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THE HAUNTING

USA / UK, 1963 (MIFF 1995, Robert Wise Tribute)

Director: Robert Wise

After seating the ambitious heights of West Side Story (1961) and steering star vehicles like Two For The Seesaw (1962), Robert Wise's 1963 version of Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House offers a pleasing reminder that Wise served his apprenticeship under Val Lewton at RKO. The director's return to the form and for­mula of these earlier black-and-white mood-laden melodramas takes a kind of post-Freudian spin on the old-dark-house horror sub-genre.

This time around, the group that gathers to investigate the lethal paranormal phenomenon which seems to be inhabiting an 80-year-old Boston mansion includes a supernaturalist pro­fessor (Richard Johnson), a materialist-minded heir-apparent (Russ Tamblyn), and a suavely-psy­chic Greenwich Village lesbian (Claire Bloom). Finally, at the narrative's impressionable, hysteri­cal nerve-centre there frets a mother-dominated virginal spinster played with unsettling sensitivity by Julie Harris.

However, in a way that predicts the home-as-monster pics of the 70s and 80s (The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist), it's Hill House itself and the force inside its Gothic structure that's really the main character-or entity—of Wise's nail-biting chiller. Ever-present but always unseen, the mur­derously malevolent spirit is made all the more unimaginably manifest through the use of rever­berant sound effects, distorting lens work and shadowy cinematography. In The Haunting, what you don't quite know can really hurt you...or at least scare you into conceding the case that in his wide-screen hair-raiser with its disorienting camera angles, spare story-telling style, edgy performances and vertiginously spiralling stair-rase, director Wise just might've achieved what some regard as his overlooked masterpiece.

See also...

WEST SIDE STORY

... ... "With West Side Story, suddenly i became a musical director." ... ... ... Robert Wise drew upon all his directorial resources in this leap to yet another genre, and with his collaborator ... More »

BLOOD ON THE MOON

... ... Robert Wise was winding up his working rela­tionship with Howard Hughes' RKO studio by 1948 when he directed B!ood On The Moon, a film he considered his "first big feature." He took Luke ... More »

THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE

... ... At the beginning of an era of trashy B-horror and sci-fi, Wise attached himself to sound features with intellectually satisfying metaphoric bases, remarkable visual aesthetics and ... More »

BORN TO KILL

... ... Intensely cold, blood-curdling and emotionally spare, Born To Kill is knockout noir. A grim and at times complicated picture, it features a youth­ful Lawrence Tierney as a near-robotic ... More »

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL

... ... A pivotal science fiction film, the themes explored in The Day The Earth Stood Still have been recurrent since Wise depicted visiting alien diplomat Michael Rennie and his mono­lithic ... More »

THE SET UP

Director Robert Wise's ninth feature in five years, after a lengthy apprenticeship in the editing department, The Set Up was also his last at RKO. ... The film started life as a poem by Joseph ... More »

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