Robert Wise is probably better known for his musicals West Side Story and The Sound of Music, and may even be known to you as the director of the sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (which I will get to shortly), but he has one other film on the list, and it is probably the most well-regarded of all, at least in particular circles. The Haunting stars Julie Harris as Eleanor, a young woman chosen to accompany Dr. Markway on a paranormal expedition to the mysterious and supposedly haunted Hill House; certainly, the name alone would seem to carry that connotation, as it seems straight out of a Scooby Doo episode. Still, once the activity starts up, the film loves to twist it in deeper and make you feel every bit of it, and it makes for effective and entertaining viewing.
The whole film is designed to bring out the creepiness factor to its highest level. Stark black-and-white and smoky cinematography, a haunting musical score, a droning voiceover to provide a bookending narrative backbone to the tale of horror, and plenty of young (enough) skeptics to be the frightened innocents in the face of the supernatural. All these elements are built around the main showcase of the film, the horror elements; the effects, and the narrative, both of which are used to put us just off-center of what would be considered comfortable. The main tool used to elicit these feelings is the camera, which is usually put at such an odd angle and moves in such a startling way that we can’t help but be on the edge of our seats.
I was fortunate enough to see this in a widescreen aspect ratio, thanks to TCM, and even that seemed to add to the chilly mood the film emanated at all times. This is widely regarded as one of the creepiest, if not outright scariest, films of all time, and while I wasn’t particularly scared, I did enjoy highly the eerie factor that worked well enough on me to keep me interested through the end of the film. You’re always left wondering what is going on, which is the main reason it all works so well. Horror and cult movie fans will love this one, for sure; it’s got everything you could want in a classical horror flick.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10