Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Haunting

The Haunting is a 1963 horror directed by Robert Wise and starring Richard Johnson as Dr John Markway, Julie Haris as Eleanor, Clair Bloom as Theodora and Luke Sanderson as Russ Tamblyn. Doctor Markway, an anthropologist, enlists a group of unsuspecting paranormal detectives to assist in his research at Hill House in looking for evidence of another world, the spiritual world. Eleanor who lives with her sister’s family, is recruited by the doctor as a guest at Hill House, Eleanor sees the invitation as a chance to escape her life, to run away from her past and to gain her independence while creating a new life for herself. She tries unsuccessfully to borrow her sister’s car, which is partly hers, to visit the house. Eleanor steals away in the car to Hill House, conversing with her sub-conscious, and painting a picture of the kind of life and house she wishes to have. Eleanor arrives at Hill House where she is questioned by the grounds man, but Eleanor becomes impatient and irate with his questioning ordering him to open the gates.
The grounds man warns Eleanor that she will wish he had never open the gate. Eleanor drives up to the house stopping half-way in terror at the sight of the house. Fear begins to engulf her as she senses the horror that lies within the house. Her conscious mind tells her to keep away and not to waste this opportunity by residing in such a place; but her sub-conscious awakens acting as the balancing force within her, reminding her that she cannot continue to run away and must face her fears. Eleanor expresses these schizophrenic traits from the beginning of the film always conversing with her sub-conscious relying on these conversations to make the simplest of decisions and pacify her loneliness. Eleanor now within the walls of Hill House meets Dr Markway and his other two guests, plus Mrs Dudley who speaks as if her voice was a recording, reeling off her chores to Eleanor emphasising her punctuality as the key, as when night falls there would be no one present to offer assistance.  Mrs Dudley continues repeating the statement that she would be gone from the house before dark, pointing out that even if Eleanor shouted no one would hear her. Mrs Dudley’s stipulations were not strange or uncommon - it was however the way in which she laid these down, with unnatural urgency and an uncanny smile giving the impression the house held a ghastly secret when darkness fell.
Eleanor becomes friendly with one of the other guests, a psychic named Theodora, who reads Eleanor's thoughts, letting her know little details about herself and her past. The relationship between these two is quite uncanny Eleanor by herself converses on private matters with her sub-conscious, however, when Eleanor is with Theodora, the latter uses her psychic abilities to take on the role of Eleanor’s sub-conscious, reminding Eleanor of the reason she is there at Hill House and informing her of the facts, particularly if Eleanor found them unpleasant. The role of Theodora as Eleanor’s corporeal sub-conscious introduces some mysticism to the film which to this point appeared to be a psychological horror. The third guest was Russ a card shark who was the next in line to inherit Hill House and was present in order to secure his inheritance. Dr Markway’s knowledge of the estate was what led him to Hill House, a building born out of evil whose original builder and owner, Hugh Crain (Howard Lang), was said to be a cold hard man. The house does not disappoint, coming to life for its new guests with loud bangs, doors that shut by themselves, unexplained footsteps in the corridors, heavy rapping on the doors, and the voices of whimpering children, all adding to the house’s infamous reputation. Film4’s review gives us one opinion of the effectiveness of Hill House’s haunting scenes, “The success of this spooky movie is in what it leaves to our imagination. Sure, things do go bump in the night but we never see them” (Film4, 2010). With no monsters or ghosts, and relying on suggestion alone, this horror works very well as the spooky happenings at Hill House start to correlate to Eleanor’s past. The uncanny similarities of the banging on the walls when Eleanor and Theodora lay in bed at night, intertwined with the final call for help by Abigail Crain’s (Amy Dalby) repetitive banging before she died, and Eleanor’s mother’s call for help that Eleanor wearily ignored. Eleanor took on the guise of Abigail’s companion who resided with Abigail until her death at aged 80. The Companion inherited Hill House where she resided until she committed suicide. Eleanor’s guise is compounded also by the statues the guests find of Hugh, Abigail, Mrs Crain and what would seem to be the companion who has an uncanny resemblance to Eleanor. What was also strange was the statue of the companion was never documented, as though it was not originally there - Abigail could not have needed a companion until her later years so it was inexplicable how the companion could be in a sculpture of the family with Hugh and Mrs Crain when Abigail was six. Dr Markway realises Eleanor’s receptiveness to the house and becomes very concerned for her safety, placing her in the constant care and presence of Theodora. The house also takes on the guise of Abigail and Eleanor’s mother, calling Eleanor (the companion) from the spirit world towards them, there being only one way someone from the physical world could go to the spirit world, and that is death.
 The Haunting is predominantly a psychological horror with Dr Markway as the guide through the possessed Hill House as Eleanor seeks to resolve her demons. Theodora gives life to Eleanor’s sub-conscious, acting as her personal medium when they are together. The House recognises Eleanor as a being receptive to its needs and begins to blur her reality of the corporeal and spirit world’s luring her to join the latter through death.

1. Haunting posters (2010) This Distracted Globe, A House Born Bad Review, The Haunting, Posted 4/7/2010Time 16.35 16/12/2010
2. Hill House (2010) This Distracted Globe, A House Born Bad Review, The Haunting, Posted 4/7/2010. Time 16.30 16/12/2010
3. Eleanor, Theodora and Mrs Dudley (2010) This Distracted Globe, A House Born Bad Review, The Haunting, Posted 4/7/2010, Time 16.38 16/12/2010

Film4 (2010) Reviews & More, The Haunting, Posted 19/10/2008, Time 16:02, 16/12/2010

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