Film Review: The Haunting (1963)

“An evil old house, the kind some people call haunted, is like an undiscovered country waiting to be explored. Hill House had stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more. Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there… walked alone.”

Scientist Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) begins to investigate the supposedly haunted Hill House Manor. I think its extremely appropriate that our haunted house is a New England mansion. New England has such a delightful historical significance that just screams ghost story. Anyway…to help with the investigation he invites Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn), Theodora (Claire Bloom), and Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris) to stay in the manor with him. Sounds simple enough, however, “The Haunting” is not another ghost story. Dr. Markway’s investigation begins to go south when Eleanor starts to lose her mind. 

The movie is beautifully filmed in black and white. The lack of color causes you to shift your focus to the layers of textures present on the Hill House set. At times the camera has a twisting and winding motion that isn’t only nauseating but projects and uneasy feeling as well. These odd angles distort our perception of the present environment to mirror Eleanor’s distorted perception of the world around her.   

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“The dead are not quite in hill house.”

Eleanor Lance is mentally unbalanced and I find her just as annoying as Miss Giddens from “The Innocents“. The film synopsis implies that Eleanor descends into insanity due to the property itself however she demonstrates that she is unstable throughout the film (and before Hill House). Eleanor has lived a repressed and stifled life. Until recently she had been caring for her sick mother. After the death of her mother, she moves in with her demeaning sister. Occasionally, we get the opportunity to hear Eleanor’s inner thoughts and it quickly becomes apparent that her issues are deeper than a dysfunctional family. 

She desires freedom from her repressed life and seeks that out at Hill House. While her occupancy at Hill House was always meant to be tempory, Eleanor has no desire to return home. Eleanor is extremely sensitive both emotionally and psychically which makes her extremely vulnerable. She is constantly whining and lashes out at her fellow housemates without good reason throughout her stay at Hill House. She is quick to let the audience and her housemates that the house frightens her yet at the same time she finds it comforting. Eleanor seems to have a sense of ownership over the property.

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There is rarely any supernatural encounters so whether or not the property is truly haunted is still up for debate. I will say however that Hill House is a character of its own with a personality, a soul, and a deep dark history. This mysterious place does have a powerful hold on people and Hill House will consume you if you let it. It is an evil house that twists and blackens the souls of its occupants and Miss Lance was unfortunate enough to fall under its spell. Some may interpret the films ending as a tragedy but is it really a tragedy when you get what you wished for? For Eleanor Lance to walk alone and lay steady against the wood and stone of Hill House in silence, is a happy ending all on its own. 

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