I gave Robert Wise's The Haunting a second chance.

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Dome Vongvises, Aug 27, 2002.

  1. Dome Vongvises

    Dome Vongvises Lead Actor

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    Naturally, the thread title implies that I didn't like the film at all during the first run, and I would even venture to say I hated it. Curiously enough, my main gripe with it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that you don't see ghosts and whatnot (well there's one exception, but more on that later). The main problem I had with it was the character of Eleanor Lance.
    I was absolutely annoyed to death with Eleanor's character. She was whiney, bitchy, uptight, obnoxious, etc. etc. I was hoping the house would just open up and swallow her whole. Her paranoid ramblings detracted from what could've been an extraordinary exercise in creepiness.
    Are we supposed to feel some sort of sympathy for her? It's characters like hers that give women a bad reputation as dissolving pools of hysteria during moments of terror.
    The first time I saw Robert Wise's The Haunting was the summer after my senior year of high school. Since then, I've watched several greats of cinema since such as Lawrence of Arabia, Federico Fellini's 8 1/2, Seven Samurai, Rashomon, and some others. Adding to this is the fact that I've taken a film class, matured in film tastes, and heard some recent recommendations of the film. Because of this, I decided to give the film a second chance.
    Well, wouldn't you know, history repeats itself, and I find the film even worse then the first time I saw it.
    My main gripe remains. Eleanor still annoys the living s**t out of me. I just wanted to jump straight into the movie, grab the woman by the throat and yell, "You stupid b***h, what the f**k is wrong with you! CALM DOWN FOR GOD'S SAKE!!!" What makes her even more annoying are her inner monologues. I can't believe the number of [​IMG] I had every time she kept going on and on about the house. Her paranoid ramblings do not draw sympathy from the audience. It evoked only my ire.
    I also picked up some other things I thought were awful about the movie: paper-thin supporting characters (read, its one-minded focuse on Eleanor), plain silliness, some really cheap scares, and other things.
    I don't really know if it was by design, but the film focused primarily on Eleanor (needless to say, it was to my displeasure). It was a poor design to say the least. We're never given any true insight into any of the other three "major" supporting characters. Luke Sanderson, Theodora, and Dr. John Markway were simply convenient plot devices, the first two serving as Dr. John Markway's assistants and the doctor serving as the whole catalyst for film happening in the first place. Besides some over-the-top expressions of shock from their faces, we never get details on how the three secondary characters feel and react to Hill House.
    Plain silliness comes in at certain points in the film. For example, there's an exchange during a dinner scene where for some strange reason, Mrs. Dudley comes out to announce the time. I busted out in laughter. It was so misplaced you'd think you were watching a comedy. The film might as well have an Englishman come out of nowhere and yell, "Four o' clock and all is well".
    The other thing I thought was plain silly was the lesbian undertone to the relationship between Theodora and Eleanor. What good does that serve the narrative? It's no wonder why the remake just went out and made the charater blatantly bisexual.
    Another point of plain silliness is the characters' reaction to the cold spot in the nursery. Talk about some extremely bad acting. The cold breath part was pretty cool (and added to the creepiness), but when the characters opened their mouths, all credibility of a haunting presence is thrown out the window.
    Yet another plain point of silliness was during the death of Hugh Crain's second wife. The premise is good, but the execution is terrible. The actress put on a terrible performance, and in no way was I convinced that she was pushed down the stairs by something haunting Hill House.
    For a film that is so venerated for its "there's no ghosts, yet it's scary", it had several really cheap scares. One that comes immediately to mind is when the doctor finally coaxes Eleanor into coming down the stairs. When she turns around, the ghostly figure of the doctor's wife comes out of nowhere. Was a simply jump scare really needed after having established so much spooky atmosphere? Maybe the filmmakers realized that the audience might not be scared at this point and must resort to cheap thrills to get a reaction out of them.
    A scene that I thought was horribly overrated and was another cheap scare was the "face in the wall" scene. First off, the face is like any other face somebody with an active imagination can come up with when staring at a wall, or in my case, the rocks making up my chimney. That's not scary. During this scene there are unnatural sounds that are going on behind the wall. That is in and of itself pretty terrifying, but then you hear Eleanor's incessant inner monolouge and paranoid ramblings, which quickly detract from the suspensful sequence. During this entire time, we hear her rambling about how her hand is being held too tightly by Theodora. Only at the end does she (and the audience) realize that Theodora was sleeping at the other end of the room. What's terrible about this scene is her over-acting (look at how she holds up her hand), and the fact that the audience never really sees her holding somebody's hand. I think it asks too much on the audience to assume that something was holding onto Eleanor's hand. It's just as silly for me to assume that my hands been chopped off just because I can't feel it every time I wake up in the morning (goes to show I sleep on it a lot).
    My last gripe mostly has to do with the terror and danger aspect of the film. How is the audience supposed to be horrified if one can't even acknowlege the danger the house is supposed to impose on its characters? Banging on the walls, cold spots, and whispers in the night aren't going to kill the characters. If no harm is being done to these characters, how is the audience supposed to feel any sense of primal dread which is the main force behind horror? I'm going to make the argument that
    Eleanor was responsible for her own death, and that the whole steering "wheel" turning left and right to signify ghostly possession was terribly weak.

    Having said that negative things about the film, there are actually some good points. The introduction (besides 2nd Mrs. Crane's death) did an excellent job of setting the initial tone of the film (but sadly, it goes downhill from there). The special effects were excellent, and I'd even say would exceed certain CGI shots (e.g. the expanding door). Set design was great. It had all the bells and whistles one would expect from a haunted house.
    But that's why I come to the Home Theater Forum. To be refuted and reeducated. Hell, I've grown a lot of appreciation for 2001: A Space Odyssey (but that's as far as it goes [​IMG] ). Maybe the same will happen with Robert Wise's The Haunting.
    Edited for further comments.
     
  2. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    No further comments are needed because if the film didn't work for you and you didn't care for the main character, who am I to try to change your mind about those issues? Oh well, the film and the characters worked for me and it's all about personal taste anyway.





    Crawdaddy
     
  3. Werner_R

    Werner_R Stunt Coordinator

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    I only saw the remake but still want to see the original, still waiting for the dvd...hint Warner [​IMG]
     
  4. Inspector Hammer!

    Inspector Hammer! Executive Producer

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    I don't care for either one, the remake or the original. The best haunted house movie ever made IMO is the vastly superior The Changeling.
    Now THAT'S one spooky fricken movie! [​IMG]
    The Others comes in at a close second.
     
  5. Chris Dugger

    Chris Dugger Supporting Actor

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    I have to say that I fall into the same area as my buddy RObert here.

    THE HAUNTING is one of the clasic haunted house flicks.

    The only Ghost Stories that come close (in my book) are:
    LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE
    THE CHANGLING
    THE INNOCENTS

    Dugger
     
  6. Dome Vongvises

    Dome Vongvises Lead Actor

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    John Williamson said:
     
  7. Tino

    Tino Executive Producer
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    For a recent great ghost story, seek out Guillermo Del Toro's The Devil's Backbone.
    I also LOVE The Changeling, and like The Others very much, and TDB is in the same league as those films IMO. Seek it out ASAP.
    Oh, BTW, I havent seen the original Haunting yet, just the mediocre remake.[​IMG]
     
  8. Agee Bassett

    Agee Bassett Supporting Actor

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    I tend to agree with the view that this film is vastly overrated, and a real disappointment, considering the strong potential of story and setting.
     
  9. Peter Apruzzese

    Peter Apruzzese Producer

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  10. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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    Dome, I haven't seen the original in forever, so I can't comment.
    But I would like to say that this is at least the proper way to discuss not liking a film. You clearly listed out all your reasons which gives anyone who wants to debate/discuss why you didn't like it something to grab on to.
    I'm just happy to not read "Man, the Haunting sucks." [​IMG]
     
  11. Rex Bachmann

    Rex Bachmann Screenwriter

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    Dom Vongvises wrote:
    That's been well established for a long time as one of two distinct basic possibilities of interpreting the finale. And it is deliberately left open to those in the audience to decide for themselves. I, for one, have no doubt about the role of the supernatural in the story. The pulsing-door scene is the clincher for me (although some will attribute it to folie a deux).
     
  12. Rex Bachmann

    Rex Bachmann Screenwriter

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    Agee Bassett wrote:
     
  13. Agee Bassett

    Agee Bassett Supporting Actor

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  14. BarryR

    BarryR Supporting Actor

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    Great post, Rex. THE HAUNTING remains for me my all-time favorite movie, particularly for its fantastic evocation of palpable dread and the unseen. Eleanor was a memorable character, perfectly realized by Julie Harris. The remake was infinitely more shallow and a tiresome tour through a CGI funhouse, though the art direction was first rate. Unfortunately it skipped all the nuanced qualities that make the 1963 version so good--not the least being its black and white photography and eerie, tingly music. [​IMG]
     
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  15. Ben Menix

    Ben Menix Stunt Coordinator

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    I agree that many of the points that Dome brings up are easier to explain given the social context of the movie, but that still doesn't save it, IMO, from being rendered a mediocre film. The acting strikes me as so put-offish that I can not connect with any of the characters on any level. Great concept, great story, terrible acting.
    The remake thankfully featured better acting, but toyed with the concept and the story. A weaker characterization (from the rewrite) of Eleanor coupled with a stronger portrayal by a different actress results in a motivationally undefined character that doesn't actually seem to fit in the story. Irregardless of how poorly I felt Eleanor was done in the original, the story doesn't work without that character and her motivations.
    Here's looking for another remake in 10 or 20 years. [​IMG]
    Ben Menix
    [email protected]
     
  16. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    This issue with no physical harm coming to Eleanor or Theo, just noises and voices, etc.:

    Well, none of that is supposed to happen, see. It doesn't fit in with life as we know it. Disembodied pounding noises, voices, and the sense of a presence create that mounting feeling of dread and anxiety and outright fear--all while not actually seeing anything. And it's what we don't see that's so scary.

    My goodness, when I first saw this as an adolescent on ABC-TV back in the 1960s, I couldn't sleep with the lights off for nearly a week! To this day, The Haunting is the only film that actually scares me. The only other "classic" ghost film even to come close (or is worthy of being mentioned in the same breath) is The Uninvited.

    The Haunting is a superb achievement.

    (I think of The Shining in a different way, something that is in a category unto itself.)

    These days, everything is in our faces. I was once going to start a thread about my severe disappointment in The Others, but I had a Black Hawk Down-related thread going at the time that was generating enough heated responses. Maybe someday soon. ...
     
  17. Rex Bachmann

    Rex Bachmann Screenwriter

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    Agee Bassett wrote:
    Since this was an adapted work, not an original screenplay, something had to be "translated". Guess what that "something" was?
    I say the following as one who has never particularly liked voice-over (either narrative or interior monolog) (David Lynch's Dune: "The tooth! The tooth!" drove me up the wall. I honestly wanted to yell out at the screen "The tooth shall set you free!"---but I digress):
    I find the voice-overs used in The Haunting to be unusually effective. And they are not just "literary", as you claim. The fact that the movie starts out with Dr. Markway relating the history (from memory): "Hill House had stood for 90 years, and might stand for 90 more . . ." and ends with Eleanor recounting that same history, modifying it only to include herself "We who dwell [or "walk"?] (t)here, dwell ["walk"?] alone." is a sort of filmic ring composition used to great tragic and ghostly effect. Eleanor has become part of the ghost legend (and, perhaps, the "ghost community") of Hill House! I don't know what more one could ask of such a story captured on film.
    As for Eleanor's so-called interior monologs, I suppose one either "gets" them, or one doesn't. I myself find them, and the rest of the acting, superbly appropriate to the material. (That includes Russ Tamblyn's.)
     
  18. Dave Gorman

    Dave Gorman Supporting Actor

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  19. RobertR

    RobertR Lead Actor

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    This disagreement is purely subjective, and I don't see a right or wrong here. It's similar to how one reacts to comedy. I didn't find the film particularly scary, but I suspect that has as much to do with where I am in life as anything else. As an over-40 adult (which is when I first saw the film), I find it very difficult to be scared by a movie (I remember being utterly terrified by the original 13 Ghosts as a kid, but now it just seems like a source of amusement). For me to be scared by a film, I have to feel that the characters are in real danger and to care about them. For example, Psycho is scary because Norman Bates ISN'T just a disturbed mama's boy. He kills for REAL, and the state of mind of his victims will do nothing to save them. The way The Haunting is written, everything that happens to Eleanor can be explained as manifestations of her paranoid delusions, even within the fictional context of the film (unlike other films where dangerous supernatural things are unquestionably "real"). Hence, I ceased viewing it as a horror movie, and started to think of it only in terms of Eleanor's psychological problems. And on that basis, the previously mentioned acting wasn't good enough for me to make her an interesting character.
     
  20. Agee Bassett

    Agee Bassett Supporting Actor

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    While I’m also not a particular fan of voiceover narration on the screen, the monologues in of themselves typically aren’t bad. But whereas a more cinematically adept director would have found a way to convey a great deal of Eleanor’s character and preoccupations via visual metaphor (though I am not among the more fervent admirers of the film, The Shining is a model of this kind of cinematic “shorthand”), Wise instead typically falls back on overly verbose and prosaic monologues which become more tedious and overwrought with each new train. A lot more style was required to pull off such fancy indulgences. It takes a lot more than pointing a camera, tilted at a Dutch angle, at a shadowy-lit room occupied by clutching, bug-eyed actors, while the soundtrack pulsates with netherwordly-rendered sounds, to create cinematic terror.
    That said, the example you cite above I freely concede as one of the film’s sporadic cinematic plums.
     

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