The Haunting


Director: Robert Wise


Director: Jan De Bont

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

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.

The HauntingI 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.I 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

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