Great to look at. Fun but flawed. 3 Stars

The Haunting relies on all the familiar haunted house tropes. It embraces all those well-worn ideas and images down to the white nightgowned damsel running through darkened hallways. And still, augmented with heavy doses of computer-generated imagery, The Haunting is a better film than its reputation implies, but many of the criticism levied against it are still fair. What The Haunting does deliver, very well, is stunning production design, interesting visual effects, a strong central performance by Lili Taylor, and Jerry Goldsmith’s wonderful score. All those elements are more than enough to make it at least a little worthwhile.

The Haunting (1999)
Released: 23 Jul 1999
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 113 min
Director: Jan de Bont
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Cast: Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson, Lili Taylor
Writer(s): David Self (screenplay), Shirley Jackson (novel)
Plot: When Eleanor, Theo, and Luke decide to take part in a sleep study at a huge mansion they get more than they bargained for when Dr. Marrow tells them of the house's ghostly past.
IMDB rating: 5.0
MetaScore: 42

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, French 5.1 DD
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Other
Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 1 Hr. 52 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, Digital Copy
Case Type: Clear case with foldout slip sleeve
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 10/20/2020
MSRP: $22.99

The Production: 3/5

“Well actually that makes a very good bedtime story. Once upon a time, there was a king who built a castle. His name was Hugh Crain. 130 years ago, towns like Concord and Manchester were the centre of American industry, that’s where Crain made a fortune on the backs of workers in his textile mills. Now this man could have anything he wanted, but what he wanted was another thing. It was a house filled with the laughter of children.”

Eleanor Vance (Lili Taylor), Nell for short, signs up for a clinical study being conducted at the vast, impressive Hill House manor, along with a small collection of participants in a supposed study of sleep challenges. The study, under the guidance of Dr. Marrow (Liam Neeson), is a ruse and the Dr., along with his two assistants, are studying something else entirely.

Based on Shirly Jackson’s 1959 novel, “The Haunting of Hill House,” The Haunting is a masterful example of production design (courtesy of Eugenio Zanetti), with incredible sets, a magnificent exterior location (Harlaxton Manor in England), and one of Jerry Goldsmith’s greatest film scores (which is saying something because Goldsmith is a veritable legend with a vast pantheon of incredible film scores). But it isn’t a particularly good film. Director Jan de Bont, the man who gave us Speed and Twister, errs on the side of spectacle within the confines of his magnificent set, and builds the story around the character of Nell, who anchors the story. There is a patient build-up of tension, interesting angles, and a brilliant use of sound to raise the hairs on your arms and goosebumps all over. But the script has a number of weaknesses and frayed edges that it harms the overall experience

Besides the magnificent production design, The Haunting relies upon computer generated effects. Through CGI, objects are manipulated with increasing intensity and scale to create manifestations of Hill House’s legend, and its former owner Hugh Crain, as told to the characters by Dr. Marrow. Whereas Robert Wise’s 1963 film adaptation relied upon psychological horror, favoring a conceit that the horror could very well have been in the minds of the guests, this 1999 take makes no doubt that the horror is real. That doubt, that persistent questioning of what was real, helped make Wise’s film something special. What we get in this remake (or adaptation of the original novel) is more a carnival ride feast of visual effects.

The film belongs to Lili Taylor as the sympathetic Nell. She gives a believable performance of timidity, grief, and victimhood. She’s compelling as the House torments and calls to her. Liam Neeson is fine as Dr. Marrow, though he’s not given much of value to do besides nudge the figures of the story into place. Catherine Zeta Jones’ Theo, an insomniac narcissist and fellow study participant, has the odd moments of intrigue here and there but isn’t given enough to do either. Owen Wilson plays Luke, the third and final study participant and he’s really around to provide a little levity and likability. All the other characters, including Bruce Dern’s limited portrayal of the caretaker, do fine with what they’re given.

I’ve always liked the mood and tone of The Haunting. The extraordinary set designs along with the visual effects make for a fun film to look at, but it overwhelms the story and what should really be the striking horror at the heart of the tale.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

A perhaps surprising candidate for inclusion in the Paramount Presents series, The Haunting looks magnificent for its debut on Blu-ray. Presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio, everything about this video is a delight. de Bont’s favoring of Panavision lenses shows off nicely here, with natural film grain, outstanding lighting and somewhat muted (but appropriate and by design) colors, that allow the deep reds (such as blood red footprints) to standout.

Remastered from a 4K film transfer (though not released on the UHD format, just Blu-ray), and supervised by director de Bont, this is a beautiful looking disc. I’ve owned the DVD for years and picked up the digital streaming version on VUDU a couple of years ago but was always disappointed in the quality. This disc is vastly superior and seems to improve the quality of the film watching experience (can it be that I think this is a better film because it looks this good?)

If you are a fan, or even if you only sort of like this film, you really need to see this.

Audio: 5/5

Paramount brings The Haunting to Blu-ray with a brilliant 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track that will rattle your house to its foundation. The sound design on this film is another of its strong points. Notable from the moment Nell arrives at the gates to Hill House and honks her horn, the subtlety of the audio in the surrounds lets you know you’re in for a treat. The creaks and strains of the old house and the booms and bellows of the angry spirit of Hugh Crain work their way expertly around the sound field and tear at your floorboards with impressively deep low frequency effects.

Special Features: 2/5

A slight collection of special features accompanies the 10th release in the Paramount Presents line. The new special feature focusing on director Jan de Bont, which runs just shy of 10 minutes, is interesting. Through this interview he quickly dispels some of the rumors that surrounded this production (including how he came aboard The Haunting, left Minority Report, and how the production was unable to use anything from the 1963 film due to rights issues).

The nearly 28-minute behind the scenes featurette is a carryover from the DVD. The only things missing from the old Signature Selections DVD release are the filmmaker bios and production notes.

  • New Filmmaker Focus: Director Jan de Bont on The Haunting (HD)
  • Behind the scenes featurette
  • Theatrical Teaser Trailer
  • Theatrical Trailer

Overall: 4/5

The Haunting relies on all the familiar haunted house tropes. It embraces all those well-worn ideas and images down to the white nightgowned damsel running through darkened hallways. And still, augmented with heavy doses of computer-generated imagery, The Haunting is a better film than its reputation implies, but many of the criticism levied against it are still fair. What The Haunting does deliver, very well, is stunning production design, interesting visual effects, a strong central performance by Lili Taylor, and Jerry Goldsmith’s wonderful score. All those elements are more than enough to make it at least a little worthwhile.

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Neil Middlemiss

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Clinton McClure

Rocket Science Department
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I still have the dts version on DVD but haven’t watched it yet this year since I upgraded to the UK Blu-ray release a few months ago. For its time, the dts DVD was audibly superior to its DD counterpart. I haven’t watched the Blu-ray all the way through, but the few scenes I got to sample were fantastic.