The Haunting (1963) & The Haunting (1999) Double Bill; or Hill House Ain’t Having It

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Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Twofer Tuesday, where we offer up two films for the price of one, like it or not! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they take a leisurely drive in the countryside, only to stumble upon a house that doesn’t quite have the right angles, does it…

Today’s Film Offerings: The Haunting (1963) & The Haunting (1999)

Andy: It’s a strange situation that, despite the fact that everyone can draw a ghost from the age of five up, the best ghost stories hardly have any ghosts in them at all. The works of M. R. James, The Turn of the Screw, The Woman in Black, and of course, The Haunting of Hill House by the brilliant agoraphobe Shirley Jackson. The weird, bewitching tale of young Eleanor drawn into a house that at first seems welcoming, and yet malevolent has been adapted to film twice – once in 1963, and then again 1999.

Of the two, the 1963 one is more subtle and faithful to the source material. Directed by Robert Wise, bizarrely in between The Sound of Music and West Side Story, the tale concerns Eleanor Vance, a woman who has recently been, er, ‘liberated’ from the demands of caring for her invalid and deeply unpleasant mother. Striking out for the first time, she answers an advert for an experiment at an old house, specifically for those who have displayed some latent psychokinetic ability, which she did as a child.

Joining her is fellow subject Theodora, an exuberant and coded lesbian character, Luke, the prospective heir to Hill House, and Dr Markway, the kindly man running the experiment as a cover into investigating the paranormal.

The trouble is, of course, that when the paranormal does hit Hill House, it’s not obvious whether it is being orchestrated consciously or unconsciously by Eleanor herself. Because, as becomes apparent, years of mistreatment have rendered her a deeply emotionally damaged woman.

This is a great film, one that is best watched alone with the lights off to let it affect you. It has one of the best uses of sound in a movie (which makes sense, given Wise’s penchant for musicals) and offers no easy answers to the mysteries of the house. Awesome.

And there is the terrible beating heart of the movie. Is Eleanor doing this with her mind? Or has the House found the weakest member cracking and started worming its way into widen it? Thoughtful, shuddery stuff.

Lilly: Then there is 1999’s The Haunting.

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Screw your subtleties, stuff your ambiguity, Hill House is definitely haunted in this remake. In fact, forget the book’s claustrophobic build up, the doubt of your narrator, all of that, because 1999 was not a time for thinking, it was a time of doing and casting Owen Wilson while you were at it. The Haunting is an horror thriller, and the thriller part takes front seat as you are made to be terrified, damn it, so stop thinking about the implications of a house that picks at your own mental cracks and instead be afraid of a ruddy big statue coming to life, watch out!

This film is not a thinking man’s horror. It strips the basics of the story by Shirley Jackson and slips them into a heavy handed haunted house film. There are ghosts, you are in danger, and just help us, Eleanor, help us, this is not the story Jackson wrote at all.

That said, it’s fun!

So, do you hold a film tight to the material it is remaking or do you accept some oddities if you are over all entertained? Question for the ages right there. Because if we are talking about a film adaptation of Jackson’s novel, then this is awful. It misses the point of the tale while it  takes out the spookiness of not knowing whether it is the people or the house or both that are making the supernatural events occur. Ooooo is it Liam Nee–No, it’s not Liam Neeson, there is clearly a ghost. That bed just attacked them. It’s a ghost.

But. Again. It’s fun.

As someone who hates when people compare books to films (so naturally just did that, hypocrite), I guess I just have to go with comparing the two films. And hoo boy, are they different. But I’ll watch and enjoy them both.

You know why you should watch this film? Because a bed attacks someone. A statue attacks someone. There is a scene involving the fireplace that is magnificent. Hill House means business, and as haunted houses go, this is a heck of a ride. The backstory created about Hugh Crain is pulpy and deliciously evil, the effects are creepy, and Liam Neeson is in it. It’s one of those films you watch with friends and a big bowl of popcorn, and there is nothing wrong with that. So go, watch, don’t take too seriously, and enjoy!

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