Facts about The Haunting

This web site is dedicated to The Haunting, a 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.

The Haunting, 1963, Laurent [ficsx22] logo #7

Among the various descriptions available, I particularly like the one translated from the French DVD:

To conduct his experiments with paranormal phenomena, Dr. Markway gathers a team in an old mansion, reputedly haunted. During the first night, the guests are terrorised by strange noises. Eleanor is on the brink of depression and the Dr. Markway advises her to leave. She refuses, claiming that the house holds her back.

Screen shots

In their black and white glory

The Haunting, screenshot #001400The Haunting, screenshot #013438The Haunting, screenshot #018240 The Haunting, screenshot #022976The Haunting, screenshot #024269The Haunting, screenshot #030720 The Haunting, screenshot #031182The Haunting, screenshot #032500The Haunting, screenshot #036250 The Haunting, screenshot #042000The Haunting, screenshot #044320The Haunting, screenshot #057702 The Haunting, screenshot #059507The Haunting, screenshot #063500The Haunting, screenshot #087956 The Haunting, screenshot #095129The Haunting, screenshot #104310The Haunting, screenshot #107503 The Haunting, screenshot #117196The Haunting, screenshot #117491The Haunting, screenshot #129500 The Haunting, screenshot #130260The Haunting, screenshot #133461The Haunting, screenshot #139102 The Haunting, screenshot #143863The Haunting, screenshot #147670The Haunting, screenshot #152736 The Haunting, screenshot #154396The Haunting, screenshot #155731The Haunting, screenshot #159500

Disclaimer

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 film.

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:

  • They were more or less grainy
  • They were lacking "deep blacks"

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.

Synopsis

From All movie guide

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 Sanderson (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

From Barnes and Noble

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

Technical information

General

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

Premiere and Awards

Premiere: Sept 18, 1963, New York City
Awards: Golden Globes 1964 (Nomination: Best Motion Picture Director: Robert Wise)

Production

Production Companies: Argyle Enterprises (Robert Wise) / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc (MGM)
Producer: Robert Wise
Associate Producer: Denis Johnson

Script

Script: Nelson Gidding
Novel: The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson

Direction

Director: Robert Wise
Assistant Director: David Tomblin

Photography

Director of Photography: Davis Boulton
Camera Operator: Alan McCabe
Continuity: Hazel Swift

Editing and Post production

Editor: Ernest Walter

Music and Sound

Music / Conductor: Humphrey Searle
Recording Supervisor: A.W. Watkins
Sound Recordist: Gerry Turner
Dubbing Mixer: J.B. Smith
Dubbing Editor: Allan Sones

Make up and Costumes

Make Up: Tom Smith
Hairdresser: Joan Johnstone
Claire Bloom's Clothes: Mary Quant
Wardrobe Supervisor: Maude Churchill

Special effects

Special Effects: Tom Howard

Design and Set construction

Production Designer: Elliot Scott
Set Decorator: John Jarvis
Sketch Artist: Ivor Beddoes

Locations

Ettington Park, England, UK (Hill House exterior scenes)
Borehamwood Studios, England, UK (Interior scenes)

Casting

Casting Director: Irene Howard

Cast

Julie Harris
Julie
Harris

Eleanor
Lance
Claire Bloom
Claire
Bloom

Theodora
Richard Johnson
Richard
Johnson

Dr. John
Markway
Russ Tamblyn
Russ
Tamblyn

Luke
Sanderson
Lois Maxwell
Lois
Maxwell

Grace
Markway
Howard Lang
Howard
Lang

Hugh
Crain
Pamela Buckley
Pamela
Buckley

First
Mrs. Crain
Freda Knorr
Freda
Knorr

Second
Mrs. Crain
Janet Mansell
Janet
Mansell

Abgail
at age 6
Amy Dalby
Amy
Dalby

Abigail
at age 80
Rosemary Dorken
Rosemary
Dorken

Companion
Fay Compton
Fay
Compton

Mrs. Sanderson
Ronald Adam
Ronald
Adam

Eldridge
Harper
Verina Greenlaw
Verina
Greenlaw

Dora
Fredericks
Diane Clare
Diane
Clare

Carrie
Fredericks
Paul Maxwell
Paul
Maxwell

Bud
Fredericks
Claude Jones
Claude
Jones

Garage
attendant
Valentine Dyall
Valentine
Dyall

Mr. Dudley
Rosalie Crutchley
Rosalie
Crutchley

Mrs. Dudley
Ettington Park
Ettington
Park

Hill
House

And also...
Susan Richard as Nurse
Mavis Villiers as Landlady

Quotes

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...

I was reading one of the very scary passages — hackles were going up and down my neck — when Nelson Gidding... burst through the door to ask me a question. I literally jumped about three feet out of my chair. I said, 'If it can do that to me sitting and reading, it ought to be something I want to make a picture out of'.

About Ettington Park and the belgian infra-red film...

The exterior was a several-hundred-years-old manor house out in the country... It was a pretty horrifying-looking thing under certain kinds of lights, and I accentuated that by shooting some of the exteriors with infra-red film.

About the not-quite-ready-to-use Panavision's lense...

I shot the film in Panavision and, at that time, there wasn't any wide-angle lens in anamorphic... I wanted to make those hallways look long and dark and dank.

The president of Panavision warned Robert Wise...

— 'We have developed a 30mm, but it is not ready for use yet. It has got a lot of distortion in it'.
— I said, 'That's exactly what I need for certain places. I want the house to look almost alive'.

About the spiral staicase...

The spiral staircase in the library was such an effective prop in the picture. It was scary when you were up on that thing and it was rocking around. The one shot we did on it that fascinates people the most is when the camera is at the bottom and goes up. We designed the banister of the stairway to be so wide and thick that it would fit a small rig with wheels on it — a little, light dolly that would hold a hand-held camera. We had our camera on that and we had a control wire underneath, all the way down. We simply took the camera up to the top on this rig, started it, rolled it down, and then reversed the film. It was all done on that balustrade.

About the door that breathes...

Another simple effect was the door that buckles. The door was all laminated wood, layers of wood on top of others. All I had was a strong prop man on the other side who would push it and move it. That's all it was and it scared the hell out of everybody.

 

The complex story of The Haunting

Foreword

The film 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...

The Haunting is about...

...Eleanor Lance

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.

...A house: Hill House

Let Dr. Markway introduce you to the house:

An evil old house, the kind some people call "haunted", is like an undiscovered country waiting to be explored. Hill House has stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more. Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House and whatever walked there, walked alone...
Scandal, murder, insanity, suicide... The history of Hill House was ideal. It had everything I wanted. It was built 90 hard, very hard years ago by a man named Hugh Crain as a home for his wife and daughter is the most remote part of New England he could find. It was an evil house from the beginning, a house that was born bad.

...A team of researchers

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

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.

...The human needs

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.

...The possibility of life after death

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:

And we who walk here — walk alone.

 

Have you noticed these details?

Preparing the experiment

The names on the chalkboard were not quite randomly chosen

At the very beginning, Dr. Markway selects some assistants...

The Haunting, screenshot #013438

...in a list consisting of:

  • Albert Trepuk
  • Charles Stern
  • Joshua Walden
  • Ruth Murray
  • Patricia Doyle
  • Theodora-?
  • Paul Kirschner
  • Rufus Mathewson
  • Eleanor Lance

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 of a scientist

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.

The Haunting, screenshot #013438, close up #1The Haunting, screenshot #013438, close up #2

But how come there is a poster of Mendel's first law of genetics (law of segregation)?

My mother...

Help Eleanor, come home!

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.

The Haunting, screenshot #014078The Haunting, screenshot #014078, close up #1The Haunting, screenshot #014078, close up #2

On the way to Hill House

An early bird

Since she did 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...

The Haunting, screenshot #017500The Haunting, screenshot #017500, close up

In a hurry to leave

Eleanor's suitcase is on the back seat, and as she breaks to read the signs and the letter, the suitcase falls...

The Haunting, screenshot #017737The Haunting, screenshot #017748The Haunting, screenshot #017751 The Haunting, screenshot #017737, close upThe Haunting, screenshot #017748, close upThe Haunting, screenshot #017751, close up

1962 stickers

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.
It makes sense: although shot in the UK, the action supposedly takes place in the USA, and starts in Boston, Massachusetts.

The Haunting, screenshot #019911The Haunting, screenshot #019911, close up

F3251

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 did ask 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...

The Haunting, screenshot #022952The Haunting, screenshot #023707 The Haunting, screenshot #022952, close upThe Haunting, screenshot #023707, close up

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.

In Hill House

The other side

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.

The Haunting, screenshot #028023

Afterwards, a panoramic scrolling lets us discover most of the lobby. Most of it... Except for the very right side of the front door.

The Haunting, screenshot #027495 to 027769

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°).

The Haunting, screenshot #006095The Haunting, screenshot #006095, upside down

A very unusual statue... in a very unusual scene...

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?

The Haunting, screenshot #080094The Haunting, screenshot #084036The Haunting, screenshot #082066

The devil is here too

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?

The Haunting, screenshot #132764

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.

Rennes-le-chateau, the devil, #1Rennes-le-chateau, the devil, #2

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 in The Da Vinci Code, in which the fictional character Jacques Saunière is named after the priest.

The freezing statues

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!).

The Haunting, screenshot #097039The Haunting, screenshot #132869The Haunting, screenshot #132990

Eleanor's neighbour

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.

The Haunting, screenshot #056457

Theo's neighbour

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.

The Haunting, screenshot #032221The Haunting, screenshot #032651The Haunting, screenshot #033231 The Haunting, screenshot #065835The Haunting, screenshot #066511The Haunting, screenshot #067085

Here are a few close up screenshots

The Haunting, screenshot #032221, close upThe Haunting, screenshot #032651, close upThe Haunting, screenshot #066511, close up

The 'clean' deaths

Elegant and refined

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 evidence

The Haunting, screenshot #004361
Hugh Crain's young wife died seconds before she was to set eyes on the house. She was killed when, for no apparent reason, the horses bolted, crashing her carriage against a big tree.
Her death is represented by her bracelet sliding along her wrist.
The Haunting, screenshot #006284
The 2nd Mrs. Crain died when, scared to death, she felt or was strangely pushed down the stairs.
Her death is represented by her keys that fall and that she cannot hold/grip anymore.
The Haunting, screenshot #004720
Hugh Crain died in a drowning accident.
Although not seen on the screen, drowning is also a clean death with no blood.
The Haunting, screenshot #008159
The story goes that Abigail Crain died calling for help in the nursery upstairs while the companion fooled around with a farm hand on the veranda.
Her death is represented by the stick that falls because she cannot hold it anymore.
The Haunting, screenshot #009180
The companion hanged herself in the library.
Her death is represented by one shoe that falls in the void.
The Haunting, screenshot #156262
Eleanor dies crashing her car against the same big tree. It ends where it started with Mrs. Crain.
Her death is represented by her wrist, hanging lifeless from the window.

Ménage à trois

Dr. Markway, Eleanor and Grace

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

— You must be Eleanor
— I'm unsure at the moment
— If it turns out you are not, I'll be disappointed
— Clever Eleanor! You catch on fast

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 does not 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...

The way Dr. Markway treats Eleanor

The Haunting, screenshot #038495The Haunting, screenshot #050237The Haunting, screenshot #051403 The Haunting, screenshot #055975The Haunting, screenshot #068950The Haunting, screenshot #077312 The Haunting, screenshot #077490The Haunting, screenshot #081578The Haunting, screenshot #085000 The Haunting, screenshot #088087The Haunting, screenshot #088184The Haunting, screenshot #107503 The Haunting, screenshot #114428The Haunting, screenshot #135797The Haunting, screenshot #143863 The Haunting, screenshot #147000The Haunting, screenshot #147239The Haunting, screenshot #147670 The Haunting, screenshot #148919The Haunting, screenshot #149120The Haunting, screenshot #150745 The Haunting, screenshot #153120The Haunting, screenshot #154385The Haunting, screenshot #156262

The way Dr. Markway treats Grace, his wife

The Haunting, screenshot #117196The Haunting, screenshot #119371The Haunting, screenshot #119686 The Haunting, screenshot #122426The Haunting, screenshot #125500The Haunting, screenshot #129500 The Haunting, screenshot #156785The Haunting, screenshot #158212The Haunting, screenshot #159170

Unconventional love

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.

Now what do you think about this

The Haunting, screenshot #032500The Haunting, screenshot #034000The Haunting, screenshot #038270 The Haunting, screenshot #041519The Haunting, screenshot #042000The Haunting, screenshot #043978 The Haunting, screenshot #046963The Haunting, screenshot #054244The Haunting, screenshot #056457 The Haunting, screenshot #059507The Haunting, screenshot #063500The Haunting, screenshot #075497 The Haunting, screenshot #079647The Haunting, screenshot #083652The Haunting, screenshot #090887 The Haunting, screenshot #093000The Haunting, screenshot #096409The Haunting, screenshot #116500 The Haunting, screenshot #117491The Haunting, screenshot #122168The Haunting, screenshot #128103 The Haunting, screenshot #149317The Haunting, screenshot #150518The Haunting, screenshot #152736

Suffer little children

In the nursery

The words Suffer little children can be read on the nursery walls.

The Haunting, screenshot #122188The Haunting, screenshot #122188, close up

The book that Abigail is reading is the Holy Bible...
And there is a crucifix in the room.

The Haunting, screenshot #006770The Haunting, screenshot #006770, close up #1The Haunting, screenshot #006770, close up #2

A quote from the bible

The sentence

Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not.

can be found in the Bible in...

Mark 10:14

But when Jesus saw [it], he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.

Luke 18:16

But Jesus called them [unto him], and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.

Matthew 19:14

But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

Interpretation of the bible

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!"

Personal interpretation

I absolutely don't understand the purpose of such a decoration in a nursery. Can someone explain and elaborate?

The disappointment

So sad

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 does not have a lot of self-confidence, and this will probably reinforce the feeling that she does not worth anything and does not deserve anything.

The Haunting, screenshot #123658The Haunting, screenshot #123658, close up

And there are tears in her eyes that she cannot hold any longer. Still, she has pride and does not let anyone see that she is crying.

The Haunting, screenshot #123692The Haunting, screenshot #123692, close up

Too fast or too dark

What are you talking about?

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...

The statue is alive!

The Haunting, screenshot #136753
In the book, a beam of light comes from the eyes of the statue.
In the movie, the life of the statue is more subtly expressed...
The Haunting, screenshot #136905
Compare these two images.
You can notice the light that changes on its face (see the cheeks).

The head in the stairs

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...

The Haunting, screenshot #058317The Haunting, screenshot #058317, with light

A small creature swallowed whole by a monster!

Wouldn't you say that the canopy, suddenly the mouth of a threatening monster, a devouring organism, is about to swallow Eleanor?

The Haunting, screenshot #031182The Haunting, screenshot #031182, with light

Funny!

The indestructible wool patchwork blanket

The ugly wool patchwork blanket is on the rocking chair when the companion is watching over the old Abigail...

The Haunting, screenshot #007739The Haunting, screenshot #007739, close up

... and is still at the same place, decades later, in the same condition, when Grace Markway explores the dreaded nursery!

The Haunting, screenshot #121701The Haunting, screenshot #121701, close up

The incredibly resistant house plants

These plants in the corridor are there when Abigail is a young girl (and the 2nd Mrs. Crain is still alive)...

The Haunting, screenshot #005338The Haunting, screenshot #005338, close up

... and the same plants are still there at the same place nearly a century later!

The Haunting, screenshot #055650The Haunting, screenshot #055650, close up

The same clothes

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.

The Haunting, screenshot #016827

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.

The Haunting, screenshot #153900

The Banshee

Banshees and Vanishing hitchhikers

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.

The Haunting, screenshot #147700The Haunting, screenshot #155748

Which stairs?

More than one, obviously

The Haunting, screenshot #027650, with light
First and foremost, there is the main stairs that lead to the bedrooms and the dreaded nursery.
The Haunting, screenshot #028300, with light
But did you notice that Hill House is supposed to have a 2nd floor? We can see the stairs leading to this additional floor when Eleanor follows Mrs. Dudley to her bedroom. Please also note the wooden arch that leads "somewhere else".
The Haunting, screenshot #028422, with light
When Eleanor stops to look at the statue, we can even see that behind the wooden arch is another flight of stairs, really less luxurious. Maybe one reserved for the staff?
The Haunting, screenshot #037000, with light
Then, when Eleanor and Theo explore the house together, Theo climbs a few steps of another staircase. This is clearly not the main staircase of the house. Compare the decorations at the lower part of the banister.
The Haunting, screenshot #120060, with light
When Mrs. Markway joins the ghost hunt, we clearly see the stairs that lead to the 2nd floor.
The Haunting, screenshot #120954, with light
As she's about to enter the nursery, we can also see another corridor with some stairs (down). Apparently this is where the bedroom of Luke is located (he comes out of this passage when the Dr Markway discovers the "cold spot").
The Haunting, screenshot #086075, with light
And these are just the wooden stairs of the house. I'm not even mentioning the spiral metal staircase of the tower!

Remark: I had to add much light to these screenshots to allow you to see something.

Obsessions

An obsession for mirrors

They are everywhere!

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?

A few examples

These are just a few examples taken among many, many scenes, and not at all exhaustive!

The Haunting, screenshot #f.00.19.01The Haunting, screenshot #f.00.19.05The Haunting, screenshot #f.00.19.17 The Haunting, screenshot #f.00.19.35The Haunting, screenshot #f.00.20.12The Haunting, screenshot #f.00.20.25 The Haunting, screenshot #f.00.21.51The Haunting, screenshot #f.00.22.07The Haunting, screenshot #f.00.22.16 The Haunting, screenshot #f.00.22.52The Haunting, screenshot #f.00.23.42The Haunting, screenshot #f.00.26.10 The Haunting, screenshot #f.00.26.35The Haunting, screenshot #f.00.26.50The Haunting, screenshot #f.00.28.11 The Haunting, screenshot #f.00.33.54The Haunting, screenshot #f.00.34.33The Haunting, screenshot #f.01.00.56 The Haunting, screenshot #f.01.15.02The Haunting, screenshot #f.01.20.47The Haunting, screenshot #f.01.33.47

An obsession for statues

Everywhere you look...

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.

A few examples

These are just a few examples taken among many, many scenes, and not at all exhaustive!

The Haunting, screenshot #028480The Haunting, screenshot #029550The Haunting, screenshot #030500 The Haunting, screenshot #040141The Haunting, screenshot #040878The Haunting, screenshot #044320 The Haunting, screenshot #058040The Haunting, screenshot #059993The Haunting, screenshot #076074 The Haunting, screenshot #080094The Haunting, screenshot #112233The Haunting, screenshot #124407 The Haunting, screenshot #126307The Haunting, screenshot #126359The Haunting, screenshot #132764 The Haunting, screenshot #132990The Haunting, screenshot #133461The Haunting, screenshot #133854

 

Lights

Lights from the house

Subtly done

Have you noticed that, on some exterior scenes, we can see lights coming from the house? Rooms that are lit? Or something else?

An eye

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.

The Haunting, screenshot #003383The Haunting, screenshot #003383, close up
The Haunting, screenshot #003458The Haunting, screenshot #003458, close up
The Haunting, screenshot #003626The Haunting, screenshot #003626, close up

Eyes

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.

The Haunting, screenshot #154253The Haunting, screenshot #154385The Haunting, screenshot #154396
The Haunting, screenshot #155809The Haunting, screenshot #155850The Haunting, screenshot #159500

Lights in the house

From candles to electricity

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.

The Haunting, screenshot #004670The Haunting, screenshot #005484The Haunting, screenshot #006657

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.

The Haunting, screenshot #007470The Haunting, screenshot #007598The Haunting, screenshot #056016

 

Previously unreleased

The main deleted scene

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 discovers that her girlfriend has left her/has cheated on her (to be confirmed). 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 does not 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.

More information from TCM : Turner Classic Movies

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. Sanderson 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. Sanderson and Markway but in this version, it is Sanderson 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"

Promo pictures

This main deleted scene did not 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?

The Haunting, promo picture #5303.45The Haunting, promo picture #5303.46

 

Props and costumes

The Hillman Husky Series II car

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.

Palissy!

Theo knows

Theo, who is an artist herself and probably an art connoisseur, recognizes immediately the work of Bernard Palissy.

The Haunting, screenshot #044320The Haunting, screenshot #044320, close up

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.

Bernard Palissy

Paris, Le Louvre museum

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.

Le Louvre, Paris, exterior #1Le Louvre, Paris, exterior #2Le Louvre, Paris, exterior #3 Le Louvre, Paris, Palissy #01Le Louvre, Paris, Palissy #02Le Louvre, Paris, Palissy #03 Le Louvre, Paris, Palissy #04Le Louvre, Paris, Palissy #05Le Louvre, Paris, Palissy #06

Mary Quant clothes

Mary Quant?

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.

Mary Quant

Her filmography as "costume designer" includes:

  • The Haunting (1963)
  • Live It Up (1963) [aka "Sing and Swing" (1964) (USA)]
  • Georgy Girl (1966) (for Charlotte Rampling)
  • Two for the Road (1967)

Theodora's clothes...

This is Theodora's outfit when we first meet her.
This picture (left) does not appear in the movie. It was released as promo picture and also appears in the A3-format MGM promo booklet. See this outfit in the movie (right).

The Haunting, Theodora, outfit #1 The Haunting, screenshot #032500

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) does not appear in the movie. It was released as promo picture and also appears in the A3-format MGM promo booklet. See this outfit in the movie (right).

The Haunting, Theodora, outfit #2 The Haunting, screenshot #041361

This slight variation of the previous outfit — this time with long sleeves — is not seen in the movie.
This picture (left) does not appear in the movie. It was released as promo picture and also appears in the A3-format MGM promo booklet.

The Haunting, Theodora, outfit #3

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) does not appear in the movie. It was released as promo picture and also appears in the A3-format MGM promo booklet. See this outfit in the movie (right).

The Haunting, Theodora, outfit #4 The Haunting, screenshot #074711

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.

The Haunting, screenshot #091476

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.

The Haunting, screenshot #152688

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 does not appear in the A3-format MGM promo booklet, nor in the movie. So, I cannot find any credit about the outfit.

The Haunting, Theodora, outfit #7

Genuine period furniture

Everywhere you look...

Have you noticed? The house is full of genuine expensive period furniture. The A3-format MGM promo booklet 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.

The evidence

The Haunting, screenshot #027695The Haunting, screenshot #029529The Haunting, screenshot #030720 The Haunting, screenshot #033597The Haunting, screenshot #038980The Haunting, screenshot #040047 The Haunting, screenshot #041925The Haunting, screenshot #049877The Haunting, screenshot #050503 The Haunting, screenshot #050827The Haunting, screenshot #062123The Haunting, screenshot #076073 The Haunting, screenshot #076075The Haunting, screenshot #080167The Haunting, screenshot #084700 The Haunting, screenshot #104983The Haunting, screenshot #113896The Haunting, screenshot #114599 The Haunting, screenshot #114857The Haunting, screenshot #121679The Haunting, screenshot #139102

 

Continuity problems

What?

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?

Lights on the ground floor

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?

The Haunting, screenshot #116774The Haunting, screenshot #116774, close up The Haunting, screenshot #117038The Haunting, screenshot #117038, close up The Haunting, screenshot #118220The Haunting, screenshot #118220, close up

Night or day? Night and day?

Something strange is happening in the tower

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?

The Haunting, screenshot #139952The Haunting, screenshot #139990The Haunting, screenshot #142912 The Haunting, screenshot #144883The Haunting, screenshot #145310The Haunting, screenshot #146350

This scene is an indoor scene. So it was shot in the studios, and not on location at Ettington Park (see the section dedicated to the house, 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.

Something strange is happening in the corridor

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.

The Haunting, screenshot #066250The Haunting, screenshot #066250, close up

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.

The Haunting, screenshot #066550The Haunting, screenshot #066550, close up

The very last meters...

You did notice it was partially shot in studio, but did you notice the rest?

The Haunting, screenshot #023700
After the gates, Eleanor has to drive a little bit through the park to reach Hill House.
The Haunting, screenshot #024024
The following sequence was partly shot in studio.
The Haunting, screenshot #024261
When Eleanor first sees the House, it is obvious that she is looking on her right side...
The Haunting, screenshot #025574
But on the next sequence, the House is exactly in front of her, not on her right side anymore. This is normal: this sequence was shot in exterior at Ettington Park, where the road did come right in front of the main entrance of the house in 1962/1963. It is just logical.
The Haunting, screenshot #154256
This fact is verified at the very end, when Eleanor takes her car and runs away. She is in front of the house and drives right in front of her. She does not turn to leave the house.

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.

Strange skies

That one is so obvious, you can't have missed it.

The Haunting, screenshot #087181
This is a small continuity problem, but a highly noticeable one: on these two screen shots, the sky is dark grey and suddenly becomes "milky" white.
The Haunting, screenshot #087606
One was shot on regular film (this one), the other (above) on the Belgian infrared film. When edited one right after the other, the difference stands out. But it does not make sense: there is no reason why the colour of the sky should change. It is supposed to be exactly the same object (the tower) viewed from different angles.

Strange walls

As Eleanor enters the dinning room to have a breakfast, we can see in the background a dark wall with a lighter zigzag motif.

The Haunting, screenshot #068494The Haunting, screenshot #068494, close up

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.

The Haunting, screenshot #068960The Haunting, screenshot #068960, close up

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.

The Haunting, Test texture, white light
Left and Up: white light, original motif, original colours
Right and Down: same as above, converted to black and white.
The Haunting, Test texture, red light
Left and Up: original motif, but now lit with red light
Right and Down: same as above, converted to black and white.
The Haunting, Test texture, blue light
Left and Up: original motif, but now lit with blue light
Right and Down: same as above, converted to black and white.

Can you see for yourself how this same motif looks totally different under different colour lights when converted to black and white?

The French door

Wait a minute. Have a serious look at all these pictures.

The Haunting, screenshot #030740The Haunting, screenshot #055360The Haunting, screenshot #099845
The Haunting, screenshot #099975The Haunting, screenshot #101000The Haunting, screenshot #103791

Eleanor does not 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!

The cigarette

I guess no one told Richard Johnson that his cigarette was in his left hand...

The Haunting, screenshot #070308The Haunting, screenshot #070308, close up

...and then suddenly in his right hand, noticeably shorter.

The Haunting, screenshot #070955The Haunting, screenshot #070955, close up

The table

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?

The Haunting, screenshot #060449The Haunting, screenshot #060614The Haunting, screenshot #062875

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 Haunting, screenshot #060967 to 061354

Your favourite film or your favorite movie?

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 did surreptitiously infiltrate in the movie.

Are these two English policemen (two Bobbies) near the exit of the garage located in Boston, US?

The Haunting, screenshot #018790The Haunting, screenshot #018790, close up

The house is "to let" but should it be "for rent" in the US?

The Haunting, screenshot #019978The Haunting, screenshot #019978, close up

 

Technical details

The hanging mirror

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 does not shatter into pieces on the wooden floor. It keeps hanging on the wall.

The Haunting, screenshot #134256The Haunting, screenshot #134360

Well the explanation for this is clearly visible, and more obvious if you add some light. The mirror is attached with a string...

The Haunting, screenshot #134373The Haunting, screenshot #134373, with light

So distant and yet so close...

...thanks to the 'split screen' effect

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:

  • You need to be able to draw a line in the image that will be the limit of the split. It is impossible to have a sharp object on this line. A dark part of the image is ideal.
  • Nothing or no one should cross the split during the sequence. It can be done, but it might reveal the split line.
  • Consequently, nothing or no one can travel between the two "parts" during the sequence. A character cannot leave the background for the foreground (or the other way around) during the sequence.
  • Do not move the camera between the two shots. All you can do is set a different focus but that's all.

When poor Eleanor is crying in her bedroom

The Haunting, screenshot #123416
This is the sequence as it appears in the movie. Now think about it: how can you focus on Eleanor and Theo/John at the same time? They are 10 meters away! It is impossible.
The Haunting, screenshot #123416, focus #1
If you focus on Theo/John, then Eleanor must be blurred.
The Haunting, screenshot #123416, focus #2
If you focus on Eleanor, then Theo/John must be blurred.
The Haunting, screenshot #123416, Eleanor_alone
To get the final result, two sequences were shot independently. One with Eleanor appearing sharply on the foreground...
Remark: What was happening in the background was not important at all because this part of the image was un-used.
The Haunting, screenshot #123416, John and Theodora
And another one with Theo/John appearing sharply in the background.
Remark: Again, what was happening in the foreground was not important at all because this part of the image was un-used.
The Haunting, screenshot #123416
Now the trick is to paste these two parts together to create a natural looking result: this image.
The Haunting, screenshot #123249
Not convinced? Just look at this: it only lasts 3 or 4 frames in the movie: Theo comes from the split line and reveals it...

The swinging house...

...or the swinging camera?

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.

The Haunting, screenshot #133369The Haunting, screenshot #133461The Haunting, screenshot #133551

A beautiful artistic effect

'I'm disappearing inch by inch into this house'

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!

The Haunting, screenshot #136225The Haunting, screenshot #136314The Haunting, screenshot #136470

And you get one big distortion in the house as a whole!

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...

The Haunting, screenshot #027495 to 027769
The Haunting, screenshot #060967 to 061354

Luminous grass at night

... or a rough decoupage

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.

The Haunting, screenshot #068225The Haunting, screenshot #068316The Haunting, screenshot #068399

The limit

... of the set

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.

The Haunting, screenshot #134100The Haunting, screenshot #134100, with light

Morphing

... now ... and back in the sixties

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.

The Haunting, morphing of faces

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.

The Haunting, screenshot #006783The Haunting, screenshot #007034The Haunting, screenshot #007231

The breathing door

Simple and effective

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.

The Haunting, Breathing door

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.

Figures about The Haunting

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.

Methodology

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 inventory 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 logic 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 did break 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 did not 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.

Results

No one likes to read long tables with figures, so I created a couple of graphics that should perfectly illustrate these statistics.

Character, percentage of on screen presence, alone or in a group

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.

The Haunting, 1963, Character, percentage of on screen presence, alone or in a group

Character, percentage of on screen presence, all alone

Amazingly (at least, to me), Eleanor is alone on screen for almost 20% of the movie!

The Haunting, 1963, Character, percentage of on screen presence, all alone

Characters and Groups: Who is sharing the screen with who?

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.

The Haunting, 1963, Characters and Groups: Who is sharing the screen with who?

 

Unanswered questions...

Do you have the answers?

  • What does Eleanor feel when she reaches out her hand to get her suitcase and sees her reflection on the shiny wooden floor?
  • What do you think Dr. Markway was about to say to Eleanor when he was interrupted by the harp in the music room?
  • Why is the name "Abigail" written on the ceiling of Eleanor's bedroom?
  • What does Eleanor mean when she looks at the tower and says I wonder what it would be like looking down from there. That's where she did it. From that window. Climbing out through the bars... hanging on for an instant, hanging on...?
  • Why are there so many mirrors in Hill House? Is there a special meaning to this?
  • Why did Abigail never leave the nursery of her childhood?
  • Is this a coincidence that both Eleanor's mother and Abigail died calling for help with no-one to answer?
  • Was the cold spot already there when Abigail was living in the nursery?
  • What is the meaning of the huge marble statue and what does it represent?
  • What is the pupose of the message "Help Eleanor, come home"? To simply scare Eleanor or to convince her to leave (before it is too late)?
  • Is Luke alcoholic or just a young guy enjoying life and parties?
  • What does Eleanor mean when she looks at the tower again — near the end — and says We killed her. You and I, Hugh Crain. You and I. You and I.
  • Why do we see the picture book again at the end of the movie? What is the role of this book in the whole story?
  • What was Eleanor heading for when she climbed up the dangerous spiral staircase in the library?
  • Luke's family owns the house and still, Luke has never been there. How come?
  • Does Dr. Markway realise that Eleanor has her eyes on him?
  • Is Eleanor still a virgin? Was Abigail still a virgin?

Eleanor Lance

The most interesting character

Julie Harris
Julie
Harris

Eleanor
Lance

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 did not see the world yet. She was a bird in a cage. She did not 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.

Highlights

Desperate

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.

Sane or insane?

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...

Self-destructive

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.

Appropriate for the 'Experiment'

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 does not 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.

Running away

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 does not. She stays and breaks the spell, the strange enchantment of Hill House and the house becomes her lover...

Waiting for something to happen

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.

Feeling guilty

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 did not 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.

Feeling she wasted a lot of time

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.

Lonely

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 does not 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

Afraid of being left 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.

Looking for love

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 does not 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.

Dreaming

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 does not 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.

Owning nothing

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.

Theodora

Just Theodora

Claire Bloom
Claire
Bloom

Theodora

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?

Highlights

Adding up all the clues

Theo feeds the underlying sexual desire. Some examples:

  • When Eleanor first meets Theo in Theo's bedroom in Hill House, Theo immediately calls Eleanor Nell, which is the affectionate term for Eleanor. They have just met, hardly know each other and Theo feels like chatting with a friend already. Later, in the same conversation, Eleanor says, We are going to be great friends Theo! Then Theo asks Like sisters?
  • The first evening at Hill House, before dinner, the team has a drink to chat a bit and learn about each other. Eleanor says I'd like to drink to just us... good companions. Theo stares defiantly at Eleanor and says Excellent! ... To my new companion!
  • The first night at Hill House, when they are all about to go to their respective bedrooms, Theo chats with Eleanor in front of the door of Eleanor's bedroom. Theo says If you feel in the least bit nervous, just run right into my room. This is obviously an invitation to join her. And there is more: as Eleanor enters her own bedroom, Theo forces the way in the bedroom and says You have been thinking of changing your hair. I know just the style for you. A bit pushy...
  • Later, Theodora is asked to move in and share Eleanor's bedroom. Eleanor is a bit reluctant to accept it because it is the first time that she has a real bedroom, her very own room. Theodora consoles Eleanor and exclaims, Don't get all hung up, Nell. We'll have fun... and then adds, laughing, to the doctor... like sisters!
  • When Eleanor and Theo spend their first night together in Eleanor's room, Theo tells Eleanor When I'm through with you, you'll be a different person.
  • When you see the movie again, pay attention to the way Theo looks at Eleanor in a couple of scenes...

A good person

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:

  • When Theo decides to leave, she does not plan to leave alone and wants to take Eleanor with her. She says I'm taking Nell and I'm clearing out of here!
  • When Eleanor is struggling to stay at Hill House, Theo is nicely packing Eleanor's suitcase.
  • When Eleanor, leaving, is about to start the engine of the car, Theo gives her best wishes to Eleanor: I thought you weren't going to say goodbye. Nellie my Nell, be happy, please be happy. Everything's going to be all right. I'm sure Grace is here and we'll find her. So don't worry.

Dr John Markway

Richard Johnson
Richard
Johnson

Dr. John
Markway

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 does not 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 does not behave like a loving husband (and Grace does not 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 Sanderson

Russ Tamblyn
Russ
Tamblyn

Luke
Sanderson

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 did not 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 did not face any of these constraints: he did not 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.

What makes The Haunting so special?

Multi-layered

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

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 timeless. Instead of using cheap special effects tricks to show ghosts and other strange events, Robert Wise — who was definitely a genius — did use our fear of the unknown, of the unseen, of the unreal. The whole terror 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.

Below the surface

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 does not take long to realize that it will all go terribly wrong, through hopes and disappointments, eventually leading to the death of our poor beloved Eleanor. 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.

Even deeper

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 does not 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.

Food for thoughts for everyone

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 did contact 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 does not get more attention from the community.

How to enhance your experience?

Your very first time

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.

And afterwards

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.

And in 3D

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

If you enjoyed The Haunting...

... you might enjoy

The Innocents (1961)

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.

The Innocents, screenshot #1The Innocents, screenshot #2The Innocents, screenshot #3 The Innocents, screenshot #4The Innocents, screenshot #5The Innocents, screenshot #6 The Innocents, screenshot #7The Innocents, screenshot #8The Innocents, screenshot #9

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 Uninvited (1944)

The Uninvited is a 1944 American supernatural mystery/romance film directed by Lewis Allen. It is based on the Dorothy Macardle novel Uneasy Freehold.

The Haunting, Uninvited #1The Uninvited, screenshot #2The Haunting, screenshot #3 The Haunting, Uninvited #4The Uninvited, screenshot #5The Haunting, screenshot #6

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 did not convince me at all.

... you will detest

The dreadful The Haunting (1999) remake

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).

Reflection of footer