Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Film Review: The Haunting

The first film we watched from the ‘Unhomely’ film programme was The Haunting, which was directed by Robert Wise and was released in 1963.

Fig. 1 The Haunting Poster
Robert Wise truly brings Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House to life in this creepy classic in which a group of sceptical individuals attempt to prove the existence of ghosts in a mansion with a horrific past. What makes this a fantastic film to watch and probably one of its best highlights is Wise's ability to make the supernatural come to life without revealing the source of all of the activity. Ian Nathan describes the ghostly going ons, saying: 

"The doorknobs may twist and turn, just to make sure we know something very weird is going on, but any ghosts or ghouls at home are stubbornly refusing to show themselves." (Nathan, 2009)

Again, this is one of the highlights of this film. The Haunting achieves great strides in the art of psychological horror, playing games with the characters minds through hallucinations and nightmares. It is a delightful change from the more physical horror films that continue to fill the screens, in which every bloody and violent act is so consistent that it becomes predictable and bores the audience. The Haunting doesn't go to extreme lengths to provide something sickening and grotesque but rather plays with the kinds of scary stories we hear about as children and up roots our long forgotten fears. 

The setting for the film makes the paranormal effects just that bit more appealing, a large abandoned mansion with an abundance of large dark rooms combined with its horrifically violent and crazy past really does create a creepy and haunting atmosphere that causes the audience (if they scare easily) to be jumping out of their seats or momentarily squeaking in shock. And the influence this film has on more modern films doesn't go unnoticed. It is clear that Oren Peli's 2007 film Paranormal Activity, consists of a similar psychological fear (shame for the bad camera use -_-) but aimed in a more supernaturally violent way.

The camera angles are a great advantage for this film, intensifying specific scenes just to reach a spooky climax. A review by TVGuide describes the use of angels noting:

"Director Robert Wise, who began his directorial career under the tutelage of Val Lewton, takes the lessons learned there to a bit of an extreme, overplaying his hand through the use of extremely exaggerated angles and distorting lenses."(TVGuide,-)

Although Wise clearly had fun playing with the camera angles to make something more unusual, it is debatable as to whether he overplayed his hand. He appeared to be reserving the camera angles specifically using the weird and the abstract for important scene which in all honesty enhanced to film that much further. In some sense the extreme camera angles were used effectively in conjunction with the large rooms creating something that seemed much more confined and claustrophobic.

Although we may see it as a cliche now and even back in the sixties it could have been considered as such, there is nothing more beautifully creepy as there is with the use a haunted house as Derek Adams describes:

"What makes the film so effective is not so much the slightly sinister characterisation of the generally neurotic group, but the fact that Wise makes the house itself the central character, a beautifully designed and highly atmospheric entity which, despite the often annoyingly angled camerawork, becomes genuinely frightening."(Adams,-)

Because of the paranormal phenomena shown in the film is so forceful and scarily convincing, it does in fact add a sort of living quality to the house itself. Because the house reacts in the ways it does, it almost gives the house a characteristic feel, as though it is disregarding what the group considers to be paranormal and attempting to emphasise in its own way that it is alive and it wants to scare them. And again the cameras just add to this making the rooms confined, acting as organs in appearance as though the main group are trapped within it.

The Haunting is an excellent example of what a horror film should be but unfortunately in our modern ways we have grown more accustomed to violence rather than preying on our childhood nightmares which is a shame because it makes for a more appealing film.

List of illustrations

Figure 1. Wise, Robert (1963) The Haunting Poster. At:     
(Accessed on 02.12.10)


Nathan, Ian (2009) The Haunting. At:
(Accessed on 02.12.10)

TVGuide (-) The Haunting. At: (Accessed on 02.12.10)

Adams, Derek (-) The Haunting. At:          (Accessed on 02.12.10)

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