At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Haunting “63”

MPAA Rating: G/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn, Fay Compton, Rosalie Crutchley, Lois Maxwell, Valentine Dyall, Diane Clare, Ronald Adam/ Runtime: 114 minutes

I feel it must be said that the concept of a “haunted house” truly has been quite the fertile ground for horror fiction be it literature or film to utilize since the beginning of time. Yet while the goal for this concept is to place the consumer in a creepy, creaky estate alongside a cast of characters and then proceed to terrify the living daylights out them, this doesn’t always work as well as it should. Indeed to put it in perspective, I would honestly say that the amount of legitimately horrifying films that feature the haunted house concept would barely bother the fingers on your hands. It is quite unusual therefore that the film we are reviewing today, one of the best in that fabled group, decided to work with a formula that, although simple, has astonishingly never been duplicated by any other movie with as much impact as this one manages to possess. Indeed I say this because it is quite difficult to really explain, though not for lack of effort, just why this film is able to scare people silly as it has been known to do. Indeed not only is there zero bloody moments, and no monster bumping around causing our intrepid group any anxiety or fear as it hunts them, but there is absolutely nothing that is shown to warrant your fear. Therefore the fear that you feel lies not in what is shown to you, but rather in what your mind thinks it is being shown, and in that regard The Haunting is not only a true classic of the horror genre, but a chilling ghost story that you will want to watch time and time again.

The plot is as follows: The Haunting opens with the riveting narrative surrounding a place known as Hill House. To say this location has a troubled history is like saying LA has horrible traffic. Indeed throughout the time it has been a part of the gallery of buildings built by man, death, either accidental or suicidal has hung its grim visage upon the property like a stubborn rain cloud on an otherwise sunny day. However things are on the horizon for the old spook spot. That is because an anthropologist/ paranormal phenomena expert of some renown by the name of Dr. Markway, when our story proper opens, has just been given permission by the current owner of the estate to head a investigation team and stay at the property for a specific time period. The hope for doing so, of course, being that this scholar can actually prove his long-standing theory that there is something truly not of the physical world that resides within the walls…suffice it to say that the professor is quite right in his assessment. As to how right he is that is something that you shall have to see for yourself though be warned. I say that because by starting on this journey you and the characters in this film have just walked into a living and breathing nightmare where there are no easy answers, and your mind and soul, just like our characters, will be both bewitched and chilled in ways you never thought possible….

Now this is a movie which lives and breathes based off not what it chooses to hurl your way via jump scares as well as intense and shocking moments where things toy with you and your senses from within the shadows. Rather this is a film whose preferred method of madness and fright is set and placed firmly in the concept that what you don’t see is what frightens you most. Indeed this is also a world where we as audience members are forced to utilize our own frightened beyond belief sense of imagination to help us interpret what exactly we think we are seeing. Suffice it to say that we really are our own worst enemies in that regard….but nevertheless psychological horror loves us all the same for it. It is also due to a love and immense knowledge of that arena that The Haunting’s immensely gifted maestro, a Mr. Robert Wise, is able to make this film work as effectively as it does. Indeed Wise does a wonderful job of utilizing unusual shots from the camera, extremely loud noises, and unique up-close and personal looks of his cast in order to milk the highest amount of suspense and terror possible from this film’s narrative in order to best unnerve and subsequently terrify the audience as much as possible. Suffice it to say he succeeds admirably.

Along with the aforementioned skill at causing the audience to have to use, and then be terrified by, their imagination, I also feel that another key ingredient in making this nightmare as horrifying as possible is the idea of distortion. Indeed whilst we are being given a history of the main house as well as some of its architectural peculiarities, the camera does a wonderful job of emphasizing these for the maximum amount of gracefulness possible whilst at the same time the movie also corresponds this with the twisting and turning in one of the character’s stability from a psychological perspective. In addition, this is a narrative which may seem simplistic, but trust me when I say there is so much under the surface of this house both in the script and on the silver screen. Indeed make no mistake: this is not a situation where a batch of individuals being terrorized by a ghost. Rather this is a situation where the mind is just as much of a terrorizing agent as any entity and that makes for quite a distorting and disturbing experience as you and our heroes attempt to discern what is real and what is the product of a mind being driven to the brink of madness.

Now even with that knowledge under your belt, I nevertheless still feel that throughout the course of this film’s runtime, there are some truly nerve-wracking and chilling sequences to behold and witness including a door that bends as if it was fabric, loud and frightening noises in the hallways, a face appearing on the wall, a hand-hold that is the stuff of nightmares, a spiral staircase that could honestly give way at any minute, and a chilling finale where the house finally starts to show us just what cards it’s been holding this entire time. Indeed by the time that finale rolls around, it should be obvious that you as an audience thought would be a relatively easy story to follow is actually a lot more insidious and sneaky than you could have first imagined. Indeed suffice it to say that the power of suggestion is not only a huge key to the things that go on in the film, but it’s also the thing that makes this movie great and it’s why the hairs on your arm will stand upright and you will be on the edge of your seat throughout this film’s runtime.

Now The Haunting “63” also manages to do a phenomenal job in actually creating fleshed-out characters rather than just having its actors act like stereotypes who literally just go through the motions that we have come to expect from people in a horror film. Thus we see that, when it comes to the male leads, as Dr. Markway, Richard Johnson does an excellent job at blending serious passion for his work alongside an almost paternal-bond with his assistants, and Russ Tamblyn manages to bring an arrogance and a slowly dissolving cynical outlook on the whole experiment in his role of Luke. As for the female leads we get a smooth and delightful performance by Claire Bloom as Theo who is both icy cool and yet completely aware and ok with who she is and, upon meeting Eleanor, truly likes her, but wishes she would be herself rather than someone she’s not. Finally in the pivotal role of Eleanor, Julie Harris manages to do an incredible job at portraying an individual who is full of turmoil on the inside and who is highly susceptible to….certain things thus making her a prime target for the house to torment and carry out its own brand of horrifying terror and mischief on. Suffice it to say then that our 4 main leads all manage to do an absolutely outstanding job with the material they are given and all do a wonderful job both in their scenes together and apart as well.

All in all The Haunting “63” really truly has become, with the passage of time, one of the most haunting, no pun intended, cinematic experiences in the long and storied sub-genre of horror that is the haunted house genre. Indeed: thanks to the game and phenomenal work done by both cast and crew The Haunting “63” can still give you the film goer the eerie feeling that you are not at home by yourself and will most assuredly have movie goers really thinking twice before investigating any suspicious noises that are in the air as everyone else is currently in the midst of a deep sleep….On a scale of 1-5 I give The Haunting “63” a solid 4 out of 5.