Thursday, 2 December 2010

The Haunting Review

The Haunting

 Although The Haunting is an old film seemingly dated with its theatrical acting, the idea of using things that cannot be seen is a much more contemporary idea. Films such as Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch project relish in this technique providing the scare through things which the audience cannot see therefore opening it up to the imagination. 

The Haunting follows a group led by Dr. John Markway who is researching to prove the existence of ghosts by investigating Hill House which has a history for death and unexplainable happenings. Eleanor seems to have a connection with the spirits within the mansion and during her stay witnesses strange events such as loud banging and cold spots within the house. Eleanor becomes fixated on the house as time goes on and the group begin to question her sanity as her belief of noises and other presences become more frequent. 

The Haunting doesn’t derive its scares from gore or masked killers but from the things that the audience cannot see which make things go bump. It works extremely well accompanied with a film noir style with definitive black and white areas which brings to the atmosphere of the film. The scene such as when Eleanor believes that she is in her bed and holding Theodora’s hand there is a lot of blackness around Eleanor’s face which really conveys the idea of her being alone. In John Puccio’s review he says: ‘Things are scariest when we don't know what they are or don't understand them; turn them into things real and tangible and they lose their impact. The tension and suspense in "The Haunting" arise from mysterious noises, weird voices, bangings on the wall, shadows on the wallpaper, cold spots, spiral staircases, and Humphrey Searle's splendidly eerie musical score.’ (John Puccio Aug 3 2003 The Haunting DVD review) This is something which works so well with a film noir style and in linking with the exaggerated angles that are used and the distorted camera lenses it all adds to the eerie effect.

The film noir style not only works with conveying the emotions of the characters but also backs the Gothic mansion that the film is set on. The film does have a clich√© aesthetic of haunted houses such as that of other horror films however there are no cobwebs or dust giving the house a scary feel that someone is still living there. Rumsey Taylor writes: ‘The four meet at Hill House and inspect it with an eager curiosity that overwhelms their logical fear (the two women have yet to know of the house’s history). Its interior is a vast maze of oddly interconnected rooms. Ominous stone statues strew the scene, inside and out, as do old mirrors that, in their age, provide questionable reflections. There are no cobwebs or streams of dust following one’s stride (such conventions would lessen the horrific strength of the setting); Hill House looks lived-in.’ (Rumsey Taylor 11 July 2004 The Haunting review)

The technique that ultimately creates the fear for the audience is that of the camera techniques. From them we are transported right up close to what the characters are looking at or the sense of unease as they view the events. This is taken note of in Mark Bourne’s review: ‘Two of its most famously unnerving scenes are all about what we, along with Eleanor, can only hear. When the unseen supernatural presence pounds, boom, Boom BOOM, closer and closer along the hall outside Eleanor and Theo's room, the scare comes from what we can't see hitting the walls and then hammering the door, even as the camera presses us mere inches from the doorknob turning by itself. Later, in bed, Eleanor hears ghastly chanting and the cries of a child behind the wallpaper (where the decorative pattern suggests a malevolent face) — again neither Eleanor nor we can see anything other than what our imaginations show us, an effect that hits hardest when Eleanor screams, the lights come up, and she realizes that the cold hand she had been holding wasn't Theo's. It's a moment that only a select few screen ghost stories, before or since, have approached.’ (Mark Bourne Review of The Haunting These key techniques work really well in providing an uneasy feeling and accompanied with the distorted camera techniques it makes the setting of the film look even more eerie. These techniques make the audience share the emotions of what the characters experience so we are put into their shoes and feel that we are experiencing the events.

Colour was available in use for films in the 60’s but The Haunting chose to ignore it, the black and white colouring with a film noir style creates the emotions that the director wanted to convey. There are uses of extreme shadows around characters to create a sense of being alone to pile on the tension for the viewers as anything can be lurking in the shadows. The film works so well by not divulging the information as to what is causing the scares for the characters leaving everything to the imagination which makes the film so effective, the audience can’t tell what the tormentor looks like but they know that its upon them and could do anything at any time building and building an undeniable tension.   

Puccio, John Aug 3 2003 The Haunting DVD review  (Accessed on 02/12/10)

Rumsey Taylor 11 July 2004 The Haunting review (Accessed on 02/12/10)

Mark Bourne Review of The Haunting Accessed on 02/12/10


The Haunting Film Poster 

The Haunting Film still

The Haunting film still


  1. Hey Max - great, thoughtful and mature review of a sometimes theatrical movie - but it's such a bloody classic - it's a horror film for grown-ups, and you're absolutely right about Paranormal Activity - horror needs to rediscover its subtle roots; personally, I don't think you can do ghost stories and involve conspicuous cg... it's always too much and kills off the necessary reality.

    Just a note - regarding the use of brackets after the quote; you're not quite using the right format; the UCA guidelines state it should be just the surname of the author and the publishing date given for the review/article - so, instead of (Rumsey Taylor 11 July 2004 The Haunting review) it should be (Taylor, 2004) - the rest of the info is given in the bibliography; also, with the illustrations you need to give the accessed date too.

    Follow this link for ‘how to reference’ conventions for all kinds of sources.

    But it's great to see you getting your reviews up to scratch, Max - I know it's a bit of a faff, but it's a great habit to get into, and it just lends your critical writing a real sense of credibility.

  2. Thanks for the feedback Phil I will make sure I do this for future reviews. But yes I agree on the CG in horror films it can just turn things into something laughable at times.

    Paranormal activity 1 and 2 are the only films where they have genuinely affected me after coming out of the cinema, I couldn't sleep right for a week after viewing the first one. There was just something all too real about it and it unnerved me but after talking to many people around me they didn't share the same feeling. I guess people expect the technology in these films but like you say about the uncanny in the brief it brought me back to as if I was a child, it made me feel helpless because things go bang but there isn't anything there. It plays on your mind and drags them into the real world because they are unexplained!