Thursday, January 19, 2012

"The Haunting" (1963)

"The's alive."

Julie Harris stars as Nell Lance, a troubled, sheltered woman, who takes the sudden invitation to take part in a paranormal "experiment" as an opportunity to escape from her family and her past. The experiment takes place in the supposedly haunted Hill House, and is essentially just a prolonged slumber party involving folks with a paranormal past or a vested interest in the house. The house itself is an incredible achievement in set design and one of the movie's most valued assets.

Harris' performance is very good, and her character's internal narration provides some of the film's most surreal and creepy moments. Her inner dialogue contributes to the film's atmosphere as much as the music, sound design, and cinematography, even in seemingly non-threatening scenes like this one early on of Nell anxiously driving to the house.

The movie opens with a tone-setting narration recounting the history of the Hill House and quickly establishes it's ominous powers. The opening narration plays like a collection of campfire ghost stories, detailing the house's long history of death. One of the most effective sequences in this portion is the aging transformation of life-time Hill House resident, Abagail Crane.

After receiving what he believes is an incredible opportunity, Dr. John Markway invites Nell, Theo (a psychic), and Luke(the house's new owner) to spend a few weeks at the Hill House to chronicle what they experience. After a few days of unexplained phenomenon, Nell's past comes out and she slowly begins to slip into madness. At which point, Dr. Markway's non-believing wife, Grace, arrives to take part in experiment, in spite of her husband's wishes.

The final act of the film is very taunt and it's a credit to the craftsmanship of it that nearly 50 years later, the film is still very suspenseful. The "haunting" sequences themselves have a somewhat hyperkinetic feel to them, yet are very focused in their execution. The final sequence is perfectly set in the darkness of the pathway leading up to the house. It reminded me of something that I think about whenever I'm driving in the middle of nowhere. I always think to myself that the only thing scarier than being alone in the darkness is seeing someone else.


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