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Film Review: The Haunting (****)

Amy Taylor takes a look at a horror classic, which recently screened at Edinburgh's Filmhouse.

The concept of the ghost story and the humble haunted house is given a fresh dimension in Robert Wise’s The Haunting. Adapted from the book The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, this classic horror showcases the very best of the horror film genre and gives modern horror a lesson in dread, timing and terror.

When Dr Markway (Richard Johnson) begins a study in the supernatural at the apparently haunted Hill House, a 90-year-old mansion with a dark past. But once his subjects, Eleanor (Julie Harris) Theodora (Claire Bloom) and Luke (Russ Tamblyn) arrive at the house a number of strange and frightening happenings lead them to believe that the events at Hill House are not just the work of spirits.

Although The Haunting is fast approaching its 50th birthday, the film is, rather surprisingly, a refreshing and very original horror that concentrates on the psychological rather than the pathological. In Wise’s film there are no men in monster suits, no deranged killers or bloody gore fests; instead these rather worn and clichéd elements of the horror genre are ignored to make room for the most terrifying power of all: the human mind. With nothing but noises and odd happenings to go on, the brain goes into overdrive. Much like Greek tragedy, it’s what we don’t see, what seemingly happens off camera, that becomes the most terrifying memorable and nightmarish parts of the movie.

While elements of mental illness, isolation, repressed sexuality, an evil house and the search for an identity in the character of Eleanor are apparent throughout the film, the overall result is a masterpiece of fear, ambiguity and good old-fashioned mystery. As the film twists and turns like the unpredictable nature of Hill House, it soon becomes clear that The Haunting, with its monologues, eerie sounds and doors with a mind of their own, is a horror that operates on a completely different level to the mainstream Hollywood movies that have dominated the genre far too long. Subtle, seductive and thoroughly mesmerising, Wise’s adaptation is a pioneering example of the horror genre that deserves to be seen by as many horror fans as possible.

Tags: cinema

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