Logline: A doctor invites two women, one of whom is emotionally unstable, to join him in the investigation of a supposedly haunted mansion in New England.
Review: Made in between his two big budget musicals, West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965), Robert Wise’s The Haunting is a good old fashioned haunted house movie. Based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Haunting of Hill House, Wise uses the power of suggestion to scare his audience.
The film is told primarily through the eyes of Eleanor, who is emotionally unstable and lends the film a psychological layer. Because of her mental state, one can never be certain that the events are not simply a product of Eleanor’s mind. As Eleanor, Julie Harris delivers a very good performance as do the other key players. Claire Bloom plays a lesbian struggling with her own sexuality. She adds an interesting dynamic to the group. Russ Tamblyn plays Luke, whose skepticism about the supernatural is tested. Finally, Richard Johnson plays Dr. Markway, who leads the so-called experiment.
The direction is excellent with camera angles that make Hill House an intimidating place that is large and grandiose yet, claustrophobic at the same time. There are some great special effects in the film, including a great closeup of a young girl’s face, which dissolves into her in adulthood and finally, old age.
The Haunting is classic horror. It requires patience but ultimately, is a rewarding film experience.
Rating (out of ****): ***1/2