Sunday, 29 April 2012

Influences: The Haunting

Supernatural themed Horror Movies are a particular favourite of mine, especially the slow to build menacing films that unsettle after the popcorn spills have long been swept away and the unease lingers into the daylight hours. Growing up in North Wales where the winters, although mild, were often windswept and wild, meant weekend evening hibernation with the TV was a regular pastime.

Luckily my mother was pretty liberal in her attitude to me watching late night Horror and Sci-Fi movies (thanks Mum) and this opportunity I embraced with relish. There are many movies from this formative time where the impact has stayed with me to this day. One particular film still has the capacity to raise the hairs on the back of the neck. The Haunting was directed by Robert Wise and starred Claire Bloom, Julie Harris and Richard Johnson. Made in 1963 in the UK on a modest budget, it tells the tale of a group of visitors  to Hill House, assembled by Dr Markaway (R. Johnson) to assist his scientific investigation into the paranormal, each guest having some experience of the supernatural.

Around the age of eleven or twelve I stayed up late one saturday night and watched this on my own in the dark, Mum having long since sank into a duvet. Being a black and white pre Hammer colour movie I expected it to be a laugh out loud comedy fest of vampire bats on strings, gothic cardboard sets and obvious BOO! shocks. Not a bat on a string in sight. This turned out to be a very unsettling film, as it intelligently plays on the fear of the unseen but present threat, and where the house itself is also part of the malevolent spectre, reinforcing the feeling of threat in every shadow. The form of this unseen menace is presented almost entirely in sound - another clever twist. Superb cinematography, editing and outstanding sound design make for a heady mix. There is the occasional flurry of over the top acting, but overall its not a dish served with thick sliced HAM.

The remarkable thing about this movie is that it really does stand up well today. I watched it again recently almost by accident. One weekend where Su had gone to bed I was still up padding about in the small hours, sleep a distant desire as I just could not settle due to a heavy cold. So I plonked myself on the sofa feeling sorry for myself with a hot glass of cold remedy. Scanned the channels and found The Haunting about to start in ten minutes. Great! I told myself that I'd just watch the first fifteen minutes or so while I drank the honey and menthol brew and then head up the to see the sandman. Fifteen minutes passsed in an instant - The Haunting had me hooked again. I sat and watched the movie in entirety and to my surprise it still unsettles all these years later, albeit to a lesser degree. With the credits rolling I sat there thinking just how good a film this really is and that early impression it made was not without substance. If this movie had "Directed by Alfred Hitchcock" at the top of the credits or on the poster it would be revered as one of the greats. I've since found out that its one of Martin Scorsese's fav horror movies, but other than that it rarely seems to get a mention outside of genre fans. 

The CGI heavily laden 1999 remake is terrible, although for a satisfying Ham & and Cheese fest its a riot :-)

A full from IMBD synopsis:

"Hill House has an evil history with tragic accidents, suicide, and human misjudgement. Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson) is a pyschic researcher who assembles a group with histories linked to the paranormal. Eleanor (Julie Harris) was the subject of unexplained poltergeist activities as a child. She also is riddled with guilt over her mother's death. Theadora (Claire Bloom) is a clairvoyant who befriends Eleanor at Hill House. Russ Tamblyn plays the cynical scion of the owners sent to make sure that the property is not affected by the researchers. Together the group explore Hill House and their own insecurities. Director Robert Wise created a taut drama where the real question is who is haunted and who may be unstable."

Some more at IMBD and Wiki.

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