My Favorite Movies – The Haunting (1963)

31 Oct

By Tanner Smith

It’s Halloween, so I thought I’d talk about my all-time personal-favorite scary movie, the movie that gives me chills each time I see it, the movie I make it a tradition to watch every Halloween night (“in the night…in the dark…”): The Haunting.

“The Haunting” is one of my absolute favorite movies–definitely in my top 20 as of now. And it’s the film that gives me the absolute chills no matter how many times I see it.

Based on the Shirley Jackson novel (“The Haunting of Hill House”) that also inspired the popular Netflix series, “The Haunting” is a 1963 psychologically gripping gothic story set in a haunted house in which you don’t know how much of the haunting is real and how much is in the unstable mind of Eleanor (Julie Harris), a mentally tortured woman who is utterly insecure and just wants to belong somewhere. She’s part of a small group of people, including Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson), clairvoyant Theodora (Claire Bloom), and cynic Luke (Russ Tamblyn), who are investigating the goings-on of a supposedly haunted mansion known as Hill House. Surely enough, things do go bump in the night, with many loud noises keeping everyone awake, things appearing where they shouldn’t be, and some kind of presence that continues calling to Eleanor and lures her further into the house’s trap…

A lot of people found “The Haunting of Hill House” to be scary. Even if they don’t find “The Haunting” particularly scary, it’s still a brilliant character study and a great psychological dive into madness.

You don’t see the ghosts. You don’t see the monster. You don’t know what’s bending the door inward, trying to get in. You don’t know what’s causing the misery. You don’t know what truly haunts Hill House. You just know that it’s something. And honestly, what I come up with in my head is more frightening than anything I could’ve seen…or anything the terrible 1999 remake (also called “The Haunting”) could’ve imagined with its CGI monstrosities.

The scenes that scare me the most in “The Haunting” are the scenes involving Eleanor alone in parts of the house, as things get worse and worse for her. You just know that what she’s going through is going to end up claiming her life if she isn’t careful. And as it’s been established many times in the film, she isn’t careful–she’s meek, fragile, and sensitive, and she does a lot of things without thinking. She just wants to belong somewhere, and the thing that haunts Hill House continues to bring her further into something that could claim her life. Striking cinematography and eerie music helps make these scenes utterly unnerving, but it’s Julie Harris’ performance that makes it all work.

And then there’s the ending–good Lord, the ending is the real winner here! The haunting is real, it stays within everyone involved, and it will never ever go away… That’s not directly said in the movie, but I get the idea fairly easily when it reaches its creepy close, with a final piece of voiceover narration…coming from a source that shouldn’t have had to deliver it! (Seriously, it’s one of the scariest moments I ever experienced in my years of watching movies!!)

Films like “The Others,” “The Blair Witch Project,” and ‘Paranormal Activity” owe a lot to the psychological turmoil of “The Haunting.” (And of course, the series “The Haunting of Hill House” owes a lot too.) It was a game-changing horrific experience in the 1960s, and it’s still among the best horror films now. And it’s my personal favorite…and I’m going to watch it again on Halloween night.


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