Saturday, 8 December 2012

30 Day Horror Challenge-Day 18: A movie with unsettling scenery

For the next 30 days (or whenever I stop being lazy and finish it), I will be giving my fingers short bursts of exercise by completing the 30 Day Horror Challenge, found here. Hopefully it will give you a bit of insight into what horror is for me. Don't forget to check back every day for a new installment.

Day 18: A movie with unsettling scenery.

An easy one; The Haunting. And let's be clear, I mean Robert Wise's 1963 sublime horror classic where the line between the supernatural and the paranoia is thinly drawn at best, not the ridiculous remake with Liam Neeson where bad video game characters get caught up in a lame and hole-riddled plot. It's a simple story of a group of people in a supposedly haunted house who are there as part of a scientific study, and are inevitably subject to experiences beyond explanation (one scientist calls 'preternatural', which is something unexplainable now but may some day be explainable). The most masterful stroke of the film is its lack of ghoultaculal special effects it makes up for in its completely unrelenting ambiance and tone. Like The Shining, it is the setting that is a character in itself, with The Haunting being the prototypical ghost house. We are told the house was made with odd angles, so doors would close by themselves (seemingly tidy ghosts), and you could walk down one hallway several times, and end up in a different place each time. A clear geography is never given to us, so we are always lost, and the classic yet not one time period specific set design leaves us unsettled. The greenhouse and the library (with its rickety spiral staircase) should be beautiful, but feel desolate and threatening. And what about the statues? The entire house is populate with statues of various sizes that you wait, every time they appear in frame, to turn and watch someone while their back is turned. They never actually move, but you know there are dozens of soulless eyes on your back. 

A lot of people are too intimidated to watch older films, but this is one that, though it feels its age, feels in no way dated or dulled by time.