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On Sept. 18, 1963, MGM opened producer-director Robert Wise’s horror film The Haunting in theaters. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review, headlined “British-Made ‘Haunting’ Sophisticated Ghost Yarn,” is below:
The Haunting is a sophisticated ghost story, a class treatment of unseen spectral forces. Robert Wise’s production, an MGM release, effectively demonstrates there is no good story that superior talent cannot make better. The Haunting suffers only from attempts to impose 20th Century intellectualism upon ageless phenomena. But where it throws reason to the ill winds and lets the spirits stalk unhampered by plodding reality, The Haunting achieves the best, the basic intent of any ghost story: terror and the unsettled mind.
Nelson Gidding’s screenplay is based on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Miss Jackson has a special facility for these stories — witness The Lottery, The Bird’s Nest and others. Gidding’s script has the same general tone as Miss Jackson’s books; a cold and factual recording of psychic manifestation, ability to talk around it, rationalizing with science, shrewd characterizations, flashes of humor.
In The Haunting, the theme is the ability of ghosts to call to a living human being and bend this human to destructive ends. A group of persons assembles at a haunted house to attempt a solution of its mystery. Its members are sympathetic or sensitive to the unseen. What none of them suspects is that the house is not in their possession but that they have become possessed by the house. One of the group is to be added to the house’s collection of vigorous ghosts.
Julie Harris plays an impressionable young woman who is marked for destruction by the house. Claire Bloom is another of those gathered at the house, for her ability at extra-sensory perception. Richard Johnson plays the professor of anthropology who is head of the experiment. Russ Tamblyn is a scoffing member of the family that owns the house. This quartet comprises the principals, joined late in the picture by Johnson’s wife, Lois Maxwell.
When The Haunting digs into the internals of its story, summons its spirits and lets them play havoc with cold reason, it has a power and fervor unmatched by any film ghost stories. It has a tendency to talk too much, to explain the “whys” of its story instead of letting the “whats” speak for themselves. The screenplay or direction could have let the audience know earlier the final end toward which it was working. As it is, the audience is sometimes confused by what and why it is supposed to be pulling for. When it gets to its ghosts, they are superb and all the talk about “preternatural” explanations becomes vain scientific pretension.
The cast is outstanding, particularly Miss Harris and Miss Bloom. The men are good actors but their characters are not completely realized. Miss Harris is susceptible, endearing and convincing. Miss Bloom is elegant and amusing as one accused by Miss Harris of being “unnatural,” when it is actually Miss Harris who is wholly “unnatural” in a different way altogether. Fay Compton rounds out the cast.
Shot in England, although the picture has a New England background, The Haunting does not quite capture physically the special Yankee background, although it tries. David Boulton’s Panavision photography is excellent, with good special effects by Tom Howard. A.W. Watkins’ sound is fine, and Humphrey Searle’s music is strong. — James Powers, originally published on Aug. 21, 1963
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