31 Days of Horror: “The Haunting” (1960)

I am not going to do a whole lot here….did I mention for the hundredth time how wicked my schedule can get? I am quite behind, here, and any spare few minutes I have I’m a zombie.
Anyway, this is one of my favorite movies. It’s based on the book House on Haunted Hill, which is a book I really want to get my hands on, actually. I keep forgetting to order it. I think I’ll do that today.

I adore the way this film is shot and cast. I remember being a kid and seeing this on television and thinking, “Tsss. A black and white movie. How boring,” especially when I imagined how un-scary a black and white horror movie must be….

Something caught my eye, though, and I kept watching it, fascinated and disturbed. It scared the hell out of me. This very well may be the movie that inspired my love for haunted house movies. Years later I watch it, and it still creeps me out, yet I now recognize how also beautifully shot it is and well acted.

(I will stop here to mention how much I hate. Detest. Loathe. The remake. just because of my devotion to this one- so no offense if you find the remake great or whatever- just don’t talk to me about it.)

The supporting Claire Bloom as Theo is lovely and coolly collected in contrast to Nell’s character, and while Julie Harris does an excellent job as the vulnerable, fragile minded, ready-to-snap-at any-second star of the movie, she is not a very likable character. She’s annoyingly naive, uptight and prudish, and she’s always bitching about something or taking something the wrong way and flying off the handle throughout most of the movie until the end. The synopsis on IMDB has noted her as “one of the participants” in the haunted house expedition she joins who “soon starts losing her mind.”

This is where I’d like to bring up the first scene involving Nell when she is speaking to her horrible sister and brother-in-law about leaving to research the house with the others. She’s resentful and angry and a little nutty to begin with, and during this scene they begin to argue and it ends with Nell losing her temper and casting the others out of the room. During their conversation and Nell’s building tension, there is a child’s record playing a notably loud, happy, twinkly tune, which sets us up for the obvious- that Nell is already losing her mind, and it’s gonna go any time.

Her desperation, vulnerability, and loneliness are ultimately what “the house” uses to consumes her. Among the creepiest moments I remember of this movie from watching this as a kid was the part when Nell is lying in bed, tortured with fear and staring at the wall. The camera zeroes in on a small part of the wall while we hear what Nell is hearing- faint whispering, laughter, chanting and weeping. It was a memorable moment for me that gave me the chills as a kid and still does.

–Catherine Kincannon