approach to psychological thrills keeps the movie constantly tense. A few cheep jumps for those who want it, but always a sense of foreboding. The kind of foreboding the gets the sweat in your hands going as you grip that much tighter to the armrests on your chair. Wonderfully designed and executed. If ever there was a film that could be labeled a perfect introduction to paranormal cinema, The Haunting would be it.
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