The Haunting (1963): ***
Directed by Robert Wise
This move is a good example of how it works perfectly well to have a horror flick that has no special effects. Okay, well, it has ONE special effect, but I'll explain that one later. This movie is very old-school, and I was surprised to learn that it was made as late as '63. It seems like it was made in the 50s or maybe even the 40s, it has such an old-fashioned sensibility.
The basic plot of this movie is that there is a big creepy house that due to its vast history of crazy deaths (which are described excellently in an opening sequence) is highly likely to be haunted. Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) wants to hire some people and go and see if he can find any ghosts. The current owner of the house (who doesn't live thereit's abandoned) says that's fine, as long as Dr. Markway brings along her deadbeat college nephew, Luke (Russ Tamblyn).
Dr. Markway finds two women who are most likely to be sensitive to ghostly activity: Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris), who had an absolutely horrific experience with a dying mother, and the enigmatically creepy psychic "Theodora" (Claire Bloom), and the four of them set out to meet up at the haunted house and see what they can see. Eleanor, whose sensitivity becomes more like hypersensitivity when she gets to the house, begins to be strangely drawn to the freaky, scary place...
The rest of the movie is just a series of creepy happenings which may or may not be ghostly in origin. The most spectacular of which are the assaults on the door. This is where the only special effect in the movie occurs. A strange noise is heard outside the door, and then incredibly loud smashing sounds are heard, as if something is trying to bust it down. Then the door actually begins to bulge inward as if being pushed by a tremendous force. These sequences, filmed without music in clearly-lit black and white are by far the scariest sequences in the film, and are truly excellent.
The rest of the movie is pretty good, too, if you can stomach old-school acting. Richard Johnson is rather stiff and unengaging as Dr. Markway. The women tend to ham it up and be overdramatic. Russ Tamblyn comes off the best as the comic-relief Luke, who really only went to college to get drunk. Theodora is a very interesting character. She's obviouly a lesbian, but since this is 1963 (and the movie has a much more old-fashioned sensibility about it) you can't out-and-out have a movie where a character is a lesbian. As a result she just comes off as really creepy and almost predatory around Eleanor. It's pretty fascinating. But the movie is really about Eleanor, and Julie Harris's crazy, neurotic performance as a woman who is severely scarred by her entire life up to this point. Julie Harris is pretty good, even if she does tend to overblow everything.
Things get more interesting when a fifth character, Grace Markway (the doctor's wife) comes to the house, probably becuase she is jealous that her husband is spending the nights with two beautiful women. The ending actually surprised me, but not in a "jump-out-of-your-seat" way, more like an "I-didn't-expect-it-to-end-that-way" way. But after I thought about it, it made perfect, logical sense.
So, yeah, it's a pretty good, old-fashioned ghost movie.
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