Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Weeks Too Late: The Haunting (1963)

The Haunting. Directed by Robert Wise & Written by Nelson Gidding.

: Well after having to sit on my hands and force myself to watch the 1999 version of this movie, I turned my attention to the original. Certainly, while it wouldn't have the benefit of modern effects, it would better capture the full range of scares from the book. I was looking forward to seeing a quieter, more introspective take, since much of the Haunting takes place in Nell's head. Oh and if you haven't already, check out the companion to this review, a look at the 1999 version.

General Review
: Eeesh forget quiet terror, this was slumbering nothing. With great reluctance, I put aside Source Code in order to finish watching the Haunting. I barely got through half of it when I decided it would be better to go see Captain America. And I could easily have seen myself putting off the rest of this movie for months. But dammit, I said I was going to watch them both and I did watch them both. Hells bells, but this was some serious tedium action.

I don't think the fault for this being a nap inducer can be entirely put at the feet of the Wise. It was competently directed. There was nothing incoherent or badly paced, all the scenes went by quickly and professionally. Also, there were a few good scary moments. Most notably, when Nell (our ingenue ghost hunter) is pulled away from Theo (our sexy, possibly lesbian, foil). She moves back into the darkness, the corridor supernaturally lengthens, and the camera, slightly askew, is pulled back further. We really get the sense that she's being dragged into otherworldly danger. It's one of the most effective and eerie parts of the movie. Nell dancing around the statue of Crane (who's probably the evil ghost, though nobody actually says it, because 60's directors have more faith in the audience than 99's ones) held onto some of the disquieting feel of the story.
Despite the few interesting moments and the reasonable directing, the movie was still barely watchable. A whole lot of the blame for that falls on the writing (eat me, Giddings). The writer seemed to be all about long, expository sequences and the dreaded inner monologue. I get why they'd try to use the voice over of Nell thinking frequently (despite its hackiness). So much of the action happens in her unbalanced little noggin and it'd be hard to show that, rather than tell. What I don't get is why they'd bother taking us in her head for long monologues about her wondering things. "I wonder who lives in that house? I wonder if anyone will be there? Blah blah blah." That does not show me her being ramped up into terror, it just fills time. This is particularly frustrating since there were perfectly good bits of inner monologue in the book that could have just been copied verbatim, if they had to employ the device. I will say that Gidding's ending was a lot more ballsy than the 99 version's (again, faith in the audience is nice). Nell is no kind of saviour in this, which is exactly the way I like her.

You know what was worse than the writing? The acting. I think this story is cursed to have reasonably talented actors giving some of the worst performances of their lives. Rather than Nell going from dreamy and susceptible to full blown hysteria (hysteria, Doomwench's favourite!), Julie Harris starts straight at hysteria. She was so over the top that I barely noticed when ghostly events started bothering her (though this could have been at least partially due to faulty directing). There was zero chemistry between her and Bloom (as Theo) either as sisterly companions or suppressed desire. Bloom wasn't at all sultry or intriguing, and she might as well have been using text to speech for all the passion in her delivery. Richard Johnson and Russ Tamblyn (Dr. Markway and Luke) felt like they belonged in a something from the 40's. I could easily see Tamblyn shouting "Hey-ya fella! Whaddaya know?"

I know that there is more than one filmmaker who considers this to be one of the greats of horror. But I just don't see it. There were some neat effects and clever directing, but it just wasn't spooky. I didn't feel any dread or oppression, the two things a haunted house is supposed to do best. Cracks at the actors aside, this felt like an older movie t
han it was. There are plenty of movies from the 60's that hold up to my delicate sensibilities. Hell, there are some from a lot earlier than that. This would have felt ten years out of date when it was a hot new release. If you're watching it because you're working your way through a best of horror list and you MUST see every one, more power to you, but otherwise, I wouldn't bother.

: As you may have noticed, I'm filling in some gaps in my classic horror reading, which is piquing my interests in the movie. I just finished the Yellow Wallpaper, another short, creepy story and I'm verrrry tempted by the movie (because I can't learn my lesson and will continue to touch the hot stove), so look forward to me being bored by that in future weeks.

No comments:

Post a Comment