Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bald Mountain Night 28: the Haunting

Each day in October, intrepid blogger Alex Boivin will watch a horror movie. These movies are all new to him and are part of his month-long effort to fill in his gaps in the horror canon. If he doesn't die from fright, you just might get to read about about his exploits in cinema during the Halloween season.

Dumb luck at its finest. I was actually out of options for movies today's feature due to an unfortunate little lull between Netflix deliveries and I had actually exhausted the horror movies available for instant viewing that I wanted to watch. I had my back against the wall and was going to have to resort to a copy of I Am Legend that I had downloaded two or so years ago and I really wasn't looking forward to that. As fortune would have it though, a friend and brother in cinephillia recommended this quaint little picture called the Haunting. I had it relegated to the bottom of my Netflix queue (I'm already planning for an October 2010 follow up, you see) when out of nowhere at 11:00 PM Central Standard Time on my beloved Turner Classic Movies there it was, 1963's the Haunting. So instead of an inevitably disappointing write-up of a Will Smith movie, you can get a slightly more enthusiastic write-up of what Robert Osborne calls a "classic spook picture".

The Haunting is your basic haunted house story. A group of four people elects to spend a few nights in the infamous Hill House, a mansion with a morbid history of deaths, suicides, and strange occurrences. There's Eleanor- a woman grieving over the recent passing of her overprotective mother, Luke- the cocky, skeptic current owner of the house who keeps bragging about how much he can sell it for, Theodora- a strong, independent woman (old Hollywood code for "lipstick lesbian") with possible ESP, and Dr. John Markway- an anthropologist seeking to prove the existence of the supernatural. Things start out well enough but soon there are strange sounds and the house itself seems to be alive and its affecting the fragile Eleanor in particular.

The Haunting might be considered a counterpoint to the previously reviewed Vincent Price movie House on Haunted Hill (in fact, Haunting is based on the book the Haunting of Hill House, just try and not confuse those); where Haunted Hill is a schlocky B-movie Haunting is an actual drama. Where Haunted Hill's characters are all ridiculously insidious at worst or boring at best, Haunting makes an effort to actually develop its cast, especially the protagonist Eleanor, who treats the audience to a series of Dune-style interior monologues. Throw in a third act appearance by my boyhood crush Lois Maxwell and you've got yourself a movie! There's also much more of an element of psychological terror than up front gore and scares, which is always nice for movies like this, I guess. The Haunting is proof that old school horror movies don't need to be over-the-top and silly to be enjoyable, they can also be scary.

Final verdict: 64 Congos