Tom Humberstone


horror month - day 21

The Haunting (1963)

"You see? You haven't a ghost of a chance."

Quick summary: An anthropologist with an interest in the supernatural (and his hand-chosen team of specialists) investigate the haunted Hill House. But will the awfully loud banging sounds, cold spots and bendy doors prove too much for them?

This is apparently Martin Scorcese's favourite horror film.

Based on the novel The Haunting on Hill House, this is another psychological haunted house horror along the same lines as The Innocents. Apparently screenwriter Nelson Gidding, in his research into nervous breakdowns for the character of Nell, noticed how the story could be read as a non-supernatural breakdown - where the house is the hospital, the other characters are the Doctors, and the banging and paranormal activity is the shock treatment. But original author Shirley Jackson maintained it was about the paranormal. Despite this, the film has enough in there to suggest that what we are seeing may not be real at all. I wonder if any of this was an inspiration for Shutter Island in that regard.

Director Robert Wise - who made this film as a tribute to his mentor and Horror Month favourite Val Lewton - throws so many fun camera techniques at the film. There's a lot crossing the line and breaking the action to make the orientation of the house feel confusing, and his use of crash zooms into doors and free-roaming camera movements has a real Sam Raimi playfulness to it. He also used an experimental Panavision 30mm lens that gave distortions in the corners of the frame.

Interestingly, The Haunting is known for presenting one of the first positive portrayals of a Lesbian character - Theo - in film. Although the censors prevented any shot depicting her touching Nell in a "sensual or suggestive" way.

I really liked the title animation at the start. I'm a sucker for a schlocky animated title.

I wasn't keen on the use of Nell's inner thoughts as narration. It seemed, to me, that most of what was said could have been (or generally was) shown so it felt unnecessary and took me out of the film.

Overall, while it's probably unfair to compare the two, I have to say I thought The Innocents was a much more sophisticated and chilling haunted house horror. But this was still a great watch and has so many inventive and interesting directorial choices in it.

Tonight: I think it'll be Carnival of Souls (1962).