Friday, 17 March 2017

The Greatest Haunted House Film Ever Is...

The Haunting.

Yup, the 1999 Liam Neeson/Catherine Zeta-Jones vehicle is so terrif-

No... Wait, that's not right...

 Aaaah... Much better.

Of course, I mean the 1963 classic based on Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House novel. I have just finished rewatching it again for the lord-knows-how-many-time and it continues to stand up as the prototypical benchmark of the haunted house genre.

A masterpiece in so many respects, the film was ahead of its time. It's a simple story of a researcher inviting a select group to visit and stay with him in a sprawling house with a sordid history to aid him in his paranormal investigations, and the unexplainable and terrifying events that happen therein. Nowadays some people might not give the film a chance based on being in black and white and quite old, but upon my reviewing, The Haunting stands up as a consistently strong and impressive feat in the horror oeuvre.

Interestingly, though the film has some overt paranormal instances, the point is continually hit home that we need to consider it not supernatural, but 'pre-ternatural', or something we cannot explain now but will be able to in the future. It's with this in mind that the film sets the audience off to decide if something strange is indeed going on, or if it is the psychosis of certain characters and a group hysteria. With doors that close on their own, though never while we watch, menacing statues standing over dancing children, an abundance of cherubs/busts/animal trophies that litter the house just begging to move just a little bit, Robert 'The Sound of Music (no, seriously)' Wise proves he is a master of tension. Not a moment in the house is left feeling safe. Even when we return to rooms we have been in before, they feel like completely different rooms. There is so much detail that it is difficult for the eye to get a proper grasp on exactly what it is seeing. The house itself looms as a devious character, aided by Wise having shot it on infrared. 

It's influence can be felt in cinema across the years, from the disorientating layout of the house nodded to in The Shining's Overlook Hotel to the unnervingly framed shots dripped with anticipation of something happening re-appropriated in The Woman in Black. Though a film firmly set in its time, with quite reserved social roles and a black and white palette, The Haunting is able to remain timeless. This is in no small part to the well judged characters, who bring a realism and complexity to the role, and remain relatable, even 55 years on. Watching it now, the visuals are deceptively adventurous, and characters are decidedly progressive (especially by the standards of the time coughTheocough). 

It's hard to argue the influence The Haunting has had since it was released, and it goes without question that it will remain in the DNA of the haunted house genre for a long time to come, if not forever. 

What do you think? Are you still terrified as Eleanor makes her way up the spiral staircase, or has a different dastardly dwelling taken this classic's place as top dog?

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