The original The Haunting directed by Robert Wise, from the novel Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, is one of film history's great films. Not just a great horror film, not just the best haunted house movie ever made, but a great film period.
A lesbian subtext between the characters played by Julie Harris & Claire Bloom was sensually daring at the time; it's still sweet, & the terror experienced by Julie Harris translates immediately to the viewer. The gorgeous black & white photography with gloomy sets inspired by film noir sustained an aura of creepiness without requiring anything especially antic & extreme to happen. The haunting felt real & possible & legitimately threatening. Many a viewer needs the lights left on after seeing this.
Though the "psychic investigation team" is by now an old-hat routine, Wise's film has lost none of its power by being repeatedly imitated. So it is not at risk of being displaced in public sentiment by the 1999 "all-FX all the time" remake.
I figured I'd enjoy the remake of The Haunting despite that I knew it was going to be a pretty junky film. Cuz hey, I very often like junky horror films. Plus this one provided a big break for Lili Taylor who I've loved in many independent films over the years. And she did give a very good performance in The Haunting despite a lame-ass script.
Liam Neeson by comparison turns in nothing but the boring performance a bad script inspired, & Catherine Zeta-Jones seems to have been treated by Central Casting as a mental deficient who didn't need to act, she needed to look pretty, so she fulfilled her limited purpose without stretching herself. No one's performance beyond Lili's was worth a spitbug's spittle, but Lili seems to have wanted to give it all she has, & she has quite a lot, despite that it's wasted on a lame script.
Since I didn't expect a good script I wasn't disappointed in that either. What I did expect, from the previews, was that the FX would be neato if cliche. A couple of them were good FX -- the skeleton in the door was okay, the fight with the gryphon didn't bore me, & the cherub heads though they didn't add up to anything looked kind of cool moving -- but mostly the FX were badly timed & dull when not actually stupid. When the Chief Ghost turns up toward the end, think Walt Disney's Beauty & the Beast," or perhaps you'll remember the demon Chester in the Buffy spin-off Angel. There has not been a more cartoony villain since Warner Brothers animated the Id Monster in Forbidden Planet to look like Yosemite Sam.
The clown-face in the ceiling with arms coming out of his mouth wasn't supposed to make the audience howl with laughter, was it? Well it did.ÝI felt like I was watching Poltergiest IV, not a remake of Wise's subdued Haunting. And its been said by just about ever critic who ever saw both the original & the remake: There is more terror in the simple rapping at the door in Wise's original than in all of the remake's CGI cartoons combined.
But it is unfair to enter a big dumb special FX movie & compare it to a classic. I went expecting only an FX extravaganza, a film not genuinely related to the film it purports to remake. But even as a shlocky puddle of drool, Jan de Bont's The Haunting barely gets by.
If y'all lower your expectation to the worst B-horror I think the remade Haunting will look pretty good by comparison. And it has more laughs in it (however unintentional) than many an intentional comedy.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl