Starring: Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn
Director: Robert Wise
After the slick horror films of recent years, this film feels like a creeping, insidious thriller, a throwback to another time, and relies on story and character for chills as much as unsettling visuals.
This film is based on the classic book The Haunting Of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and tells the story of a group that converge on a reputedly haunted house in an effort to document a psychic phenomena and prove the existence of the afterlife and ghosts. If that sounds familiar to you, it’s because this is one of the films that really cemented the chills of what has become a classic horror plot.
Eleanor is invited to the house by Dr Markway, and even though she’s not sure why she’s invited, she has nothing better to do. She’s a lonely, fragile woman, and soon finds that an event in her past has led the doctor to believe that she has some psychic ability. He’s also invited Theodora, a medium, and they’re joined by a young sceptic, who’s a relative of the landlord. Though hoping to capture something that he can use as evidence, things soon start to spiral as the house and it’s unseen occupants seem to target Eleanor. Is her fragile mental state causing the haunting or is there something far more sinister at work, an ancient evil?
The house itself is an incredible set, a gothic mansion filmed in black and white and teems with carved figures and creepy paintings, and shot through fish eye lenses and other means to make it feel even more off kilter. The story of the house it told up front, built by a man with a dark heart, four women have previously died there. It’s a film full of tension and conflict, as the two women become very close and then seem to become enemies, goading each other. Eleanor has feelings for the doctor, but she’s unaware that he’s married. Even the juxtaposition of science and superstition adds a layer. But the real tension is built into the house, with the scares building on the tension between the characters, manipulating them, til you wonder what’s real and who you can believe.
It’s quite a slick film, and I loved the 60’s feel, with it’s interest in the spiritual, and it’s focus on the people. It’s got it’s jump scares and plot twists, but no real gore, or monsters, and yet, that’s the reason it stays with you and gets under your skin.
See It If: you love a good thriller or ghost story, it’s a really lovely film with a vintage, gothic feel.