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The Haunting Review

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In order to prove the existence of ghosts scientifically, Dr. John Markway takes a group of sceptics and mystics to spend the night in Hill House, a gloomy, labyrinthine mansion with a history of violence and insanity. The house, however, doesn’t seem to

★★★★

Based on Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting Of Hill House, Robert Wise’s expert ghost story trades in the classical, restrained shivers of things that most definitely go bump in the night, but is far from a regular genre piece. 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. The Haunting has so many of those familiar clichés, the prodding suggestions of countless supernatural tales, it should be laughable but there is deeper, subtler creepiness at work here — the shadowy recesses of the human mind.

With Markway’s scientific investigation central to the set-up, the film could almost be an examination of the nature of horror movies themselves. The knee-jerk response to imagined fear. Although, this group of guinea pigs are less suggestible than on the verge of mental collapse, fragile psychic Claire Bloom seems to be the epicentre of supernatural attention. The question the film is asking is, are the ghosts inside our heads every bit as dangerous as those without? The group interplay from Russ Tamblyn’s playboy disregard to Julie Harris’ neurotic lesbian to Richard Johnson’s frosty scientist, is jagged and difficult and they soon boil into conflict, contributing to Bloom’s gradual breakdown. The sly game at work is whether there is a haunting at all.

Not that the film is stinting on manifestations of some evil— distant bumps grow louder and closer, doors bulge under elusive pressures, and a spiral stairway will collapse — it’s just that any solutions will be kept at one remove. Can evil be contained in the very fabric of a building? It’s a daring idea that Robert Wise crafts into something genuinely unsettling.

Properly creepy, unlike like the dodgy remake.