Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Trailer Tuesday: The Haunting (1963)

"It was an evil house from the beginning - a house that was born bad."

I first saw this film in grade school on a rainy day when instead of going out to play we went to the multi-purpose room for a movie... and instead of just getting wet outside, all of us got scared to death and probably scarred for life. This film scares me *now*.



THE HAUNTING doesn't have any blood at all... yet it has regular scares throughout the film - and lots of DIRECT CONFLICT between the source of the scares and the protagonists. This is tricky, because THE HAUNTING is about ghosts and has no special effects - no guys in sheets, no double exposure FXs, nothing we can *see*.

The biggest mistake of the remake was turning it into a CGI fest... we fear the unknown, when we see a bunch of FX, it isn't unknown anymore.

"'Unknown.' That's the key word. 'Unknown.' When we become involved in a supernatural event, we're scared out of our wits just because it's unknown. The night cry of a child. A face on the wall. Knockings, bangings. What's there to be afraid of? You weren't threatened. It was harmless, like a joke that doesn't come out."

Though we can't see the ghosts in the original, we CAN see what they do. The original version of THE HAUNTING has five characters and only one of them dies - at the very end. But they are constantly in peril throughout the film, and often in conflict with each other. Even though nobody dies for 99% of the film's running time, there are a bunch of big scary scenes - it's as much fun to have a character *almost* killed as it is to have them killed.

"Haven't you noticed how nothing in this house seems to move until you look away and then you just... catch something out of the corner of your eye?"




It's a haunted house story about a team of ghostbusters who are going to "cleanse" a very haunted house. Richard Johnson is the professor leading the expedition into the world's most haunted house. Claire Bloom and Julie
Harris are two different kinds of psychics, Rusty Tamblin (from my INVISIBLE MOM movie) represents the owner of the house and the actress playing Johnson's wife (can't remember her name). The scares are (brilliantly directed) scenes with ghosts pounding on the walls or doors samming on their own or people almost being swept off balconies by the wind or spiral staircases becoming untethered and almost falling over or people having to walk down long hallways in the dark while wind or shadows chase them. The ghosts are constantly chasing our heroes! The ghosts are looking for fresh blood - and our five ghostbusters are in peril from the moment they enter that house. The ghosts don't just call on the phone and breathe heavy, they actively try to kill every member of the team!

"Look, I know the supernatural is something that isn't supposed to happen, but it does happen."

Though the most famous scary scene is probably that spiral staircase sequence, my favorite couple of minutes of absolute terror is a scene where ghosts pounding on the door to Harris and Bloom's bedroom actually begin to push the door inwards - bending it to the breaking point! The door just keeps bending inwards. Will the ghosts break through the door to get our team of psychics? This scene goes on so long you almost pass out from holding your breath in fear! And that door bows so far inwards you know it will break any minute! No blood (but the scene will drain the blood from *you*!) but scary as hell! This is the kind of "old school horror" audiences
are looking for - direct conflict between the terrifying and the protagonists... and when a movie like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (1,2,3) comes along, the reason why it's a success is that it builds that sense of dread that gets us on a primal level...

Real suspense based on a real threat.

"When people believed the earth was flat, the idea of a round world scared them silly. Then they found out how the round world works. It's the same with the world of the supernatural. Until we know how it works, we'll continue to carry around this unnecessary burden of fear."

The best part about the original HAUNTING is that between these great bloodless scare scenes, you get to "catch your breath" with scenes of mentally unbalanced romance as Julie Harris interprets everything that Richard Johnson does as proof that he's secretly in love with her. The guy's married and doesn't even flirt with her - but she's so delusional that she's sure it's love. This is almost as creepy as the ghost attacks (just in a different way). So the "valleys" in the ghost story are "peaks" in the twisted romance story (kind of Harris's character coming of age late in life - she's been sheltered since that incident where stones rained on the family home when she was a kid... and has never been on her own or in love before). There are no slow spots in a (good) movie, just different kinds of excitement.

Robert Wise, the director, got his start as editor of a little film called CITIZEN KANE... and went on to direct CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE and BODY SNATCHER for Val Lewton. After that, he directed a string of great films - everything from ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW to WEST SIDE STORY to THE SOUND OF MUSIC to ANDROMEDA STRAIN. I think he kind pf blows apart the autuer theory because all of his films are just *good* - but I don't see much connection between them other than - *good*. THE HAUNTING was the height of his career - and it's a million times for frightening than the remake.

It was totally cool working with Rusty Tamblyn on INVISIBLE MOM - I made sure to show up on his days. It was totally cool.

Though THE HAUNTING is okay for kids - no sex, no blood, no gore - know that it is damned scary...

- Bill

2 comments:

crowmagnumman said...

Yeah, I really don't think I've ever seen a better haunted house movie. The Changeling is probably one of the best, though.

wcmartell said...

CHANGELING is great - it works more like a mystery than a scary movie (not knocking the scares in it, just looking at how the story works). About a year ago I was explaining to someone how haunted house movies work, and CHANGELING was my example. Dead person. Not at rest. Live person moves into house. It's haunted. To exorcise the ghost, live person must dig into the past. George C. Scott does a great job - and that opening scene is a shocker.

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