Hello to all those faithfully reading and hopefully enjoying this effort to make even the worst horror movie more watcha... aw, screw that - I'm not that good. If a movie makes you cringe because yet another batch of unlikable teens that are pushing 30 are inching toward their deaths, having a party no one does anywhere ever, a paranormal movie is boring you to tears with unending pans of empty rooms, or thanks to CGI technology when people finally bite it, their blood squirts everywhere except on the victim, the ground, the people next to them... you're in good company and this is the right place for you.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


The Haunting (1963 & 1999) UK/US

Before I start, I highly suggest that you pick up a copy of the novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I don't have mine yet but I'm going to get one - they're still in print. In fact, it's had several printings, the earlier ones being pretty spendy, a modern paperback will do as well. She was popular for her horror stories as well as other novels and has influenced such writers as Stephen King (Rose Red comes to mind) and Richard Matheson (The Legend Of Hell House also comes to mind). Both films were shot in England but set (as in the book) in Massachusetts.

She wrote The Haunting of Hill House in 1959. This book (and movie) were also notable for having an obviously lesbian character and it was a sign of the times that in the movie her character was to be portrayed a certain way and it is one of the few motion pictures to depict a lesbian as feminine and not predatory. Which is dumb. And insulting. The 1999 film doesn't treat the subject much better I might add. Note: In 2014 I did acquire the novel and read it - not only was the 'lesbian' character in the book NOT predatory, I would not known she was supposed to BE lesbian unless the review had said so. Sad.

In order not to get the two movies mixed up, I'll mark which happens in the original and which in the remake. While the one made in 1963 is now a cult classic and considered 'one of the scariest movies ever made' the 1999 version suuuuucked. It was nominated for various Razzies. I like it only because Owen Wilson dies in it. Did I mention I don't like that guy? No reason, I just can't stand him.

1963: Hill House itself 'stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more'. Geez I hope so. All that fine wood and stone and everything - 180 years seems like a gyp. 'It was an evil house from the beginning, a house that was born bad.' For this version the exteriors and the grounds were shot at Ettington Hall (now the Ettington Park Hotel) in the village of Ettington, Warwickshire. The interior sets were built at MGM-British studios and they were impressive, as was the camera work.

The house 'had no right corners' meaning nothing was square - every door, no matter how many times you opened it would slowly close because of it and the whole lack of balance definitely threw you off. The Director, Robert Wise, saw this story as more of a psychological horror tale than a paranormal one, thus although the setting is a group of people seeking out the paranormal find more than they bargained for, very little in the way of outright 'ghostly' activity actually occurs - the 'scares' are mostly generated from the characters themselves.

1999: This movie takes a totally different tactic. Instead of seeking paranormal activity, we have a less than scrupulous professor who wants to study the effects of 'fear' disguised as an insomnia study. Nell, a woman who has been trampled on most of her life, is about to lose her home to her cold sister who offers to 'give' her the old car she used while taking care of her sick mother 24/7. The mother has died and the sister's boyfriend has been named executor. So she's homeless, although they offer to let her be their maid. She receives a call from Dr. Marrow about his ad and she accepts. The sister doesn't want her to use the car so she has to sneak out.

1963: The history of the house is told by Dr. Markway. Hill House was constructed by Hugh Crain as a home for his wife. She died when the horses drawing her carriage reared up and caused the carriage to slam against a tree as she approached the house for the first time. Crain remarried, but his second wife died after mysteriously falling down the stairs. Crain's daughter, Abigail, lived in the house the rest of her life, never moving out of the nursery. She died calling for her nurse-companion. The companion inherited the house, but hanged herself in the library. Mrs. Sanderson inherited Hill House, but the mansion had stood empty for some time.

1999: The history is changed slightly to, I dunno, make it more dramatic or something. The house was built by Hugh Crain - a 19th-century textile tycoon. Crain built the house for his wife, hoping to populate it with a large family of children; however, all of Crain’s children died during birth. Crain’s wife Renee killed herself before the house was finished and Crain became a recluse.

1963: Dr. Markway is up front with what he wants to accomplish. He chooses a woman who's psychic named Theodora, and Eleanor (Nell). Why he brings Nell isn't quite explained. The owner of the house (who won't go there) Mrs. Sanderson doesn't think it proper for a married man to be there with two women so she sends her nephew Luke Sanderson, who hopes to sell the place when it becomes his.

1999: Dr. Marrow decides to pick as his 'subjects' Theo, Luke and Nell - as well as two assistants that go with him to help record data. Theo is almost a total opposite of Nell - where Nell (played by Lili Taylor, later to star in The Conjuring) is shy and dresses demurely, Theo is bold and has the latest style wardrobe. Luke is... just Luke. Dr. Marrow feeds them bits of a spooky history concerning Crain, just enough to provoke some fear and see what happens. When things do start to happen, he is convinced they have created their own 'story' to go with the little bit of information he gave them.

1963: The house itself is massive and imposing. Here's the story on how they tried to make it more spooky: First of all, the movie could only be shot in black and white for legal reasons - which the director preferred anyway. After trying different light and settings to make the house spookier but failing they tried something new: infrared. They had to get the special film from Belgium, but it was worth it. There are some distortions also but that too was on purpose - the director wanted a 30mm lens but it wasn't 'ready' and so the shots were imperfect, which was an excellent way to make the house appear more sinister. He also wanted the windows to appear like 'eyes'.

1999: The house they used, Harlaxton Manor in England, was used as the exterior of Hill House. The billiard room scene was filmed in the Great Hall of the manor, while many of the interior sets were built inside the dome-shaped hangar that once housed The Spruce Goose, near the permanently docked RMS Queen Mary steamship, in Long Beach, California. The kitchen scenes were filmed at Belvoir Castle. The inside rooms were huge - bedrooms, living room (with the largest fireplace I've ever seen), library, greenhouse, and even an elaborate room that had a round moving floor.

1963: Nell arrives first, then the rest. They explore the house for a bit, then retire to their rooms for the night. Nell shares one with Theo. During the night the women hear banging noises on the walls and ceiling. Nell, at first thinking it's her sick mother hitting the wall, gets up first before realizing she's not at home and her mom died. The two women are terrified by the noises and by something that slowly turns the knob on their bedroom door - but does not come in.

1999: Pretty much the same, except louder and more obnoxious - Nell thinks it's her mother because she used to hit the wall with her cane at all hours of the night for her to come help her. In the original movie, it is the daughter of Mr. Crain who, when she was elderly, would bang on the wall for her nurse. Both women have their own room connected by a bathroom so they huddle together as the huge booming sounds come from all over.

From this point the two movies kind of loosely follow each other - but the first one was a lot more subtle, as the 'spirits' don't really show themselves - but Nell falls apart quickly (it probably helped that Julie Harris, the actress who played her, was battling depression herself at the time) and begins to believe that she was meant to live in the house and decides she never wants to leave. The 1999 version has a lot of silly CGI'd effects as the 'spirits' are manifested in different ways, like the wood carvings 'talking' to Nell, as well as the statues moving, the fireplace and its huge flue beckoning her, etc.

While it's the house that is the main reason for the 'spooky' stuff happening in the 1963 version, in the remake it is because Mr. Crain took children working in his sweatshop and murdered them, burning them in the fireplace so their 'souls' are all trapped. Duh. Nell not only decides she belongs there, but that she is actually related to the Crains. Umm, huh. Also in the remake, it turns out that Nell was NOT contacted by the doctor to apply for the study, but the house called.

Remember, buildings don't kill people, people... <chokes on soda again, coughs and swears>

Ahem. Sorry about that. The absolutely coolest film shot done in one continuous take was in the original - the camera follows a spiral metal staircase from floor to ceiling - really cool and inventive - and the distortions just make it that much better.

Nell comes to a sad end in both movies: In the original she takes off in the car and crashes into a tree and dies - in the exact same spot as the first Mrs. Crain. In the remake they make it much more elaborate (read silly) by her 'solving' the mystery of the missing children and dying to save them - all their souls and hers rising to the... geez I feel stupid just typing that.

My conclusion is to read the book. If you have to choose between the two movies, see the original and not the remake - unless you too don't like Owen Wilson in which case watch for his decapitation (it's about 95 minutes in).