This web site is dedicated to The Haunting, a 1963 masterpiece directed by Robert Wise, starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson and Russ Tamblyn.
In its full black and white glory, The Haunting is widely regarded as la pièce de résistance of the ghost movies genre, la crème de la crème, a must-see for all the connoisseurs.
Among the various descriptions available for the movie, I particularly like the one translated from the French DVD:
With this site, I'm inviting you to explore the movie and its secrets:
I need to state that all the screenshots depicted on this site have been digitally "reworked" and "enhanced" with appropriate photo editing tools to look better on LCD/OLED displays (as opposed to CRT displays).
What you see here is not what you will get if you buy a copy of the movie.
Indeed, through the years, despite numerous releases (from VHS/Betamax to Laserdisc to DVD to Blu-ray), all the copies at our disposal suffered from two main flaws:
Well I simply tried to fix that for all the images I wanted to display on the site.
I invite you to visit the Videos section for a general discussion about the image quality.
Robert Wise's The Haunting weaves the dark tale of a questionably sane young woman and a sinister house which holds a terrifying past. Invited to join anthropologist Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson), ESP expert Theodora (Claire Bloom), and probable heir to the estate Luke Sannerson (Russ Tamblyn) in order to dispel the near mythical tales that surround the house, unstable Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris) agrees to spend a few nights in the house following the death of her mother. As they slowly begin to discover, the horrific and seemingly unbelievable tales may hold more truth than the skeptical guests might have previously expected. With a seemingly unstoppable supernatural force lurking in every shadow, the probability of anyone escaping the evil clutch of the cursed mansion seems increasingly remote. ~ Jason Buchanan, All Movie Guide
Between his phenomenally sunny musical successes West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965), director Robert Wise found time to make this brooding, low-key shocker, based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson. The material seemed to free up Wise's baser talents: The off-kilter, black-and-white photography goes a long way in intensifying the production's minimal special effects, and the actors uniformly overplay their parts, giving the film a streamlined momentum it might have lacked otherwise. Though the story's lesbian subtext was toned down for the film, the sleek Claire Bloom injects some much-needed sexual tension into the proceedings; the film is less about the group's battle against poltergeists than about the inner struggle between the virginal Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris) and her conflicting desires. ~ Michael Hastings, All Movie Guide
Things that go bump in the night bump overtime in 1963's The Haunting, the quintessential haunted-house film from genre chameleon Robert Wise. The setup is as straightforward as they come: An anthropologist (Richard Johnson) arranges for a handpicked group of guests to stay at a remote New England mansion to investigate legends that it is haunted. Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, and Russ Tamblyn play the guinea pigs in this experiment, which unfolds into a classic ghost story where the spirits in question really do make quite a nocturnal racket. Do not expect much in the way of visual effects however: The Haunting is a Monkey's Paw-type thriller where what you do not see turns out to be scarier than what you do. Wise accomplishes this feat with some exquisite lighting and camerawork that simply immerses the viewer in an atmosphere of eerie mystery that, like the prolonged foreplay of an expert lover, continues long after other films would have climaxed. Harris provides a strange voiceover throughout, gradually revealing her character's strange affinity with the forces at work, while reinforcing the discomforting sense that the line between what is tangibly real and what is delusional can be difficult to draw. And some intriguing erotic tensions wind their way through the group, tensions that seem to become yet another layer of psychic danger. Ultimately, a lot is left to the imagination in The Haunting making it a masterpiece of thoroughly distilled suspense. ~ Gregory Baird, Barnes and Noble
Year of Production: 1963
Distribution: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc (MGM)
Running Times: 112 mins
Format: Black and White 35mm
Ratio: Panavision [Anamorphic] 2.35:1
Sound: Mono 1.0
Genre: Mystery, Supernatural, Horror, Drama, Suspense, Thriller, Classic, Realism, Psychotronic
Keywords: Blood, Car, Classic, England, Evil, Experience, Ghost, Haunted, Haunted-House, Heirs, Horror, House, Lesbian, Life, Mansion, Mother, News, Novels, Off-Road, Psychic, Research, Road, Terror, Time, Tree, Women, Plot Lines Ghost, Haunted (House), Supernatural-Forces (Battling Against)
~ all technical details provided by the encyclopedia of fantastic film and television
US Premiere: Sept 18, 1963, New York City
Awards: Golden Globes 1964 (Nomination: Best Motion Picture Director: Robert Wise)
Production Companies: Argyle Enterprises (Robert Wise) / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc (MGM)
Production Number: MGM 47
Promotional pictures numbering scheme: 5303-xxx, also 63/238
Producer: Robert Wise
Associate Producer: Denis Johnson
Script: Nelson Gidding
Novel: The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson
Director: Robert Wise
Assistant Director: David Tomblin
Director of Photography: Davis Boulton
Camera Operator: Alan McCabe
Continuity: Hazel Swift
These titles were considered as possible movie title.
Source: Warner DVD + Nelson Gidding interview.
The headline A tale of fear was also considered.
Editor: Ernest Walter
Music Composer / Conductor: Humphrey Searle
Recording Supervisor: A.W. Watkins
Sound Recordist: Gerry Turner
Dubbing Mixer: J.B. Smith
Dubbing Editor: Allan Sones
Make Up: Tom Smith
Hairdresser: Joan Johnstone
Claire Bloom's Clothes: Mary Quant
Wardrobe Supervisor: Maude Churchill
Special Effects: Tom Howard, F.R.P.S.
Stunt girl: Connie Tilton
Production Designer: Elliot Scott
Set Decorator / Director: John Jarvis
Sketch Artist: Ivor Beddoes
Casting Director: Irene Howard
Susan Richard as Nurse
Mavis Villiers as Landlady
Ettington Park, Alderminster, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 8BU, UK, Europe
See the page dedicated to The House for more details.
Elstree and Borehamwood studios, Shenley Road, Borehamwood, WD6 1JG, UK, Europe
Also known as the MGM British studios
See the page dedicated to The House for more details.
[A very special thank to Andy Ellis who shared this information with me.]
London, UK, Europe: corner of Coleman Street and London Wall, at the North end of Coleman Street.
The one with the road sign is the view from this corner looking East at the North side of London Wall & (in the distance) the East side of Moorgate (with 74 Moorgate on the far corner).
Click to display a Google Map
The one with Eleanor leaving the "Boston underground parking" is again a view from the corner (at the top of where the slope down to the car park used to be), looking South down Coleman Street, with the re-built Armourers & Brasiers building on the East/left.
Click to display a Google Map
All taken from "Robert Wise on his films, from editing room to director's chair", by Sergio Leemann, Silman-James Press, July 1995, ISBN: 187950524X
Robert Wise got the idea of The haunting while he was in pre-production for West side story. One day, while reading Shirley Jackson's book...
About Ettington Park and the belgian infra-red film...
About the not-quite-ready-to-use Panavision's lense...
The president of Panavision warned Robert Wise...
About the spiral staicase...
About the door that breathes...
I feel very privileged to own a copy of an early version of the screenplay. I write "early version" because there are numerous differences between this version and the one that was eventually released.
For instance, the introduction to the house is given by Mrs. Sannerson, and not by the Dr. Markway. More interestingly, this version also includes the deleted scene with Theodora having an argument with her girlfriend before leaving for Hill House. Well, too bad ONE page — page 12 — is missing, and out of 132 pages, it's just the one in the middle of the deleted scene.
In any case, I'm very grateful for this great document.
I have a PDF version which is a scanned copy of a document that was photocopied (Xeroxed) several times. Consequently, there is room for improvement in the quality. As a dedicated fan, I decided to recreate a brand new, clean version... The first step was then to extract all the pages, as PNG images.
As an illustration, this is page 15.
The next step was to clean these PNG images (pages), one by one, manually. In practice, I removed all the black spots and dots to have a pure-white background. If needed, the pages were straightened (some are oblique). Then I reworked the text, to make it darker. The malformed letters were manually restored.
After this step, I had a clean version of all pages, as PNG images. I was able to recreate a brand-new look-a-like version in PDF, this time with clean pages.
More importantly, these clean PNG images were used as the source for an OCR operation — OCR meaning a software for Optical Character Recognition.
As a result, I had a pure text .TXT version of the screenplay. Then, with Word, I formatted this pure text to get a more modern screenplay, still very faithful to the original — same page layout, same numbering scheme, classic screenplay formatting.
I also corrected obvious mistakes — for instance, Theodora mentioning "My mother" or the Dr. Markway, by the car, saying "He's dead".
At this end of that lengthy process — nearly 100 hours of work — I have a clean Word .DOCX version as well as a new PDF rendition.
The movie was based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson.
According to Robert Wise, Shirley Jackson herself suggested the title The Haunting for the movie; title that she also had considered for the book.
The story was brilliantly adapted for the screen by Nelson Gidding, who made numerous changes in the original story.
Although sometimes classified as an "horror" movie, the story of The Haunting is much more complex than a simple "haunted house" story. If you watch it a couple of times, you realise that there is much more than that...
Eleanor was just not allowed to be happy. She had nowhere to go, no one to hold in her arms, no job, no money, no friends, nothing... She could not remember ever being truly happy in her adult life. She had spent all this time — 11 years — taking care of her invalid mother, until she died. Disconnected from the real world, Eleanor's life was made of small guilts, small reproaches, constant weariness and unending despair. It just wasn't fair. All she wanted was to be cherished. The only person in the world she genuinely hated, now that her mother was dead, was her sister. Eleanor didn't think twice when she received this strange invitation from Dr. Markway. She was ready to go; she would have gone anywhere. Somewhere where she would belong. Leaving all this past behind. She ended up in Hill House, and thought she could be happy there. She was indeed happy in Hill House, but just for a while.
Let Dr. Markway introduce you to the house:
A team of four researchers specialized in the analysis of supernatural manifestations. Except that some of them didn't know they were researchers. They didn't even know why they were there and what was going to happen. No one knew what was going to happen. They had forms to fill up every night — very scientific — to keep track of the events, as any professional would do. Dr. Markway didn't know what to expect from Hill House but he surely received much more than he had probably ever anticipated. Eleanor started it all. The house wanted her from the beginning. The show started the very first night, with Eleanor being the obvious centre of attention. Eleanor was willing to accept a lot for his sake. And she did. She accepted too much. She was given a last chance in the park. She could have turned her car around and gone away. But she was already running away and had nowhere else to go. So she stayed... and broke the spell of the house.
A strange relationship between Eleanor and Theo. It all started with a pure and innocent young girl, Eleanor, looking for good company, looking for a place in a group, looking for someone who would cherish her. Well, she wasn't exactly that innocent and she quickly found out who she wanted. But, so inexperienced, she was too blind to see what was really going on.
Theo also knew exactly who she wanted, but it wasn't quite socially acceptable I suppose. Anyway Theo couldn't care less. Theodora's world was one of delight and soft colors. She wasn't used not to getting what she wanted, and at once.
Indeed: the human needs, fears, beliefs, driving forces, values, desires, priorities, joys and sorrows. Eleanor — our heroin — represents the human race, and its fragilities. Eleanor is a lonely creature, desperately looking for love. At the end of it all, isn't it what we are all looking for? More than money, more than fame, more than anything else? Love. Somebody to share our innermost thoughts; somebody who would stand by our side, for the good and the bad; somebody who would know our intimate details; somebody who could hear our darkest secrets and alleviate our childish fears; somebody who would be supportive, protective and yet not possessive; somebody to lean on... According to some studies, humans are — with dolphins —, the only mammal that can die of sorrows. Love (more precisely the lack of love) can effectively drive humans to madness or worse, to death.
Eleanor, ignoring all the warnings, all the bad signs and all the red flags, purposely accepts the danger of the situation. She voluntarily chooses to stay at Hill House. Whatever the price, she'll pay. Her survival instinct screams to get out; a little voice begs her to run away; her common sense demands to leave the place at once. She is perfectly aware that she must leave for her own safety. "Better to be safe than sorry" they say... But the poor creature desperately hopes that something good is about to happen — something, at last, happening to her — and is ready to put her life in the balance.
What are ghosts? Maybe souls who survived, leaving behind a dead body, to continue to exist after the death of the corporal form... What do you think is going on at Hill House? What is the nature of all these strange events? What is the source of all these strange events? Who or what are these entities trying to contact Eleanor, trying to reveal their existence through all those disturbances? Eventually, Eleanor herself becomes part of the haunting. After her death in the car crash, her tormented soul survives, and remains at Hill House:
She is obviously the main character of the movie, equally with Hill House, of course. She is 32-year-old, charming, a bit simple but mainly because she didn't see the world yet. She was a bird in a cage. She didn't experience many things on her desert island and so she is very naïve, emotionally fragile and a bit clumsy in her relationships.
You do not know much, you do not see much of the private life of the other members of team. But you see Eleanor at home, with her sister. You see Eleanor taking the car at the garage; an important decision in her life. You follow Eleanor's journey to Hill House. Most importantly, you know her thoughts, her intimate thoughts. You see the whole movie through her point of view; you are on her side.
Eleanor is a complex character.
She is rather unlucky and you immediately feel sympathy (not pity) for her. Up to now, she had a sad and dull existence, made of unpleasant work for which she has never been thanked or appreciated. She cannot remember being happy in her adult life. Her life is a continuous world-weariness and an endless despair. Eleanor is stifled, tormented by her past, haunted by unhappy memories and suffers from extreme mental distress.
Some fans draw the conclusion that Eleanor is insane. I personally don't think so. She suffers. She suffers a lot to a point that is almost unbearable. She does irrational things, it is obvious. But should we blame her for that? During the movie, we follow Eleanor's mental and emotional progress, getting worse and worse. Is she loosing grip on reality? Is she drifting slowly into madness? Is she descending into dementia? Is her head the monsters' world? Eleanor herself wonders Maybe I am insane...
Eleanor knows from the very beginning that there is something wrong. Just as she approaches Hill House for the very first time, she strongly feels, obscurely feels that it is her last chance; her last chance to get away. Still, she purposely chooses to continue and to ignore these warnings. Once in Hill House, she accepts too much from the house for John's sake. Anyone, more reasonable, would have chosen to run away after the first events. Again, Eleanor ignores all the red flags. She prefers to continue a dangerous relationship than to be safe, but alone.
John Markway contacted Eleanor because, when she was a child, she had a Poltergeist experience: showers of stones fell on her house for several days. She is very reluctant to talk about it and almost denies it ever happened (many believe that Poltergeists are the manifestations of unbalanced teen-aged minds). It doesn't take long before Hill House really makes Eleanor the center of all attention. The house has found a kindred spirit in Eleanor and consumes her; she is disappearing inch by inch into the house.
Driven to despair, Eleanor is ready to go anywhere... Away from this unhappiness; away from her existence that was already much like death. This time she has decided to do something and to escape. She accepts the invitation of John Markway — without investigating and not really paying attention to the reason why she is invited and what will be asked her —, steals the car and goes to Hill House, without telling a word to her sister who disapproves but seems to be her only family. This is the very first act of rebellion in her whole life. She ends up in Hill House, and her initial reaction is to flee again. But she doesn't. She stays and breaks the spell, the strange enchantment of Hill House and the house becomes her lover...
She has been hoping and waiting for something to happen. Something, at last, really, happening to her. Something truly extraordinary, like Hill House. That is why she got so exited when she got the invitation-letter from John Markway to spend part — or all — summer in a country House for some... experiments. Once in Hill House, she is scared and yet morbidly fascinated by what could be her dream come true.
She spent all her adult life taking care of her invalid mother, until the mother died. She had no social life, because she had to be constantly at home. She has mixed feelings about the death of her mother. She feels relieved because she is free, at last, after eleven years on a desert island, as she says in a scene. But she also feels guilty because we know that the mother died because, one night, although the mother was banging on the wall, Eleanor didn't wake up to bring the medicines. She has been wondering ever since... Did she wake up and go back to sleep immediately? It would have been easy. Didn't she really hear anything? The death of the mother has a really high importance in the story. Along the movie, Eleanor keeps on saying Mother says... or keeps on referring to her as She. Now that her mother died, Eleanor hates her sister, Carrie, who blames Eleanor for the death.
She was confined, held captive in a small world. She thinks she wasted a lot of time that she wants to catch up with right now. Her trip to Hill House is like escaping from jail. She feels she is running away from this hideous past and she plans never to come back, well decided to start to enjoy this life.
Eleanor has no boyfriend (or girlfriend). She has no friend at all in fact. From the book, we know that her father died when she was young. She is all alone, on her own, with no one to watch over her. While at Hill House, Eleanor makes effort in order to belong to the team, to be just like anybody else. But it doesn't take long for her to be an isolated, different, special member of the group: she is obviously the center of all attractions for the house and thus cannot be just like anybody else. Even after her death, Eleanor is still lonely. The movie ends with Eleanor saying and we who walk here — [we] walk alone
She is very afraid of being rejected by other people. She keeps on saying You wouldn't leave me by, would you? or ... unless of course you want to get rid of me... or I have a place in this room. These people are my friends. I belong.
All that she wants is to find love; she desperately needs to be loved. She keeps on looking for understanding, love, companionship and friendship. She repeats, Journeys end in lovers meeting. She fancies John Markway but she doesn't know or she is too naïve to realize that John is married. The days and nights are really tiring and frightening in Hill House but she takes it all for his sake. It must also be said that John's attitude is highly ambiguous: sometimes he is protective like a father, sometimes he is openly flirting with her (he even caressed her cheek). To find out that John is married will become another major disappointment in her life.
On her way to Hill House, Eleanor starts to dream about how her life could be. A daydream. A house, a pair of stone lions and she starts building up scenarios about how her life could be. Once in Hill House, she makes things up and doesn't tell exactly the truth about her life. She is really aware of how dull her life is. She wants to change it all for something better and thinks Hill House is the beginning of a new life for her. She says They would never have suspected it at me... I would never have suspected it at myself... I'm a new person.
We guess from the very beginning that she has almost no money. She owns half of a little car, with her sister Carrie. She is homeless, lives at her sister's house where she sleeps on the coach in the living room (and pays a rent for that!). All that she owns can be packed in a single suitcase and a cardboard box. She has no job, no friend, no-one to love, no money, nothing.
There is a clear parallel between Eleanor's life and Abigail's. Both endured a traumatic experience during their childhood: Abigail's mother died; Eleanor supposedly caused a poltergeist. For different reasons, both lived a life of complete solitude, had no lovers, grew old and eventually became spinsters. Sadly, both died all alone, violently.
Have you noticed that, in this movie, the female characters are vastly more complex and more interesting than the male characters?
Theodora is quite an example. She is gorgeous, icy, sophisticated, independent, dressed in black haute couture and very clever. Theo is clairvoyant and has a gift of ESP; but she feels open and comfortable about it. Theo would probably like to be the center of attention. Although she displays a very self-confident attitude, Theo is probably not as strong as we might initially think she is. When the house gets wild, Eleanor is much stronger than Theo... But I think Theo would not change a thing in Theo.
We do not know much more about her, really. Theodora or Theo is the only name she has. Just Theodora as she says. We know that she lives in couple but is not married. She avoids making any statement that might reveal the gender of her companion. She uses "we" instead. But do not conclude that Theodora is hiding anything. Theodora is lesbian but this part of her personality is — subtly — expressed in the film, although more freely expressed in the original book. When you guess, when you add all the details, you understand that she is obviously a lesbian. Theodora would probably openly answer Yes! to the question Are you lesbian?
Theo feeds the underlying sexual desire. Some examples:
Theo is a very good person and sincerely wishes Eleanor well. It is absolutely obvious when Eleanor is about to leave the house. Some facts:
The male characters are both much simpler, and much easier to understand.
John is the wise guy, the one who wants to experiment but, also to control and limit the risks. He feels responsible for the safety of the team, since he dragged all the other characters in this adventure. He is a scientist, although the topics he is studying are at the border between the scientific and paranormal investigations' fields. He is fascinated by the house, but wants to make sure that no-one gets hurt. He rescued Eleanor several times, taking risks for himself doing so. Professionally, he is responsible and protective.
On the other hand, he is personally really ambiguous. He doesn't feel the need to state that he is married. When his wife shows up unexpectedly, she has to ask Didn't John tell you he is married? With Grace, he doesn't behave like a loving husband (and Grace doesn't behave like a loving wife either). With Eleanor, his flirting attitude is dangerous however, because Eleanor is emotionally fragile, and she might believe that John also has a crush on her (and indeed she does believe that John has a crush on her). Sometimes he behaves like a flirting lover, sometimes like a father, sometimes like a cold-hearted selfish scientist. It is just like a shower that runs hot and cold, hot and cold, hot and cold... I believe that, in the music room, he was just about to tell Eleanor he was married, when the harp suddenly started playing by itself. His scientific experimentations in Hill House are probably more important than anything else and the harp gets all his attention. He just forgot what he was about to say to Eleanor.
Luke is young, careless and light-hearted. He was born in a wealthy family. He has no other preoccupations in life than to enjoy himself. He probably enjoys going out in sports cars, drinking a lot, partying all night and fooling around. He probably didn't earn any of the dollars he is spending.
That is the reason why nothing seems to be really important for Luke: he never faced the harsh reality that lots of common people have to endure. Eleanor struggles in financial difficulties; Theo lives her life openly (and being lesbian was probably not that easy at that time); John had to study seriously at university to get his high social status.
Luke just didn't face any of these constraints: he didn't have to. Luke was born to have fun. It is that simple. Alcohol seems to be very attractive for him. I would not say he is alcoholic, but there is an obvious tendency to drink alcohol whenever possible, even in the middle of the night. Socially drinking with friends is something. Getting up to drink alcohol in the middle of night is more worrying.
The Haunting is a multi-layered movie, that can be decrypted/seen at different levels. These different ways, to understand and to appreciate the movie, make that a lot of different people get interested in this masterpiece.
At the surface, it is a ghost and haunting house movie, superb in its black and white glory.
The story perfectly follows the classic path: a magnificent sinister old gothic mansion, abandoned for a long time, complete with suicides, unexplained deaths and mysterious dark chamber. A team comes in to explore the phenomenon, and their expectations are fully fulfilled.
Decades after its original release, the movie remains highly considered and grandly appreciated because it is ageless. Instead of using cheap special effects tricks to show ghosts and other strange events, Robert Wise — who was definitely a genius — used our fear of the unknown, of the unseen, of the unreal. The terror largely comes from the soundtrack, from the fear of "Who or what is behind the door?", "Who or what is pounding on this wall?", "Who or what wrote this in the corridor?", "Who or what is secretly staring at me?". Nothing is seen. Everything is suggested, especially with strange distant noises and eerie sounds. Lots of people do praise the superb black and white images. Strangely, only a few people do pay a really good attention to the background music. I strongly believe that this great sweet and melancholic music was the perfect choice for the soundtrack. I wish it had been released on record at the time.
The movie proves that a black & white rendering can be a strong, valid artistic choice, and not necessarily a technical constraint. That choice still remains valid today (for instance, with recent movies such as Mad Max Fury Road — Black & Chrome edition). From that perspective, The Haunting is perfectly executed, with the great addition of sequences captured with some infra-red film, to create a dreamy, unreal feeling.
You might have missed it, but the camera rarely follows the action. It scarcely follows the characters as they move on screen from one room to another. The viewer can lose the directions, because the rooms in Hill House then seem unconnected. It is almost impossible to draw a map. Instead, the camera acts like the eye of a living entity. On numerous occasions, we have the feeling that the house itself is watching the characters. It is obvious when Eleanor first arrives in the premises: the house watches its new prey. On other occasions, we see the action as the characters supposedly see it too. When the first Mrs. Crain falls down the stairs and dies, we see exactly what she sees: the entrance hall, upside down.
Last but not least, I think that the idea to add a voice over is a genuine masterstroke. Instantly and very naturally, it gives us a raw access to Eleanor's innermost thoughts. It helps us understand her motivation, her fragilities, her hopes and despair.
These artistic choices made by Robert Wise were quite unusual at the time and demonstrate his professional competence and mastery of subject matter. All these elements, carefully thought out, provide a timeless quality to the movie.
Below the surface, it is the story of Eleanor, who lived and died too young, lonely and unhappy.
We cannot help but think that is it just not fair. We feel so sorry for Eleanor, who has done nothing wrong: it is the other way around. She spent all her adult life taking care of her invalid mother, until the mother died. How was she rewarded for this devotion during all these tough years? Well, she was not rewarded at all: she just spoiled very valuable years, missed chances to meet someone, and was left with no money and reproaches from her sister, who blames Eleanor for the death of the mother. For a while, we think that Eleanor finally received the chance she had long deserved: the invitation at Hill House is her first chance for a vacation in all her adult life. As she arrives, her survival instinct screams to get out of the place. But Eleanor has been waiting so long for such a thing to happen. Something, at last, happening to her. It doesn't take long to realize that it will all go terribly wrong, through hopes and disappointments, eventually leading to the death of our poor beloved heroine.
Eleanor is fundamentally a good person, a caring person, and like anybody else she deserves to be happy. She deserves to meet someone who will love her, someone who will take care of her (for a change). We all have been brought up with the strong precept that good people are always rewarded for their goodness and generosity. But as an adult, we know it is often very wrong, and this leaves us with the bitter feeling, the strong conviction that it is so unfair.
If you dive even deeper, the movie raises a general and fundamental question about the meaning of life, and the possibility of life after death.
After all, who or what are these entities trying to communicate with Eleanor? What is the meaning of all this? What are they trying to tell us? Some might object that Eleanor is insane, and that all this is just a trick of her disturbed mind. But in that case, how come that Theo and then the whole team also experienced it? After her death, Eleanor doesn't leave Hill House. Still lonely, she continues to exist in the house, but in a different, immaterial, form. The soul of our poor Eleanor will remain in the place she cherished so much. Her tormented soul will continue to suffer, forever.
Depending on your preferences, interest, own experience and sensibility, you will see the movie at a different level. There is food for thoughts for everyone.
Some fans will focus on the house and its mysteries; some others will focus on our poor tormented Eleanor. With such strong female characters in the movie, it is a little bit funny that most of the fans who contacted me in the past 20 years are men, and practically no women. What will make a fan most akin to Eleanor? I am not a trained psychologist, but I tend to see a general pattern in the profiles of the fan. Eleanor gets all the attention of the people who suffer or have suffered from loneliness, general disenchantment, disappointments in relationships, unrewarded generosity, and maybe people disappointed in life, in general. All fans are all welcome to contact me. I am just surprised that the lesbian character of Theo, who is positively depicted as a good, caring and flamboyant person doesn't get more attention from the community.
On a DVD (French DVD, The Innocents, in the bonuses) that I was about to discard, I found a very interesting analysis of the haunted-house/fantastic movie genre by Alexandre Tsekenis that also totally applies for The Haunting. I translated it, summarized it and added references to The Haunting.
At the very beginning, Dr. Markway selects some assistants...
...in a list consisting of:
Patricia Doyle (actress) was Robert Wise's wife, from 1942 until her death on Sep 22, 1975.
Note that Dr. Markway selects Patricia Doyle...
The story goes that the names on the chalkboard were all friends or family of writer Nelson Gidding.
Albert Trepuk was his stepfather, Charles Stern, Ruth Murray, Rufus Matthewson, and Paul Kirschner were friends, and Joshua Walden was his then 14-year-old son.
The classic office you would expect to see in the sixties. Complete with telephone, lamp, typewriter (the one used to send the letter to Eleanor?), bookshelf, chests of drawers,... a cluttered space, the usual mess.
But how come there is a poster of Mendel's first law of genetics (law of segregation)?
My dear "haunting" fellows, what a shock! Mother is here and has always been! Yes, a picture of Mother on the mantelpiece. Look closely and the doubt is not possible. Who else would be on the mantelpiece?
I have watched this movie countless times, once in a movie theatre, many many times at home, from the television program, from a VHS, Laserdisc, Video CD and DVD... Still, I had never noticed this detail before. Until suddenly, one winter (Dec 4, 2004), a very nice friend of mine who owns a video projector/beamer invited me to spend the night at his place. He suggested I should bring my favourite film to watch together, later in the evening. Guess what I brought. We sat close to the image, on purpose, to be fully immersed in it. And there, face to face with the 3-meter diagonal image I saw her. Mother was here! A picture of Mother on the mantelpiece! Special thanks to Evert VL.
Since she didn't not get her sister's approval to borrow the car, Eleanor was forced... to take it without any permission. The car is half Eleanor's, but the mean Carrie considers it is her own property. So Eleanor had to wake up really early to take it. It is only 6:40 in the morning when Eleanor picks it up at the garage...
Eleanor's suitcase is on the back seat, and as she breaks to read the signs and the letter, the suitcase falls...
I have mirrored and magnified the original image to allow you to read the stickers.
After years of hesitation, I have finally been confirmed by several US-based friends that they were genuine 1962 Massachusetts stickers. The sticker on the windshield was used in combination to the license plate, in order to prove that the car was dully authorized on the road in 1962. This is because the new plates were issued every other year and not every year.
It makes sense: although shot in the UK, the action supposedly takes place in the USA, and starts in Boston, Massachusetts.
The licence plate of Eleanor's small car reads "F3251". Does it mean anything special?
I have been unable to conclude whether it was an English or American licence plate. I asked a couple of US-based friends but got contradictory answers. If you know for sure what a Massachusetts licence plate looked like in 1962, please let me know...
I have to confess I have been trying really hard to find a meaning or an in-joke in this licence plate. I once considered it could be encoded with letters associated with the telephone dial (1 = .; 2 = ABC; 3 = DEF; 4 = GHI; etc). But the result is meaningless to me:
FDAJ. FDAK. FDAL. FDBJ. FDBK. FDBL. FDCJ. FDCK. FDCL. FEAJ. FEAK. FEAL. FEBJ. FEBK. FEBL. FECJ. FECK. FECL. FFAJ. FFAK. FFAL. FFBJ. FFBK. FFBL. FFCJ. FFCK. FFCL.
I googled it, but the result seems to be the code of a family in a several online genealogy systems. Needless to say, all results lead to a different family. So I am confused.
Maybe there is just no meaning at all? Maybe I'm just trying to find a meaning to a meaningless detail.
You have seen the movie countless times, probably, so you know that we actually see the entrance, the lobby of Hill House. Just before Eleanor reaches out for her suitcase, we clearly see the left side of the entrance.
Afterwards, a panoramic scrolling lets us discover most of the lobby. Most of it... Except for the very right side of the front door.
But I recently realised that we actually see this section of the room, when the first Mrs. Crain dies, falling down the stairs. We see it through her eyes (upside down). I just needed to rotate the image (180°).
Once you have been told about it, you really cannot miss it anymore: an adult female character is holding the breasts of another adult female character. This is not a children's joke. They are both adult women.
To me, it is an obvious lesbian reference. Although it is quite "in your face", only a few people notice it. Is it a reference to the relationship between Theo and Eleanor? If not, what then? Can someone explain this?
Have you noticed? The devil is in the mansion. It is not a long scene; Eleanor is running so you might have missed it. But with a still image, there is no doubt about it.
In Europe, in the popular tales, the devil is half-animal, half-human with horns. In France, one of his nicknames is "Le grand cornu" ("The big horned").
This statue is, without any doubt, the representation of the devil. Now the question is: What is this statue supposed to mean? How come it is in Hill House?
Some of you might be familiar with this representation of the devil as found in the famous church of Rennes-le-château, in France. What? A devil, in a church? Yes, indeed, that is totally uncanny to find one in a catholic church in France.
If you have heard about the Da Vinci Code, here is the link: The priest of that church, l'abbé Bérenger Saunière, is the central figure of many conspiracy theories trying to explain how an humble priest in a small remote village could become so inconceivably rich. Many of these theories were used by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code, in which the fictional character Jacques Saunière is named after the priest.
Two heads staring at you... If you are standing where they can both look at you, they freeze you. This is a legend, but how come we can find so many of them in Hill House? Another very interesting example is the nursery doors, where they seem to create a cold spot (see below for details... and more light!).
Who is sleeping in the very first bedroom of the first floor? For a very long time I assumed that Eleanor's bedroom was the first bedroom. But if you pay a good attention to the scene when Theo is trying to get in to help Eleanor with her hairstyle, you will notice an open door, leading to a lit room.
Have you noticed that there is another room (bedroom?) just across Theo's bedroom; same corridor, with the entrance just opposite Theo's door? Someone must be occupying it because in various scenes, the lights are on or off. We hardly see the furniture inside, but we see the chandelier with 3 light bulbs.
Here are a few close up screenshots
Have you noticed that, although we witness the death of numerous characters in the movie, we never see a drop of blood? All of them are what I would call, "clean" deaths.
Robert Wise did it brilliantly; he avoided the tacky "gore" genre and created an "all time classic" movie that is classy, elegant, stylish, chic, tasteful and somehow very sophisticated. Whenever possible, life leaving a character is suggested by a falling object. It is as efficient and certainly much more graceful than torrents of blood.
The first and second Mrs Crain, Abigail, the companion and finally Eleanor: The house only kills women. The only male character of the story died far away from Hill House.
Well, it is not really a "ménage à trois". It is just the strange behaviour of Dr. Markway with Eleanor Lance and Grace Markway, his wife.
When John Markway first meets Eleanor and Theodora, he is immediately really friendly with Eleanor (it makes Theo instantly jealous). He smiles at Eleanor and makes comments such as
His wife has not arrived yet. He never mentions her existence, and never mentions the fact that he is a married man. And I cannot see any wedding ring.
His relationship with Eleanor is just like a shower that runs hot and cold, hot and cold... He never hesitates to have physical contacts with Eleanor. He gives her a hug; he touches her; he caresses her face; he pays a real attention to her problems. Eleanor has got a crush on him and thinks John is also flirting with her. But she is wrong.
Strangely, when Grace Markway shows up, he is really not cheerful and jovial with her. He doesn't seem really happy to see her. They have been separated for a couple of days and he doesn't behave like he has been longing for her. He doesn't touch her and she doesn't even get a kiss! He is cold and distant, but polite: he carries her luggage. Instead of spending a night together, like any couple would, he doesn't really insist on spending the night with her and takes her luggage to the nursery, where she will sleep alone. To be quite honest, I have to add that Grace Markway is not more cheerful than her husband.
Only after Eleanor dies — that is at the very end of the movie —, John takes care of his wife and he first touches Grace...
Theo has got a crush on Eleanor. It is the truth and there is nothing wrong with that. Robert Wise expressed this unconventional love in the movie in a very subtle way. The book is much more explicit. In the movie, it is not that obvious but when you add all the passionate looks, all the sweet touchings, all the knowing smiles, it becomes apparent. Robert Wise discarded from the final cut of the movie a scene from the very beginning where Theo and her girlfriend have a row, ending up with Theo writing "I hate you" on a mirror. This scene would have completely changed the tone of the movie. Although I would surely like to see this discarded scene, I am convinced that it was the right decision to make at that time. Claire Bloom plays her part perfectly: Theo initiates a sexual tension that is underlying, permanent and growing all along the movie. Nobody seems to get what they want: Luke is fooling around with Theo; Theo has got a crush on Eleanor; Eleanor fancies John and John loves Grace, his wife.
The words Suffer little children can be read on the nursery walls.
The book that Abigail is reading is the Holy Bible...
And there is a crucifix in the room.
can be found in the Bible in...
Jesus offers this instruction to His disciples as though they really needed this clear word to remove any doubt about His attitude about children. The word "suffer" means literally to "let". It would be better read, "Let the little children come". It carries the idea of "being commanded" to "welcome the children to come to Jesus!"
I absolutely don't understand the purpose of such a decoration in a nursery. Can someone explain and elaborate?
Eleanor is really affected when Grace Markway shows up...
She is more than disappointed: disillusioned, marooned and inconsolable. She probably feels stupid and betrayed too. That is particularly cruel: Eleanor doesn't have a lot of self-confidence, and this will probably reinforce the feeling that she doesn't worth anything and doesn't deserve anything.
And there are tears in her eyes that she cannot hold any longer. Still, she has pride and doesn't let anyone see that she is crying.
I am talking about some details you might have missed because the image is purposely very dark or because the movie runs too fast. But when you look at it frame by frame, and if you add some light, you notice them...
Just before something starts pounding at Theo's door, we see the house, then the stairs, then Eleanor. But have you noticed that we see a head in the stairs? More light will reveal it...
Wouldn't you say that the canopy, suddenly the mouth of a threatening monster, a devouring organism, is about to swallow Eleanor?
The ugly wool patchwork blanket is on the rocking chair when the companion is watching over the old Abigail...
... and is still at the same place, decades later, in the same condition, when Grace Markway explores the dreaded nursery!
These plants in the corridor are there when Abigail is a young girl (and the 2nd Mrs. Crain is still alive)...
... and the same plants are still there at the same place nearly a century later!
Mrs. Sannerson inherited the cane of the late Abigail. You can see it leaning against her large armchair.
She also inherited the silver platter that the companion used when she hanged herself. You can see it on the coffee table, with the cups and the biscuits.
When Eleanor takes the car from the garage in Boston to drive to Hill House, she is wearing a white t-shirt with a small knot. Her hair style is perfect and tight, she looks peaceful and well determined.
When she leaves Hill House, somewhere much later, she wears exactly the same outfit. Her hair style is undone and untidy. She looks scruffy, tensed and nervous. Was it purposely done? A before and after effect? A sense of closure? Is there another meaning to this? Women (unlike men) do make real efforts to change their outfit every single day. There must be a very good reason to wear the same outfit again.
Have a look at these screenshots and reconsider how Grace Markway appears to Eleanor at the very end of the movie. To me, it is an obvious reference to the legend of the Banshees (and maybe also a reference to the Vanishing hitchhikers, when she appears in the park). The Banshee is a ghostly lady in white, who appears to make an announcement about an imminent death. And this is exactly what happens in the movie. Grace Markway disappears, and then makes herself only visible to Eleanor, in some form of ghostly white lady, as a sign of Eleanor's forthcoming death.
Remark: I had to add much light to these screenshots to allow you to see something.
I wonder why it took me so long to realise that the "purple parlour" — an important room in the movie, a haven, a safe place to retreat — is referred to as the "little parlour" in the book and never as the "purple parlour". This means that the addition of the colour purple comes from the moviescript, not from the book. That is indeed quite strange for a movie that was purposely shot in black and white.
So I tried to imagine what it could have looked like.
Have you noticed? They are everywhere! Now that you know it, watch the movie again, and keep this in mind. You will find a mirror in almost every single Hill House "indoor" scene. In some scenes, several mirrors are present. For instance when the four team members have their very first meal together: there is a mirror behind Dr. Markway and another one behind Luke, reflecting Eleanor and Theodora. It is even more twisted than that: after the first "attack", when they all gather in Theodora's bedroom, the multiple mirrors of the room reflect each other in a very complicated arrangement.
It must have been technically difficult to set all this properly. Having a mirror in a set adds a difficulty: you must make sure that nothing "technical" (camera, lights, microphone, crew,...) reflects in the mirror. The mirrors are so numerous in the house that I am forced to conclude that it was purposely done, but what is the meaning?
These are just a few examples taken among many, many scenes, and not at all exhaustive!
Have you noticed? No wonder that one feels oppressed and observed in Hill House. An army of statues is watching you, watching every move you make, in every corner of the house. I believe it is an artistic choice because these statues are used in a couple of shots in the very foreground.
These are just a few examples taken among many, many scenes, and not at all exhaustive!
Have you noticed that, on some exterior scenes, we can see lights coming from the house? Rooms that are lit? Or something else?
At the very beginning, when we are introduced to the house, a light is switched on upstairs. It is just like an eye, giving you the horrible feeling that the house is opening an eye to stare at you.
When Eleanor is eventually forced to leave Hill House, again, some lights: one room is lit upstairs, one room is lit downstairs on the right, and there are some lights from the tower too.
Have you noticed that Hill House changed a little bit after all these years? The decoration remains completely identical with genuine period furniture, but still, the miracle of electricity made its way to Hill House too.
When Abigail is a young girl, the house is lit by gas lamps and candles. There is a huge gas-chandelier downstairs (where Mrs. Crain was carried lifeless) and another one in Abigail's bedroom (left top corner of this screenshot, the flames can hardly be seen). The rooms and corridors are generally poorly lit with glowing halos of light.
When Abigail is an old lady, the house is lit by electric bulbs. In Abigail's bedroom, we can see several electric lamps and chandeliers. The rooms and corridors are now lit by more powerful electric lights.
Some long-time fans know it already, but the others might ignore that a special scene with Theodora was shot but not included in the final cut. In this scene, Theodora is having an argument with her girlfriend who is about to leave for a special week-end, presumably with another lover. Theodora writes "I hate you" on a mirror and smashes some personal objects in the apartment that used to be their love nest.
This scene was eventually discarded from the final cut, because it stated obviously the fact that Theodora was a lesbian. Robert Wise decided to let the viewer add the clues and guess. I believe this was a good move: the lesbian couple is not hidden nor denied, but just suggested. This is an important part of Theodora's personality, but it doesn't dramatically influence the story. It just helps to understand her behaviour.
I have been hunting this deleted scene since I heard about its existence, in the early 90s. I was really disappointed that it didn't make it into the 2003 DVD edition. I was disappointed again when the Blu-Ray edition was released in 2013, still without it.
Last but not least, the story goes that the BFI (British Film Museum) has a copy of this deleted scene, included in an 'alternate early cut' of the movie. It would make sense, as the movie was shot in the UK.
Original cut of movie (shown 24 Sept 2003 at Filmhouse, Edinburgh, UK) has several differences from the general release print. Alternate opening with voice-over by the Mrs. Sannerson character in place of the Markway monologue. The titles prior to this scene are slightly different. The 'History of Hill house' scene continues into the meeting with Mrs. Sannerson and Markway but in this version, it is Sannerson who is doing most of talking. The following scene from the general release print of Markway listing his subjects on a blackboard is missing. In its place is a scene where Theo throws her lover out her apartment and, next to a photo of her lover, writes "I Hate You!" on a mirror in lipstick, looks at her reflection and mutters "I hate you too...".
She then receives her invitation from Markway. This is delivered to her by her landlady who requires the excess postage to be paid. Theo already knows this is to be paid and there is humorous exchange concerning her ESP or her 'gift'. There are several extended scenes involving Eleanor's 'inner thoughts' - most of which tie into her thoughts on her possible relationship with Markway. The scene showing her travelling to Hill house is extended with more 'inner monologue' material including a couple of shots of her turning onto 'route 238' and commenting on "Journey's end in lovers meeting...". The morning/harp scene runs longer and contains more dialogue from both Eleanor and Markway.
This print had a title card prior to the MGM logo - "This print is on loan from the National Film and Television Archive"
This main deleted scene didn't sink without a trace. Some promotional pictures were taken during the shooting, and some of these pictures were distributed. I was able to buy some of them (they don't come cheap at all)... What a delight! An intense thrill! In these pictures, you can see Theodora — in rage — wearing a new outfit that was not used in the movie, and more importantly a picture of Theodora's girlfriend.
I don't have much hope but maybe some of you would share some other pictures of this deleted scene with me?
A fine connoisseur and fan of the movie informed me that the car Eleanor is driving is a "Hillman Husky Series II". I have to confess I had never heard about this manufacturer. Although the brand is British, Eleanor is actually driving an American or European version, hence the wheel on the right side.
The Hillman Husky was a line of British passenger vehicles manufactured between 1954 and 1970 by Hillman.
A "Series II" Husky followed the "Series I" in 1960 with a four-speed gearbox, slightly lowered roof, a deeper windscreen, and altered seats. The engine compression ratio was raised to 8:1 and the carburettor changed to a Zenith 30 VIG type.
Testing the Husky in 1960 The Motor magazine recorded a top speed of 73.4 mph (118.1 km/h), acceleration from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) of 26.9 seconds and a fuel consumption of 30.8 miles per imperial gallon (9.2 L/100 km; 25.6 mpg-US). The test car cost £674 including taxes. ~ from Wikipedia
I invite you to read all the details on the Wikipedia site.
Theo, who is an artist herself and probably an art connoisseur, recognizes immediately the work of Bernard Palissy.
Bernard Palissy (France, 1510-1590) is the most famous figure in the history of French ceramics. One of the most characteristic aspects of his work can been seen in the large dishes decorated with reptiles, shells and plants cast from life.
Well, on Dec 12, 2003, I went to Paris with a couple of dear friends for a xmas shopping week-end. On Sunday, we had planned to go to Le Louvre to see some Palissy... We indeed found them. I must admit it is really strange to see the real objects, it is so realistic it looks almost alive. Please find below some pictures taken that day.
In early November 2016, a dear friend (Evert VL) visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum in London took additional pictures of superb blue Palissy plates!
Theodora's clothes are designer's clothes... and a very famous one: Mary Quant!
It makes totally sense in the movie. Theo is supposed to be a trendy, urban, fashionable girl; whilst Eleanor is supposed to be socially isolated with limited budget to dress up with designer's clothes.
Quant, Mary, 1934-, British fashion designer. After opening her boutique in London to sell clothes, she began to design them as well. She was one of the originators of the Mod or Chelsea look of the 1960s that helped make London the new center of fashion. Her designs included miniskirts; vinyl boots; dresses with striking geometric patterns and strong colors; and the wet look achieved by tightly fitted vinyl clothing for a young and avant-garde clientele.
Her filmography as "costume designer" includes:
This is Theodora's outfit when we first meet her.
This picture (left) doesn't appear in the movie. It was released as promo picture and also appears in the MGM Exhibitor's Campaign book. See this outfit in the movie (right).
This is Theodora's outfit when she first meets Dr. Markway and Luke for dinner. It is a bit masculine with a tie...
This picture (left) doesn't appear in the movie. It was released as promo picture and also appears in the MGM Exhibitor's Campaign book. See this outfit in the movie (right).
This slight variation of the previous outfit — this time with a long-sleeve coat — is not seen in the movie.
These pictures do not appear in the movie. They were released as promo pictures. The one on the left also appears in the MGM Exhibitor's Campaign book. The one on the right also appears in the 'stills galerie' — bonuses — of the Warner DVD.
This is Theodora's outfit when she shows up for breakfast. The black is chic haute-couture but also a bit aggressive.
This picture (left) doesn't appear in the movie. It was released as promo picture and also appears in the MGM Exhibitor's Campaign book. See this outfit in the movie (right).
When they share a single bedroom together, Eleanor and Theodora are both wearing their nightgown. I assume Theodora's one was a Mary Quant design. This picture does appear in the movie.
This is Theodora's outfit for the final scenes. After John rescues Eleanor in the spiral staircase, he decides that Eleanor has to leave right away. Theodora got dressed up very quickly and packs Eleanor's suitcase. This is the outfit she wears then and up until the end of the movie.
I assume that is was a Mary Quant design.
Although it should appear first in this list, there is also the outfit used in the (deleted/unused) "dispute with girlfriend" scene. Chronologically, this scene was supposed to be part of the presentation of the characters, at the beginning of the movie. It was going to be the first scene with Theo on screen, at home, with a special outfit.
I can't say for sure whether it was a Mary Quant design or not: It was released as promo picture but doesn't appear in the MGM Exhibitor's Campaign book, nor in the movie. So, I cannot find any credit about the outfit.
Have you noticed? The house is full of genuine expensive period furniture. The MGM Exhibitor's Campaign book gives all the details about the remarkable pieces that are present in the house (or, more precisely, on the set). The most expensive item is a "gilded Adams chandelier" valued at $1,400 (in 1963). The team responsible for the design of the set has really made a fantastic job! The house really looks like an old Victorian house owned by a wealthy man.
Well, I have to admit that the movie comes with a few continuity glitches. But how can we blame them? Nothing too serious anyway, just a few tiny details you will hardly notice, until you are told about them.
The Polaroid instant camera had been invented but its use to keep track of continuity during filming was not at its peak yet. Consequently, a notepad was the only tool available; an eagle eye and a lot of patience was required. Clothes, lights, actors' positions, candles height, doors, props presence and position, hair styles, cigarettes, how to make sure everything remains identical in-between takes?
When Mrs. Markway arrives, a room is lit on the ground floor, behind the taxi.
A wall lamp is also switched on. A few seconds later, when the taxi is gone, the room is still lit but the wall lamp is switched off. How could this happen? The four team members are outside; Mrs. Dudley is not in the house. Who then?
As Eleanor is hypnotized, mesmerized and irresistibly attracted by the spiral staircase in the library, something strange is happening outside. Although this new event is undoubtedly taking place at night, some windows in the tower are lit like in daylights... whilst some others remain as dark as the night. What is really going on here?
This scene is an indoor scene. So it was shot in the studios, and not on location at Ettington Park (See the page dedicated to The House for more details. You will see what is really inside the square tower). So what did happen? Could the technicians forget to check the switches? Did no one on the set notice the strange effect? That is weird.
In addition, this scene is definitely supposed to take place during night (Eleanor is wearing a nightgown), so all the exterior lights should be dimmed: the windows are surely meant to be seen, but not with such a bright light. Even at dawn, with the sun rising at East, there should not be such a huge difference between the various windows.
Pay attention to the stained glass just above Theo's door. When John and Luke are in the corridor, the stained glass is brightly lit.
A few seconds later, as they enter Theo's bedroom, the stained glass is almost in the dark, although the lights seems unchanged in the corridor.
You noticed it was partially shot in studio, but did you notice the rest?
Ironically, nowadays (2016) the old road in front of the house (Ettington Park) still exists, but cannot be used anymore. It leads to a rusted metal bridge (over troubled water), which began to fall apart, literally in pieces. Instead, when you leave the main entrance of the house, the road goes to the right. Eleanor could not have come from the left because there is simply no road but a beautiful lawn.
That one is so obvious, you can't have missed it.
As Eleanor enters the dinning room to have a breakfast, we can see in the background a dark wall with a lighter zigzag motif.
But 5 seconds later, with a different camera position, the colour of the same wall is really different. The zigzag motif disappeared and the whole panel looks lighter and brighter.
What happened? There could be several explanations for this. I don't believe the wall was changed in any way.
It could be a different roll of negative film, which reacted very differently to the same colour.
It could also be for instance a colour lighting: if you light up a blue motif with a blue light, the motif disappears. If you light up a red motif with a red light, the motif disappears. They might have changed the lighting between the two shots. That is really what I think happened. If you look closely at the first motif, you will notice that a lamp on a nearby table makes a shadow on this wall and in this shadow, you just cannot see the zigzag. Then 5 seconds later, the wall looks completely different and the shadow of the lamp is gone too.
See how this sample colourful motif reacts under different lights.
Can you see for yourself how this same motif looks totally different under different colour lights when converted to black and white?
Can you explain why Eleanor's dark blouse with a big knot turns to bright white when she leaves the corridor for the dining room?
I had recently a very interesting discussion about this topic with an American fan who shared a very interesting theory. I didn't realise that this type of change could be due to a colour lightning (see above), or simply due to the use of coloured lens filters.
If you use a blue filter for a black & white film, then skin tones look dark and reds look dark. However, if you use a red filter, then skin looks smooth and white, and red clothes look white.
The assumption is that it is a pink or red blouse and that Robert Wise used a blue filter on the first shot and a red filter or no filter on the second shot.
Wait a minute. Have a serious look at all these pictures.
Eleanor doesn't sleep in her bed, but in a meridian sofa. This sofa is leaning against a wall; behind this wall is the corridor that leads to all the bedrooms and the nursery.
The meridian sofa is (obviously) asymmetric. There is a place for the head, and another for the feet. Close to the place for the feet, against the same wall, stands a French door with curtains.
Before the threatening figure appears on the wall, we have a look through this French door. We can see outside of the house. This is a view of some towers. But that's just impossible! The outside world is behind the opposite wall, behind Eleanor's bed, where Theodora is sleeping!
I guess no one told Richard Johnson that his cigarette was in his left hand...
...and then suddenly in his right hand, noticeably shorter.
Wait a minute. Have a look again at these screenshots taken from the same scene. When the camera makes a close up of the mirror, we see the ladies in bed, but nothing between the bed and the mirror. A few seconds later, with a wider view of the bedroom, we clearly see that there is a table and lamp, between the mirror and the bed. It should be reflected in the mirror, right?
Unless, of course, the table was removed to make room for the camera making the close up of the mirror. I believe that this is what happened. Indeed, this close up of the mirror is the start of a panoramic scrolling view of the bedroom. This probably required heavy camera and machinery.
The movie and the story are set in the US, near Boston. However, the movie was actually shot in the UK, since the MGM studio near London could use a lower budget to produce the same result. Some typical tiny English details surreptitiously infiltrated in the movie.
Are these two English policemen (two Bobbies) near the exit of the garage located in Boston, US?
The house is "to let" but should it be "for rent" in the US?
Eleanor, answering the obscure call from the house, flees from one room to the other, from one corridor to the other. She then enters the music room, where a mirror falls in her presence. But the mirror doesn't shatter into pieces on the wooden floor. It keeps hanging on the wall.
Well the explanation for this is clearly visible, and more obvious if you add some light. The mirror is attached with a string...
It is not something purely technical or abstract to understand: a camera, just like your eye, can only focus at one distance at a time. That means that it adapts to see sharply the object you are staring at. The other objects that are farther away will be blurred, as well as the closer objects.
Imagine a fly on the window. If you stare at the fly, you will see it sharply but the trees in the garden will be blurred. Now if you stare at a tree in the garden through the window, the fly on the window will be blurred. You can only focus at one distance at a time: the fly or the tree.
The camera has the same limitation. But sometimes the director would like to see sharply two objects that cannot be seen sharply together in reality. For instance, a scene in the foreground and another one in the background. It seems easy with today's techniques and computer generated effects but in the sixties, it was not... So there is a trick, a technique called "split screen". The idea is to shoot the scene twice, one time with the focus on the first object, and a second time with the focus on the second object. Then all you have to do is assemble the two sharp "parts" to create one single image.
To make it work, there are a couple of laws to respect:
No. The swinging mirror! To get such an effect, you just need to shoot the reflection of the scene in a mirror, and move the mirror while filming. You can move the camera to get the same effect but, trust me, it is easier with a mirror.
Another proof — if needed — of Robert Wise's talent. This scene is absolutely superb and yet easy to set up: As Eleanor moves forwards, the camera moves backwards to keep the distance between them unchanged. So the background becomes blurred; it is normal because it is farther and farther away. The lights are progressively dimmed as well to end up with a complete darkness in the background. Eleanor is disappearing inch by inch into this house!
That's right. With this wonderful not-ready-for-use lens, it is nearly impossible to figure out the exact shape of a room. Your brain just cannot materialize what is really going on in reality.
With software, I have created a panorama view out of several screenshots. Look at the result: it is so difficult to draw or figure out the shape of a room...
I wonder what kind of effect or meaning this was supposed to add to the scene, but the grass is badly (see the rough decoupage) incrusted in the nightly view of Hill House. It seems that the grass shot during the "most lit" view was cut and reused in the "less lit" view of the house, to make it look "luminous" at night.
Did you pay a good attention to that view of the music room? We see it when Eleanor is drifting and running around in various rooms of the house. Did you notice the incredibly high ceiling? Can you see the length of the cord of the chandelier? Well, as a matter of fact, if you add plenty of light on this screen shot, you can actually see the top of the actual set, created with wood.
With today's special FX (special effects) and CGI (Computer Generated Images) it's just so easy to create the perfect morphing. Here is a simple and rough one (just 8 intermediate images), created in less than 15 minutes with my own computer.
But back in the early sixties, I guess the only available solution was to create this "fade to next image" effect with more or less plausible median (intermediate) picture.
Again, with today's special FX (special effects) and CGI (Computer Generated Images) it's just so easy to create a fake "breathing door" effect. But Robert Wise had to use a much simpler — yet as effective — solution: the door is actually built with layers and layers of laminated wood.
To make it "breathe", some strong operators/workers were behind the door, pushing it. It was that simple. Still, it's one of the best remembered feature of the movie.
Well, well, that a strange balcony! We distinctly see this part of the house when Eleanor first sees Hill House.
We see it again when Eleanor flees with her car.
So, look attentively: when Eleanor, staring at the tower, gets dizzy (or pushed?) and nearly falls off the balcony, she stands on a balcony that simply doesn't exist in the house. Playing the movie frame by frame, you can even see some "too short be noticed" technical construction details, including a hole with a ladder. I added a close-up.
It lasts only three frames or so.
You might also wonder: how was the camera set-up?
Instinctively, it is quite obvious that Eleanor is the main character of the movie, with the longest screen presence. However, as scientist, I like facts and figures, so I decided to check. I exported the complete movie into single images, frame by frame, and started to count.
Checking who is visible on every single frame would be a maddening task, as least manually. I decided to focus on "logical scenes", instead of single "frames". For instance, Eleanor and Theodora discussing in Eleanor's bedroom is a scene, according to me. During that scene, we might see Eleanor alone (discussing with Theodora, off screen), or Theodora alone (discussing with Eleanor off screen), or the both of them. For that scene, I would record that both Eleanor and Theodora are present - despite the fact that, individually, they might not appear on every single frame of the scene. After cutting the movie into scenes, I did an inventory of all the character who are presents in those scenes, and the duration of the scene, in frames. Of course, if a character enters or leaves during a scene, I have to break down the scene into shorter scenes, to keep an accurate recording of who is actually present and who is not. For instance, after the writings on the wall, the Dr. Markway, Eleanor and Theodora discuss in the dining room. It would seem logical to identify this sequence as a single scene. However, Mrs. Dudley enters at some point and demands to clear up the breakfast, then leaves. So I broke down this scene into 3 shorter scenes: before Mrs. Dudley's entrance, with Mrs. Dudley, after Mrs. Dudley's departure.
Obviously, the movie has main and secondary characters. It didn't seem relevant to me to record the on screen presence of absolutely everyone. So I made choices and decided to focus on the characters who live in the house during the experiment: Mr. and Mrs. Dudley, Eleanor, Theodora, Dr. Markway, Luke and Grace.
No one likes to read long tables with figures, so I created a couple of graphics that should perfectly illustrate these statistics.
With 84% of screen presence, Eleanor is the undisputed main character of the movie.
Surprisingly (again, to me), Dr. Markway and Theodora share almost the same screen presence, with a slight advantage for the Doctor.
Amazingly (at least, to me), Eleanor is alone on screen for almost 20% of the movie!
Since I recorded an "inventory" of all characters present in all the scenes I have identified, it allowed me to demonstrate that the most common configuration is Eleanor + Theodora + Dr. Markway + Luke sharing a scene, then Eleanor + Theodora, then Eleanor + Dr. Markway, then Eleanor alone, etc.
It's not on the ceiling, it's the cover of the book that Theo was reading, and that she left on her night table before switching off the light. This got me confused for years until I read the movie script. In this scene, Theo is reading a copy of the bible that belonged to Abigail Crain: the name of the latter is embossed on the leather cover. This is the book that Theo insists to show to Eleanor before they start arguing. After the falsely nice "Good night, Nellie my Nell" from Theo, Eleanor — obviously very upset — lays in her bed, and seem to stare at the ceiling for a brief moment. In the next shot, we see a close up of the embossed "Abigail Crain".
My brain concluded that Eleanor was looking at something on the ceiling, just above her. The movie editing was misleading. Maybe Eleanor's look at the ceiling should have been cut? Maybe the close-up scene of the book was not enough zoomed out, to see the whole book or the whole night table? It's very difficult to realise that you're actually looking at a night table with a book and a lamp on it.
When Theo closes the book, you can see very briefly (and with a wide screen) the embossed name on the cover.
Last but not least, I can hardly see the point: why does it make any kind of difference that Theo is reading Abigail's bible?
This film is so subtle, intelligent, moving, fascinating, captivating, addictive and disturbing... that nothing should spoil your experience.
You are absolutely free but just consider this as a friendly advice. Choose a rainy or windy dark evening. Do not spoil it and make sure that everything is perfect before starting. Do not let anything or anyone disturb you: answering machine "on" if you still have a land line, social networks "offline", smartphone "off", tablet "off", computer "off", door "locked". Do not watch it alone. Do not watch it in a crowded room either, your best friend or a friend or two will be fine. You will probably be happy to have someone to talk to when it is over (to share your experience). If you are the kind who nibbles, take immediately the food and drink you need (and go to the bathroom before you start). Do not watch it until it is really dark outside. Do not watch it in a luminous room, that would ruin the experience. Dim the lights. An atmospheric lighting will be fine. The soundtrack, together with the black and white images, has the highest importance in this film. So make sure that the room is really quiet and turn the volume up. Feel cosy and get ready to have a good chill.
This movie was and remains my very favourite one. Although I have been watching it countless times, I still get a lot of pleasure and thrill in watching it over and over again. It is not as good and as intense as the first time but I appreciate every single time I watch it. In fact, I would even say that every time, I discover new details I had not noticed the previous times. To continue to enjoy it, try different things...
You will discover a lot of details...
... if you keep on looking at the people who do not speak (you usually spontaneously look at the people who do speak)
... if you focus on the set instead of the actors
... if you have the chance to watch it on a huge screen (home cinema or movie theater)
Just try and you will see that every single detail was purposely chosen. It is definitely a real masterpiece.
What are you talking about? Yes. I realise how incredible that sounds, but if you are the lucky owner of a 3D TV able to perform some "on the fly" 2D to 3D conversion, you will be amazed at the result.
The crisp black and white image seems to be perfect for that purpose (I had weak and unimpressive results with very colourful movies or music videos). The 3D conversion engine is able to perfectly understand where the background and the foreground are, and to create some depth accordingly.
Don't expect to see any object popping out of the TV, it's all about depth. Not just "front" and "back", but a whole range of depth; a genuine 3D perception.
If you have the chance to see it for yourself, you will be very impressed to see highly realistic 3D scenes. It works incredibly well in many scenes where an actor is moving in the foreground while the camera also moves, creating a "parallax scrolling effect". Sadly, I cannot make any 3D screenshot to demonstrate this.
I cannot make any statement nor give any guarantee about every single model of TV. I had great results with the Samsung SmartTV UE46ES7000
You might be also interested by these pages:
The Innocents is a 1961 horror film based on the novella The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Directed and produced by Jack Clayton, it stars Deborah Kerr, Michael Redgrave and Megs Jenkins. Falling into the subgenre of psychological horror, the film makes use of its lighting, music, and direction for its effect rather than gore and shock factor. Its atmospheric feel was achieved by cinematographer Freddie Francis, who employed deep focus in many scenes, as well as bold, minimal lighting. It was filmed on location at the gothic mansion of Sheffield Park, in East Sussex (UK, Europe). The film marked the first film role for child actor Pamela Franklin.
In Victorian England, the uncle of orphaned niece Flora and nephew Miles hires Miss Giddens as governess to raise the children at his estate with total independence and authority. Soon after her arrival, Miss Giddens comes to believe that the spirits of the former governess Miss Jessel and valet Peter Quint are possessing the children. Miss Giddens decides to help the children to face and exorcise the spirits.
My review: an excellent movie, although I still believe that the decision of Robert Wise not to show anything is the best solution to instillate the fear of ghosts. In The Innocents, the ghosts are seen, which was not really necessary to produce that sense of unease throughout the film. The director perfectly created an eerie feeling that grows and grows during the film. The house is not as threatening as Hill House but the outdoor scenes (in the garden) are superb. The Criterion Blu-ray edition is a must-have!
The Uninvited is a 1944 American supernatural mystery/romance film directed by Lewis Allen. It is based on the Dorothy Macardle novel Uneasy Freehold.
A brother and sister move into an old seaside house they find abandoned for many years on the English coast. Their original enchantment with the house diminishes as they hear stories of the previous owners and meet their daughter (now a young woman) who now lives as a neighbor with her grandfather. Also heard are unexplained sounds during the night. It becomes obvious that the house is haunted. The reasons for the haunting and how they relate to the daughter whom the brother is falling in love with, prove to be a complex mystery. As they are compelled to solve it, the supernatural activity at the house increases to a frightening level.
My review: maybe I am just too demanding but this one was really disappointing to me. The romance part of the movie plus a lot of easy tricks didn't convince me at all. Still, if you want to give it a try, don't miss the Criterion Blu-ray edition!
Waxwork II: Lost in Time, directed by Anthony Hickox, pays a not-very-subtle but funny homage to The Haunting, with numerous sequences in black & white, and characters who strangely look like the cast of the original movie. See for yourself!
If you have not seen it, lucky you! Do not change a thing!
If you have seen it, now you know that making a good movie requires talent whilst making a awfully bad movie just requires a lot of money.
The one and only positive side-effect of this abominable remake was that the Shirley Jackson's book was reprinted in 1999 with a new cover in numerous countries, in various translations (the English editions were always widely available).