The Haunting Studio:Warner Brothers Entertainment Year:1963 Rated:G 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.