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DVD Reviews

HTF Review: The Haunting (1963)

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#1 of 38 OFFLINE   Jack Briggs

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Posted July 20 2003 - 08:43 AM

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The Haunting

Studio:Warner Brothers
Entertainment Year:1963
Film Length:112 minutes
Aspect Ratio:2.35:1
Subtitles:English, Spanish, French

Operating on the premise that what we do not see is what scares us the most, The Haunting, a 40-year-old, black-and-white exercise in restraint and intelligence, probes the human sense of unease in ways never experienced before or since in a "ghost movie."

Based on Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House, it tells the tale of a house that was "born bad": Disturbed, tormented Hugh Crain built Hill House in the New England woods during the late 19th century. Yet his new bride dies before setting eyes on the house when the horses pulling their carriage are frightened by — something. From there it gets worse as Hill House becomes host to one tragedy after another, culminating in daughter Abigail Crain’s death due to negligence while her housekeeper engages in a clandestine tryst.

Scroll forward to the present, and parapsychologist Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) is seeking the permission of Hill House’s current owner, Mrs. Sanderson (Fay Compton), to take temporary residence in the Gothic mansion along with a selected team of researchers.

And thus The Haunting becomes the story of troubled Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris, in a compelling, riveting turn), tapped for Markway’s team because of a childhood poltergeist experience. Repressed and sheltered all her life from caring for an invalid mother and now living on her sister’s sofa, Eleanor seeks refuge and companionship in the Hill House expedition.

How best to scare a movie-goer?

Consider Eleanor’s first glimpse of Hill House. As she pulls up the long, winding drive and peers at the mansion from her car, Eleanor's voiced-over first thought is, "It’s staring at me."

This "effect," a mere line of well-placed dialogue, results in a ratcheted-up sense of unease. No computers required. And this sense of dread continues its relentless build-up throughout the rest of the film.

The cast is perfect: Claire Bloom projects a knowing, playful persona with lesbian undertones as "Theodora," a woman apparently gifted with psychic abilities. Luke Sanderson, who stands to inherit Hill House, is the resident skeptic and ladies’ man as played by Russ Tamblyn. Johnson’s Markway is skillfully portrayed as an otherwise caring researcher who is willing to put the unstable Eleanor at some risk to get to the bottom of the Hill House mystery. And fans of the film take ongoing delight at the late Rosalie Crutchley’s portrayal of the seriously strange housekeeper, Mrs. Dudley ("…in the night, in the dark").

Throughout, Davis Boulton’s black-and-white cinematography combines with Wise’s mise-en-scene style of direction to become the film’s "special effects" — a skillful cut here, an oddly angled shot of a statue there, all in the service of an intelligent story that enables even the most rational, skeptical of viewers to "believe in ghosts" for a couple of hours.

Is that a "face" Eleanor sees in the floral patterns on the wall during the dark of night? Are those voices she is hearing "for real"? The viewer must decide, and none of the answers provide much comfort.

This, then, is how a "ghost story" should be told. Though other films — most notably, 1944’s The Uninvited and 1980’s The Shining — have confronted the supernatural intelligently and effectively, The Haunting is the most satisfying.

How is the transfer?
The review copy of this disc arrived with no press material, and was enclosed in an unlabeled jewel box. So no information is available regarding DVD production-related issues. As a result, it cannot be stated whether Warner worked from a release print or the original elements. But what can be said is that The Haunting has never before looked quite this good in a video format.

For about the first quarter to a third of this film, the 16:9-encoded, 2.35:1 transfer appears (very) slightly soft, with only a few occurrences of spotting and dirt. It seems to even out a bit from there, becoming crisper, sharper, and exhibiting good contrast.

As for the audio, this transfer’s Dolby Digital monophonic soundtrack is best described as "1963." Most of the sound and dialogue seem to inhabit a 2-kHz window in the midrange. There is nothing in the way of frequency extension, including when the pounding noises herald the arrival of another Hill House disturbance. Those who have seen only the dreadful 1999 (and very loose) "adaptation" of Jackson’s story are not going to get their subwoofer thrills here. Instead, they will subject themselves to a vastly superior film.

The commentary track is a mixed bag. Apparently, only director Wise was on hand to record a running commentary, which is interspersed with occasional, separately recorded comments from Richard Johnson, Julie Harris, etc. Curiously, Wise doesn’t really offer much in the way of insight into the how and why of his work, but, for anyone with an abiding interest in this film, the track is fun in its own way.

One of the "special features," a section titled "Things That Go Bump in the Night," is a static-image, multi-page survey of ghost films. Its purpose, apparently, is simply to put The Haunting into context.

Rounding out the package is the original theatrical trailer.

Final thoughts.
The Haunting has been a long time coming to DVD, but the wait has been worth it. If one loves this film, she or he will have already pre-ordered the disc. However, for those weaned on what passes for "horror" in today’s Hollywood, here is an opportunity to return to a time when a spooky but well-told campfire tale provided enough scares to make the night rough going.

#2 of 38 OFFLINE   Gordon McMurphy

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Posted July 21 2003 - 09:04 PM

Great stuff, Jack! Posted Image

I can't wait to get this!

Have you checked out any of the other Warner August 5th titles?

Cheers. Posted Image


#3 of 38 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted July 21 2003 - 09:09 PM


If Jack doesn't mind (I caught your post early AM)....

Jack is doing this review as a guest reviewer.

It is one of his all-time favorite films, he
requested a screener, and we wanted him to review
this title.

It is my hope that Herb Kane, our Warner Brothers
reviewer, will be receiving August product shortly
and reviewing it on the forum.


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#4 of 38 OFFLINE   oscar_merkx


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Posted July 21 2003 - 09:29 PM

cheers for the review Jack, looks like another WB winner there

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#5 of 38 OFFLINE   Ricardo C

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Posted July 21 2003 - 09:37 PM

Thanks for a great review, Jack Posted Image I was on the fence about this one, largely due to the disappointment that was the 1999 remake. But your review's more than sold me on the film. Can't wait!
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#6 of 38 OFFLINE   Gordon McMurphy

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Posted July 21 2003 - 10:37 PM

Sure, Ron, that's cool! I'm just dying to see those horror/sci-fi DVDs! Posted Image

I know I'm not alone when I say that I've waiting patiently for a long time to see stuff like The Haunting, Soylent Green, The Omega Man, House Of Wax, Mystery Of The Wax Musuem, and The Thing From Another World. Absolutely amazing stuff!

And then there's the MGM Midnite Movies on the 26th! Posted Image

And Halloween: 25th! Posted Image

Thanks, Ron. Posted Image


#7 of 38 OFFLINE   Peter Apruzzese

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Posted July 22 2003 - 12:02 AM

Nice job, Jack. I can't wait for this one.
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#8 of 38 OFFLINE   David Von Pein

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Posted July 22 2003 - 01:25 AM

...The Haunting has never before looked quite this good in a video format.

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#9 of 38 OFFLINE   Bryan_ZZ


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Posted July 22 2003 - 01:43 AM

Thanks Jack. Your enthusiasm for this film is contagious!
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Come on 8/5!!

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#10 of 38 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted July 22 2003 - 01:55 AM

Thanks for the review. Looks to be a great film (I've never had the chance to see).
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#11 of 38 OFFLINE   Kenneth English

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Posted July 22 2003 - 01:56 AM

Excellent news! This film has been my #1 most wanted since I (stupidly Posted Image ) sold off my laserdisc back in 1997 (why, why, WHY did I DO that?!?!?!?!). After I get this one on August 5th I won't ever need for anything else again.

P.S. The MGM laserdisc picture had a weird distortion right in the center of the Panavision frame. As I recall, this "warping" effect lasted throughout the film. Anyone else with the LD notice this? It wasn't overly distracting but noticable. I assume this has been eliminated/fixed on the new DVD?

#12 of 38 OFFLINE   Jerry AZ

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Posted July 22 2003 - 03:55 AM

Yep; glad to hear it looks good. I've been waiting for this one too. The 1999 version is only good for showing off the sub. Posted Image
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#13 of 38 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted July 22 2003 - 04:17 AM

Gordy, just this morning I sent my list of screener requests back to Warner Brothers for the month of August. For the release date of August 5th, I have requested: Casablanca SE, The Haunting, Soylent Green, The Thing - From Another World, Wait Until Dark and What A Girl Wants. Not sure what to expect regarding transit time and processing time, but as soon I get them, I'll post the reviews.

Jack, great review....! Man, I'm going to have my work cut out for me....

My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#14 of 38 OFFLINE   Damian James

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Posted July 22 2003 - 04:45 AM

Excellent review, Jack. You've made me want to see a film I've never even heard of. Maybe you should do this full time!
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#15 of 38 OFFLINE   Ricky Hustle

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Posted July 22 2003 - 05:25 AM

Jack sure knows how to pen a good review. I enjoy reading your stuff Jack - nice work!

Jack, please request more guest gigs. Posted Image

#16 of 38 OFFLINE   Matthew_Millheiser


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Posted July 22 2003 - 07:21 AM

I've been waiting for The Haunting on DVD for what seems like ages.

I LOVED this film when I first saw it as a little kid on late-night TV in the late 70s/early 80s. (Any South Floridians remember Nite Owl Movies with Big Wilson?) Chilled me to the bone, and I worshipped every second of it.

A great review! August 5th cannot come fast enough.

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#17 of 38 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden



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Posted July 22 2003 - 07:55 AM

Who would have ever guessed that Jack liked "The Haunting"? Well anyone who has been on the forum for more than a week or ever spoke to him, that's who. It sounds like I will be safely replacing yet another laserdisc. Thanks for the review, Jack.

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#18 of 38 OFFLINE   Lou Sytsma

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Posted July 22 2003 - 08:22 AM

Thanks Jack - superb review. Looking forward to this myself. Like others - caught this on TV as a youngster and it scared the crap out of me!
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#19 of 38 OFFLINE   Dave Mack

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Posted July 22 2003 - 12:02 PM

SWEEEEEEEEEEET....!!!! Now, can we get "The Uninvited" and "Let's scare Jessica to death" too..????

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#20 of 38 OFFLINE   Dan Lindley

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Posted July 22 2003 - 02:19 PM

Jack is a pro. And based on previous enthusiasm for this film here at HTF, I pre-ordered awhile back. I can't wait for this one. And I hope reviews for some of the other 8/5 releases come soon; I've only pre-ordered a few of them.... so far. Was that previously unknown disc staring at me????

Heck, I reckon you wouldn't even be human beings if you didn't have some pretty strong personal feelings about nuclear combat.