There seem to be two kinds of horror movie watchers: those who hated The Blair Witch Project and those who loved it. For the latter, like myself, who prefer smart psychological tension over brainless gore and the all-too-easy manipulation that comes from awaiting something jumping out of the dark, I offer up an insistent suggestion to find and watch the original 1963 version of The Haunting.
This movie knows what so many imbecilic horror filmmakers of today can’t seem to understand, that the scariest things imaginable are the unseen. Sound is used magnificently in the film, much like in an old radio show, where aural clues allow the audience’s own imaginations to craft their own visions of the terrors hounding the film’s characters. The wonderful result of this is that the audience feels as though they’re one of the people in the house and not simply watching a movie. Picture being in a huge, scary old mansion…at night…alone…in the dark…in the cold…and something that’s causing an inhuman pounding is coming down the hallway toward you. That’s the way this movie plays, and as a result it’s one of the absolute scariest films I’ve ever seen simply because you never SEE the ghosts, you only perceive the occurrences they cause.
After seeing the original, Twister director Jan de Bont’s 1999 The Haunting remake is almost moronic in comparison because de Bont doesn’t appear to understand that seeing CGI ghosts, moving statues, animating skeletons and the like are nowhere near as terror-inducing as NOT seeing them! The most impressive CGI that could ever be possible is still no match for the horrors that lurk in the subconscious mind.
Also, unlike de Bont’s remake, director Robert Wise’s original actually gives each of the characters a purpose to be in the story. Theo isn’t just some thrill-seeking bi-sexual; in the original film she has strong ESP and is invited to the house for that reason. Throughout the occurrences she’s the one who “senses” when something’s about to happen. The sexual orientation of her character is played very subtly, not as a main character trait but to add tension in a kind of “love triangle” fashion when Eleanor (again, the key word here is “subtly”) begins to show signs of an infatuation with Dr. Markway. Even Luke has a solid purpose in being at the house (more than just as comic relief, anyway). He’s an arrogant playboy who stands to inherit Hill House and wants to see for himself how much money he stands to make from its sale, as well as prove wrong the absurd rumors of its “haunted” condition.
If you’ve ever been scared by a sound in the night that you weren’t exactly sure what it was, 1963’s The Haunting is sure to chill you. Some houses may be “born bad” but it takes a lot of restraint and skill to make a movie this good.