Saturday, October 6, 2012

Boo X 2 Part 3: "The Haunting"

Hill House (1963 version)
 Before I even start this post, I've said it before and I'll say it again: The Haunting, Robert Wise's 1963 adaptation of Shirley Jackson's novel "The Haunting of Hill House," is absolutely the single most frightening film ever made. Don't believe me? Watch it alone with the lights out. Yes, I've made this dare before, but I promise you will be quivering, sniveling and crying like a child by the end. 

The astonishing Julie Harris is Eleanor "Nell" Lance, a wallflower psychic who recently nursed her exceptionally demanding and cruel mother through her end days. When parapsychologist John Markway (Richard Johnson) invites her to investigate a supposed 'haunted' house, Nell jumps at the chance, if only to be part of something other than her wretched past. Joined by implied lesbian psychic Theo (Claire Bloom) and skeptic heir Luke (Russ Tamblyn), Markway intends to scientifically prove the existence of ghosts in a New England mansion known as Hill House. The house's staff refuses to stay after dark and the four investigators find themselves alone in a manse which begins to exhibit all sorts of strange noises and effects.

Whose hand, indeed? Made under contract for just over $1M, The Haunting is basically Wise's 'F**k You' to MGM, which forced him to make a movie to fulfill his old Studio System contract. It remains (for me, at least) the best and most terrifying ghost movie ever made.

Hill House (1999 Version)
Sadly, in 1999, action director Jan de Bont (Speed; Twister) remade The Haunting with Liam Neeson; Catherine Zeta-Jones; Owen Wilson and Lili Taylor in the main roles.

Relying on ridiculously over-
produced CGI effects and a truly terrible screenplay by David Self, de Bont's version of the story is pure crap. Self's screenplay adds a completely unnecessary parental link between Nell and the house's builder and the CGI effects are nothing short of absurd. The mostly excellent cast tries their best (especially Neesom and Taylor) but even their talents can't overcome the preposterous (and unneeded) additions to Jackson's plot. A total waste of the talents of every one involved, this remake can usually be found in the  $2 DVD bin at Walmart, which is probably more than it is worth. "Garbage" is probably being kind in describing it.

I still maintain that The Haunting deserves a truly good remake, if only to eradicate de Bont's craptacular version. 

And the opening line from Jackson's novel remains one of the most disturbing in all of horror literature: "Whatever walked in Hill House, walked alone." Yikes!

More, anon.

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