A bit overrated upon its initial release, THE HAUNTING is, nonetheless, an undeniably effective adaptation of the Shirley Jackson novel and remains one of the best haunted-house movies.
Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson) is a professor of anthropology experimenting with ESP and other forms of psychic phenomena. He arrives at Hill House, a New England mansion that is reputed to be crammed with demons and ghosts and the home of everything evil. Along with Markway is Eleanor (Julie
Harris), a slim spinster who, until recently, has spent her life caring for her aged mother, and Theodora (Claire Bloom), a lesbian. Both women have experienced extra-sensory occurrences, and Markway has enlisted their aid in his quest for knowledge on the subject. Luke (Russ Tamblyn), who is the
heir to the house and hopes to sell it at a great profit, goes along for a ride he will regret. Once inside, the quartet is besieged by terror--noises, yowls, and eerie events pour off the screen until Eleanor is convinced that Hill House is alive and wants her to stay there.
Director Robert Wise, who began his directorial career under the tutelage of Val Lewton, takes the lessons learned there to a bit of an extreme, overplaying his hand through the use of extremely exaggerated angles and distorting lenses. But the politically incorrect and oversimplified notion that
Eleanor's repressed lesbianism is the cause of her downfall, was outdated even when the film was made. THE HAUNTING spends too much time setting up the idea that it will scientifically shed light on psychic phenomena and then withdraws from us. All said, the high order of acting seems wasted.
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