I’ll come right out and say it — in my opinion, this is the best and most frightening horror movie ever made. I don’t know why it isn’t better known….
Anyway, this one was released in 1963 (There was a remake in 1999. Don’t watch it. It’s not good.), produced and directed by Robert Wise. The script was written by Nelson Gidding, based on the novel “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson. The stars included Julie Harris as the frightfully nervous Eleanor Lance, Claire Bloom as hip lesbian Theodora, Richard Johnson as level-headed parapsychologist Dr. John Markway, and Russ Tamblyn as skeptical rich kid Luke Sanderson.
The plot involves Dr. Markway inviting a small group of people to Hill House, a notorious haunted house, in an attempt to prove the existence of ghosts. Hill House is not the sort of haunted house that brings headless spirits, levitating candelabra, or ladies in white — it’s a malevolent house, seemingly alive and capable of its own devious thoughts. It manifests itself as cold spots, unpleasant smells, and doors that are hinged just barely off-center, so they never stay open or closed for very long.
In the daylight, Hill House seems almost sane, but in the night, in the dark, it conspires to separate people, slams invisible cannonballs down the hallways, and giggles, moans, screams, weeps. Whatever walks there may walk alone, but it doesn’t want to be alone — it wants company in its madness, and it ruthlessly exploits every weakness to get what it wants.
Eleanor soon finds herself as the focus of the house’s obsessions — but we can’t tell if she’s really that upset by the attention. She’s emotionally unstable, desperate for friends and acceptance, but wracked by guilt because she thinks she may have let her elderly, overbearing mother die. And Hill House offers her a place where she’ll be loved and accepted forever — granted, she’d be surrounded by the mad cackling and shrieks of the dead, but maybe she really wants to be the center of all that attention.
Verdict: Thumbs up. Like I said, my very favorite horror movie. It doesn’t look like much — it’s in black and white, it doesn’t have a lot of big-name stars, and incredibly, it has almost no special visual effects. It accomplishes almost all of this wonderful terror with great cinematography and amazing sound effects. The mood, the creepiness, the genuine fear are all there in spades.
I know, I know, it doesn’t have monsters crawling through the walls, it doesn’t have chainsaws, it doesn’t have pea-soup vomit, it doesn’t have buckets of gore, it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that everyone expects from horror films. It’s quiet, it’s subtle, it gets under your skin, it grabs that part of your brain that wakes up after nightmares and wants to cower underneath the blanket because this time it really might be real.
If you love horror movies and you haven’t yet seen this one, you owe it to yourself to watch it. Go find it, pop it into the DVD player, and find out what it’s all about. It’s almost Halloween, and you deserve some truly excellent scares.