Foreword † Facts † Screenplay † Dialogues † Complex story † Eleanor † Theo † Dr. Markway † Luke † What makes The Haunting so special? † Have you noticed these details? † Obsessions † Lights † Previously unreleased † Props and costumes † Continuity problems † Technical details † Historical and cultural context † Figures † Intriguing questions... † How to enhance your watching experience? † If you enjoyed The Haunting...
This web site is dedicated to the movie The Haunting, a 1963 masterpiece directed by Robert Wise, starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson and Russ Tamblyn.
In its full black and white glory, The Haunting is widely regarded as la pièce de résistance of the ghost-movies genre, a film held in high esteem, a must-see for all connoisseurs. It is impossible to have a serious conversation as a movie buff about this genre without discussing The Haunting.
Among the various abstracts available for the movie, I particularly like the one translated from the French DVD:
I also like the brief and straight-to-the point plot from IMDb.
With this site, I am inviting you to explore the movie and its secrets:
The following Sitemap will allow you to embrace in a single page the whole content available to you.
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 TVs (as opposed to antique CRT television sets).
What you see here is NOT what you will get if you buy, rent or stream a copy of the movie.
Indeed, over the years, despite numerous releases (from VHS/Betamax to Laserdisc to DVD to Blu-ray), all the copies at our disposal suffered from two main flaws:
Well, I simply tried to fix that for all the images that I wanted to display on the site.
I invite you to visit the Videos section for a general discussion about the image quality.
One of the most highly regarded haunted house films ever produced is The Haunting, directed by Val Lewton disciple Robert Wise. Based on Shirley Jackson's novel, the film weaves the dark tale of a questionably sane woman and a spooky old mansion that is rumored to hold terrifying dark secrets. The Haunting is an exercise in restraint and atmospherics and easily ranks among the finest supernatural suspense films ever made. Strip away all of its supernatural undertones, and the film remains a sophisticated and fascinating character study, and in addition to being a great ghost story, it is also one of the greatest psychological thrillers. And apart from the generally neurotic group of characters, The Haunting further succeeds in that Wise makes the house itself, the central character of the story. Wise keeps this low-budget black-and-white film looking better than most modern films, and the cinematography and camera work by Davis Boulton recalls the best film noir, using shadows, clever lighting, Dutch angles, and widescreen compositions to make the viewers feel just as uncertain as to what is creeping around every corner and hiding behind every door. Along with the creepy, uncanny, disorienting visuals, comes one of the finest sound mixes in cinema, and many would argue the soundtrack is what actually makes the movie scary. The Haunting gets just about everything right — and manages to slither under your skin and make the hair on the back of your neck stand. ~ goombastomp.com
Robert Wise's The Haunting weaves the dark tale of a questionably sane young woman and a sinister house which holds a terrifying past. Invited to join anthropologist Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson), ESP expert Theodora (Claire Bloom), and probable heir to the estate Luke Sannerson (Russ Tamblyn) in order to dispel the near mythical tales that surround the house, unstable Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris) agrees to spend a few nights in the house following the death of her mother. As they slowly begin to discover, the horrific and seemingly unbelievable tales may hold more truth than the skeptical guests might have previously expected. With a seemingly unstoppable supernatural force lurking in every shadow, the probability of anyone escaping the evil clutch of the cursed mansion seems increasingly remote. ~ Jason Buchanan, All Movie Guide
Between his phenomenally sunny musical successes West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965), director Robert Wise found time to make this brooding, low-key shocker, based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson. The material seemed to free up Wise's baser talents: The off-kilter, black-and-white photography goes a long way in intensifying the production's minimal special effects, and the actors uniformly overplay their parts, giving the film a streamlined momentum it might have lacked otherwise. Though the story's lesbian subtext was toned down for the film, the sleek Claire Bloom injects some much-needed sexual tension into the proceedings; the film is less about the group's battle against poltergeists than about the inner struggle between the virginal Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris) and her conflicting desires. ~ Michael Hastings, All Movie Guide
Things that go bump in the night bump overtime in 1963's The Haunting, the quintessential haunted-house film from genre chameleon Robert Wise. The setup is as straightforward as they come: An anthropologist (Richard Johnson) arranges for a handpicked group of guests to stay at a remote New England mansion to investigate legends that it is haunted. Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, and Russ Tamblyn play the guinea pigs in this experiment, which unfolds into a classic ghost story where the spirits in question really do make quite a nocturnal racket. Do not expect much in the way of visual effects however: The Haunting is a Monkey's Paw-type thriller where what you do not see turns out to be scarier than what you do. Wise accomplishes this feat with some exquisite lighting and camerawork that simply immerses the viewer in an atmosphere of eerie mystery that, like the prolonged foreplay of an expert lover, continues long after other films would have climaxed. Harris provides a strange voiceover throughout, gradually revealing her character's strange affinity with the forces at work, while reinforcing the discomforting sense that the line between what is tangibly real and what is delusional can be difficult to draw. And some intriguing erotic tensions wind their way through the group, tensions that seem to become yet another layer of psychic danger. Ultimately, a lot is left to the imagination in The Haunting making it a masterpiece of thoroughly distilled suspense. ~ Gregory Baird, Barnes and Noble
Year of Production: 1963
Distribution: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc (MGM)
Running Times: 112 mins
Format: Black and White 35mm
Ratio: Panavision [Anamorphic] 2.35:1
Sound: Mono 1.0
Genre: Mystery, Supernatural, Horror, Drama, Suspense, Thriller, Classic, Realism, Psychotronic
Keywords: Blood, Car, Classic, England, Evil, Experience, Ghost, Haunted, Haunted-House, Heirs, Horror, House, Lesbian, Life, Mansion, Mother, News, Novels, Off-Road, Psychic, Research, Road, Terror, Time, Tree, Women, Plot Lines Ghost, Haunted (House), Supernatural-Forces (Battling Against)
~ all technical details provided by IMDb, 'The encyclopedia of fantastic film and television' and the 'Kine Weekly' magazine of Nov 29, 1962
US Premiere: Sept 18, 1963, New York City
Awards: Golden Globes 1964 (Nomination: Best Motion Picture Director: Robert Wise)
August 21, 1963 - USA (limited)
August 22, 1963 - USA
August 25, 1963 - Japan
September 18, 1963 - New York (USA) premiere
October 6, 1963 - Canada
October 31, 1963 - Italy
December 27, 1963 - Finland
January 3, 1964 - West Germany
January 9, 1964 - UK
January 20, 1964 - Sweden
February 6, 1964 - Argentina
February 14, 1964 - Australia
March 4, 1964 - France
August 24, 1964 - Denmark
September 10, 1964 - Mexico
October 8, 1964 - Uruguay
Production Companies: Argyle Enterprises (Robert Wise) / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc (MGM)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, US, Production number: #5303
US Promotional stills numbering scheme: 5303-xxx
National Screen Services (NSS) number — appears on US Lobby cards: 63/238
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, British, Production number: #47
Producer: Robert Wise
Associate Producer: Denis Johnson
EIDR identifier: 10.5240/D182-6060-7A17-F48E-E6E0-5
IMDb identifier: tt0057129
ISAN identifier: 0000-0000-30C4-0000-F-0000-0000-T
VIAF identifier: 32149066340165600011
CNC & Visa: CNC:1964209301 — Visa:28090
Total budget: $1.40 million
US gross revenue: $2.62 millions
Foreign revenue: unknown
Source: IMDb PRO
Script: Nelson Gidding
Novel: The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson
Director: Robert Wise
Assistant Director: David Tomblin
2nd assistant Director: Bernard Williams
3rd assistant Director: Michael Gowans
Director of Publicity: Paul Mills
Unit Publicity Director: Bill Edwards
Stills: Norman Gryspeedt
Director of Photography: Davis Boulton
Camera Operator: Alan McCabe
Focus: Tony Basbridge
Clappers/Loader: Terry Cole
Grip: Pat Newman
Continuity: Hazel Swift
Still Photographer: Norman Gryspeerdt
Editor: Ernest Walter
First Assistant Editor: John Grover
Assistant Editor: Margaret Miller
Assembly Cutter: Peter Elliott
Music Composer / Conductor: Humphrey Searle
Recording Supervisor: A.W. Watkins
Sound Recordist: Gerry Turner
Boom Operator: John Streeter
Sound Camera Operator: Mickey Hickey
Sound Maintenance: Michael Basset
Dubbing Mixer: J.B. Smith
Dubbing Editor: Allan Sones
Logo (Sound System): Westrex Recording System
Make Up: Tom Smith
Hairdresser: Joan Johnstone
Claire Bloom's Clothes: Mary Quant
Wardrobe Supervisor: Maude Churchill
Wardrobe Mistress: Dolly Smith
Wardrobe Master: Charles Monet
Special Effects: Tom Howard, F.R.P.S.
Special Sound Effects: Desmond Briscoe
Stunt girl: Connie Tilton
Production Designer / Art director: Elliot Scott
Sketch Artist / Assistant Art Director: Ivor Beddoes
Draughtsmen: Reg Bream, Tony Pratt, Terry Ackland-Snow
Set Decorator / Director: John Jarvis
Scenic Artist: Bob White
Chargehand Dressing Prop: Mickey Lennon
Buyer: Bill Isaacs
Electrical Supervising Chargehand: R. Jeffrey
Chargehand Electrician: Arthur Albrow
Chargehand Props: Mickey O'Toole
Standby Carpenter: Colin Knighton
Standby Stageband: A. Hunter
Standby Rigger: J. Anders
Standby Painter: B. Finn
The shots of the movie were made between October and December 1962.
Source: Conclusion drawn from the reading of various issues of the Kine Weekly magazines (UK) and their weekly listing of the current productions in various studios.
These titles were considered as possible movie title.
Source: Warner DVD + Nelson Gidding interview.
The headline A tale of fear was also considered.
Casting Director: Irene Howard
Susan Richard as Nurse
Mavis Villiers as Landlady
Roberta Rex as (unidentified), maybe in a deleted scene?
Terry the Tinsmith as The iron spiral staircase
Susan Hayward was initially considered, probably for the role of Eleanor Lance.
Source: Famous Monsters of Filmland, Mar., 1962 - No. 16.
Since the very first version of the movie I saw was the French dubbed version, I have a special fondness for it.
(See the section in the page dedicated to The People for more details.)
It is not easy to find the names of the dubbing actors, I only have a few.
Nicole Favart as Eleanor Lance
Nadine Alari as Theodora
Gabriel Cattand as Dr. John Markway
Michel Gudin as Bud Fredericks
I need your help! First and foremost, I am looking to identify Luke, Grace, Carrie and Mr. & Mrs. Dudley.
Ettington Park, Alderminster, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 8BU, UK, Europe
See the page dedicated to The House for more details.
Elstree and Borehamwood studios, Shenley Road, Borehamwood, WD6 1JG, UK, Europe
Also known as the MGM British studios
See the page dedicated to The House for more details.
[A very special thank to Andy Ellis who shared this information with me.]
London, UK, Europe: corner of Coleman Street and London Wall, at the North end of Coleman Street.
The one with the road sign is the view from this corner looking East at the North side of London Wall & (in the distance) the East side of Moorgate (with 74 Moorgate on the far corner).
Click to display a Google Map
London, UK, Europe: This car park is at London Wall, near the Barbican
Click to display a Google Map
It still exists! Of course it has changed a lot since the filming in 1962 but it is still recognisable. A huge thank you again to Andy Ellis: both for the identification and for the recent photos (below).
These photos belong to Andy Ellis, used with permission.
The one with Eleanor leaving the "Boston underground parking" is again a view from the corner (at the top of where the slope down to the car park used to be), looking South down Coleman Street, with the re-built Armourers & Brasiers building on the East/left.
Click to display a Google Map
Do not, under any circumstances, read this section if you have not yet seen the movie or read the book.
The movie is a faithful but not entirely literal adaptation of the book by Shirley Jackson. The movie differs from the book in several ways (see the "Differences between the book and the film" section on the "SJ Books" page for an exhaustive inventory of the differences.)
One of the major differences is the time frame of the story. In the book, the story takes place over approximately ten days. In the movie, the story takes place over a weekend. The exact date is given in the discussion about Hugh Crain's book:
We can therefore conclude that the discussion about the book takes place on Sunday 20 October 1963. It is funny that the movie is not set in the past or the future, but that the events narrated are supposed to be contemporary with the release of the movie.
Here is the sequence of events in the movie:
All taken from "Robert Wise on his films, from editing room to director's chair", by Sergio Leemann.
Robert Wise got the idea of The haunting while he was in pre-production for West side story. One day, while reading Shirley Jackson's book...
About Ettington Park and the belgian infra-red film...
About the not-quite-ready-to-use Panavision's lense...
The president of Panavision warned Robert Wise...
About the spiral staicase...
About the door that breathes...
I feel very privileged to own a copy of an early version of the screenplay. I write "early version" because there are numerous differences between this version and the one that was eventually used for the movie.
For instance, the introduction to the house is given by Mrs. Sannerson, and not by the Dr. Markway. More interestingly, this version also includes the deleted scene with Theodora having an argument with her girlfriend before leaving for Hill House.
In any case, I am very grateful for this great document.
I have a PDF version which is a scanned copy of a document that was photocopied (Xeroxed) several times. Consequently, there is room for improvement in the quality. As a dedicated fan, I decided to recreate a brand new, clean version... The first step was then to extract all the pages, as PNG images.
As an illustration, this is page 15.
The next step was to clean these PNG images (pages), one by one, manually. In practice, I removed all the black spots and dots to have a pure-white background. If needed, the pages were straightened (some are oblique). Then I reworked the text, to make it darker. The malformed letters were manually restored.
After this step, I had a clean version of all pages, as PNG images. I was able to recreate a brand-new look-a-like version in PDF, this time with clean pages.
More importantly, these clean PNG images were used as the source for an OCR operation — OCR meaning a software for Optical Character Recognition.
As a result, I had a pure text .TXT version of the screenplay.
Then, with Word, I formatted this pure text to get a more modern screenplay, still very faithful to the original — same page layout, same numbering scheme, classic screenplay formatting.
I also corrected obvious mistakes — for instance, Theodora mentioning "My mother" or the Dr. Markway, by the car, saying "He's dead."
At this end of that lengthy process — nearly 100 hours of work — I have a clean Word .DOCX version as well as a new pristine clean PDF rendition.
And this is what the final result looks like (US Letter format — to respect the layout of the original document).
Cover, blank page, first page.
I had this "work in progress" transcript of the movie's dialogues for a very long time — at least two decades. But it was very imperfect: it was not complete — the end of the movie was missing — and, more importantly, it was not an accurate reflection of every sentence spoken by the actors in the movie. So, I decided to tackle this problem once and for all.
You've probably already noticed it yourself: the subtitles that appear in a movie are not necessarily an exact, word-for-word transcription of the dialogue spoken. Sometimes the actors speak very fast, so it is impossible to display it "as is" in subtitles because it would take too much time for viewers to read it. Sometimes the actors interrupt each other constantly. Again, it is impossible to show that type of dialogue "as is" in subtitles because it would be incomprehensible. So, for practical reasons, the subtitle displayed is often a simplified version of the dialogue spoken by the actors. The sentences are much shorter. Sometimes the words are also slightly different — although obviously the meaning of the sentences remains the same.
Here is a sample of the original version of the document.
To obtain an accurate, complete and faithful transcription of the dialogue, I used several means.
First, I took as a basis the existing subtitles in the different DVD and Blu-ray versions.
Secondly, I used tools that automatically generate a transcription from an audio file — although the result is far from perfect.
Then I listened to all the dialogue in the movie again myself. Finally, I asked English-speaking colleagues to help me with the parts where I had doubts.
Here is a sample of the corrected version with a perfect transcription of the dialogue.
Since French is my native language, adding the transcript of the dubbed French version next to it was a piece of cake for me — even if I had to listen to the whole movie, all over again, several times.
To improve readability, I used a colour code for the characters: the same colour code as the characters' rooms in the novel: Eleanor, blue. Theo, green. John, pink. Luke, yellow.
So here is a sample of the latest version, with a perfect transcription of the dialogues in both English and French.
And this is what the final result looks like (A4 format).
Cover, blank page, first page.
The movie was based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson.
According to Robert Wise, Shirley Jackson herself suggested the title The Haunting for the movie; title that she also had considered for the book.
The story was brilliantly adapted for the screen by Nelson Gidding, who made numerous changes to the original story.
Although sometimes classified as an "horror" movie, the story of The Haunting is much more complex than a simple "haunted house" story. If you watch it a couple of times, you realise that there is much more than that...
Eleanor was just not allowed to be happy. She had nowhere to go, no one to hold in her arms, no job, no money, no friends, nothing... She could not remember ever being truly happy in her adult life. She had spent all this time — 11 years — taking care of her invalid mother, until she died. Disconnected from the real world, Eleanor's life was made of small guilts, small reproaches, constant weariness and unending despair. It just wasn't fair. All she wanted was to be cherished. The only person in the world she genuinely hated, now that her mother was dead, was her sister. Eleanor didn't think twice when she received this strange invitation from Dr. Markway. She was ready to go; she would have gone anywhere. Somewhere where she would belong. Leaving all this past behind. She ended up in Hill House, and thought she could be happy there. She was indeed happy in Hill House, but just for a while.
Let Dr. Markway introduce you to the house:
A team of four researchers specialized in the analysis of supernatural manifestations. Except that some of them didn't know they were researchers. They didn't even know why they were there and what was going to happen. No one knew what was going to happen. They had forms to fill up every night — very scientific — to keep track of the events, as any professional would do. Dr. Markway didn't know what to expect from Hill House but he surely received much more than he had probably ever anticipated. Eleanor started it all. The house wanted her from the beginning. The show started the very first night, with Eleanor being the obvious centre of attention. Eleanor was willing to accept a lot for his sake. And she did. She accepted too much. She was given a last chance in the park. She could have turned her car around and gone away. But she was already running away and had nowhere else to go. So she stayed... and broke the spell of the house.
A strange relationship between Eleanor and Theo. It all started with a pure and innocent young girl, Eleanor, looking for good company, looking for a place in a group, looking for someone who would cherish her. Well, she wasn't exactly that innocent and she quickly found out who she wanted. But, so inexperienced, she was too blind to see what was really going on.
Theo also knew exactly who she wanted, but it wasn't quite socially acceptable I suppose. Anyway Theo couldn't care less. Theodora's world was one of delight and soft colours. She wasn't used to not getting what she wanted, and at once.
Indeed: the human needs, fears, beliefs, driving forces, values, desires, priorities, joys and sorrows. Eleanor — our heroin — represents the human race, and its fragilities. Eleanor is a lonely creature, desperately looking for love. At the end of it all, isn't it what we are all looking for? More than money, more than fame, more than anything else? Love. Somebody to share our innermost thoughts; somebody who would stand by our side, for the good and the bad; somebody who would know our intimate details; somebody who could hear our darkest secrets and alleviate our childish fears; somebody who would be supportive, protective and yet not possessive; somebody to lean on... According to some studies, humans are — with dolphins —, the only mammal that can die of sorrows. Love (more precisely the lack of love) can effectively drive humans to madness or worse, to death.
Eleanor, ignoring all the warnings, all the bad signs and all the red flags, purposely accepts the danger of the situation. She voluntarily chooses to stay at Hill House. Whatever the price, she'll pay. Her survival instinct screams to get out; a little voice begs her to run away; her common sense demands to leave the place at once. She is perfectly aware that she must leave for her own safety. "Better to be safe than sorry" they say... But the poor creature desperately hopes that something good is about to happen — something, at last, happening to her — and is ready to put her life in the balance.
What are ghosts? Maybe souls who survived, leaving behind a dead body, to continue to exist after the death of the corporal form... What do you think is going on at Hill House? What is the nature of all these strange events? What is the source of all these strange events? Who or what are these entities trying to contact Eleanor, trying to reveal their existence through all those disturbances? Eventually, Eleanor herself becomes part of the haunting. After her death in the car crash, her tormented soul survives, and remains at Hill House:
Recently (2022), during a thematic evening on television, I watched a series of documentaries on the place of women in cinema, particularly in French cinema.
In the part of the documentaries devoted to actresses and female roles in the cinema, a speaker explained that women have long and often been confined to very caricatured roles: housewife, secretly-in-love devoted assistant, cleaning lady, nurse, young scatterbrain, frivolous, spendthrift and inconsistent not-really-a-woman-yet (read: as long as she is not married with children), femme fatale, prostitute, icy psychotic killer, etc. The range of roles was in fact not very wide, often the same, with always this idea of caricature, mould, preconceived idea of stereotype. In particular, the speaker insisted that if the woman is the heroine of the film, then she usually dies at the end. If the hero is a man, he has the right to stay alive and enjoy his achievements. His wife, kids, family, friends, colleagues, entourage, dogs!, everyone can admire and congratulate him for his intelligence, his courage, his perseverance, his strength, his tenacity despite all the difficulties he had to face on his way. If the hero is an heroine, a woman, she has to pay for her daring and die at the end so that everything goes back to "normal". Does it ring a bell? Sound familiar?
Again recently (2023), I was struck by a passage about female pleasures and desires in the 2018 "Hollywood: No Sex Please" documentary.
Film historian Craig Detweiler explains:
But, indeed, Eleanor's fate can be seen in this light. Eleanor is single, lonely and very innocent. She flirts with John Markway. She seems to have strong feelings for him. She is unreasonable and knows that she accepts too many things from the house for John's sake, to stay close to him. This is obvious to the viewer, because her inner voice gives us access to Eleanor's thoughts. It is perhaps less obvious to John, who seems to be toying with Eleanor without thinking to mention that he is married to avoid any ambiguity. Or maybe he is aware of Eleanor's interest in him, but he is probably flattered by this attention — so different from Theo's cold attitude. To summarize, John has been cruel, insincere and reckless. Cruel to play with Eleanor, when he has no intention of starting a relationship with her. Insincere, because we know the marital status of a woman as "Miss" or "Mrs." not that of a man who does not wear a wedding ring. Reckless because Eleanor is fragile and she sincerely hopes John will take an interest in her. Obviously, the shock is immense for Eleanor when Mrs. Markway shows up, without warning, at Hill House. And then everything ends badly, with a very unhappy ending. Eleanor must be punished for her desires. She has to give up her place, let Grace settle down so that everything goes back to "normal".
Eleanor is obviously the main character of the movie, equally with Hill House, of course. She is 32-year-old, charming, a bit simple but mainly because she didn't see the world yet. She was a bird in a cage. She didn't experience many things on her desert island and so she is very naïve, emotionally fragile and a bit clumsy in her relationships.
You do not know much, you do not see a single scene related to the private life of the other members of team. You see Eleanor at her home. Well, not really at her home, at her sister's. 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.
Eleanor is rather unlucky and you immediately feel sympathy (not pity) for her: she has to beg to borrow a little car — that is nonetheless half hers; she lives at her sister's, pays a good part of the rent and yet sleeps on a couch in the living room. Until now, Eleanor's existence had been sad and dull, made up of unpleasant chores for which she had never been thanked or appreciated. She cannot remember being happy in her adult life. Her life is a continuous world-weariness and an endless despair. Eleanor is stifled, tormented by her past, haunted by unhappy memories and suffers from extreme mental distress.
Some fans draw the conclusion that Eleanor is insane. I personally don't think so. Or, to be honest, I wonder. 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:
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 rather than being safe, but alone.
John Markway contacted her because, when she was a child, Eleanor had a Poltergeist experience: showers of stones fell on her house for several days. She is very reluctant to talk about it and almost denies it ever happened — many believe that Poltergeists are the manifestations of unbalanced teen-aged minds. It doesn't take long before Hill House really makes Eleanor the center of all attention. The house has found a kindred spirit in Eleanor and consumes her; she is disappearing inch by inch into the house.
Driven to despair, Eleanor is ready to go anywhere... Away from this unhappiness; away from her existence that was already much like death. This time she has decided to do something and to escape. She accepts the invitation of John Markway — without investigating and not really paying attention to the reason why she is invited and what will be expected from 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 first reaction is to ignore her instinct to flee again. She doesn't run away. She stays and breaks the spell, the strange enchantment of Hill House and the house becomes her lover...
Eleanor 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.
Eleanor 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. This eleven-year long and time-consuming devotion did not provide her with any satisfaction, on the contrary. She didn't get any gratitude or appreciation for this sacrifice. Mother was apparently very demanding and refused that Eleanor could have a little time for herself, on her own: she called and banged on the wall when Eleanor was taking a little time off, playing solitaire in her bedroom. She had to be constantly available. She was denied the right to have a life of her own. She was there to serve. For many years, this growing tension surely led to a lot of frustration.
Eleanor has mixed feelings about the death of her mother — a mother she probably hated after all she endured. Eleanor feels relieved because she is free, at last, after eleven years on a desert island, as she says in a scene. But she also feels guilty because we know that the mother died because, one night, although the mother was banging on the wall, Eleanor didn't wake up to bring the medicines. She has been wondering ever since... Did she wake up and go back to sleep immediately? It would have been easy. Didn't she really hear anything? Is it an accident? A murder? Or just fatality? 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.
Eleanor is psychologically and physically exhausted. Her back and hands hurt. It wasn't fair: she didn't get any help at all for all these dirty chores, although the family could have afforded a laundress. All the workload and responsibilities were on Eleanor's shoulders. She has been "used", "abused" and denied any existence of her own. Still, her sister dares to question Eleanor's devotion and says:
which makes Eleanor rightfully furious.
Eleanor was confined, held captive in a small world. She thinks she wasted a lot of time — she has been wondering what had been done with all those wasted summer days? ; some time that she wants to catch up with, and right now. She seems clumsy in her tentative to connect, to relate to someone. We learn from the very beginning that she does not drink alcohol — which makes sense for someone who never had adult relations, companions, friends, in the outside world. If you never go out, never attend parties with people of your age, it is very unlikely that you will develop a taste for fancy cocktails. Her trip to Hill House is like escaping from jail. She feels that she is running away from this hideous past, well decided to start — at last — to enjoy this life.
It seems that Eleanor had planned from the beginning of her escapade to never return home. She never explicitly states this, nor does she seem to think so. Yet how do we explain Eleanor coming to Hill House with that suitcase and carton box containing all her belongings? Why take absolutely everything with you if it is just to spend a few days in a holiday home?
Did she plan or did she know?
Eleanor has no boyfriend (or girlfriend). She has no friend at all in fact. From the book, we know that her father died when she was young. She is all alone, on her own, with no one to watch over her. While at Hill House, Eleanor makes effort in order to belong to the team, to be just like anybody else. But it doesn't take long for her to be an isolated, different, special member of the group: she is obviously the center of all attention 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:
Eleanor is very afraid of being rejected by other people. She keeps on saying:
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:
She fancies John Markway but she doesn't know or she is too naïve to realize that John is married. We — the viewers — know from the introductory chitchat with Mrs. Sannerson that John is married, but Eleanor does not.
In order to spend some time alone with John, Eleanor apparently did not hesitate for a moment to ditch Theo. Between the budding friendship with Theo and a moment alone with John, the choice seems quickly made. Theo had explicitly asked her to go to breakfast together.
Since Eleanor's and Theo's bedrooms share a bathroom, you can imagine how careful Eleanor had to be not to make a single noise, with the taps, the shower, etc. She then had to get dressed silently, close the door softly and walk down the stairs carefully so that it wouldn't squeak. Theo must have been furious when she got up and realised that Eleanor was not in her room and that the bathroom had just been used. This probably explains why she seems very upset and aggressive when she arrives for breakfast.
The days and nights are really tiring and frightening at Hill House but Eleanor takes it all for John's sake. It must also be said that John's attitude is highly ambiguous: sometimes he is protective like a father, sometimes he is openly flirtatious with her — he even caressed her cheek. To find out that John is married will become another major disappointment in her life.
On her way to Hill House, Eleanor begins to contemplate how her life could be. A daydream. On the road she notices a house, a pair of stone lions, and she starts building up scenarios about how her life could be. Once in Hill House, she makes things up and doesn't tell exactly the truth about her life. She is really aware of how dull her life is. She wants to change it all for something better and she thinks that Hill House is the beginning of a new life for her. She says:
An alternate reality seems to exist for real in Eleanor's head, in strange movies always starring Eleanor against the rest of the world. The question is: do these daydreams and innocent little lies come from a candid personality, or are they the preoccupying first signs of genuine, deep, far more serious psychological problems? Is it charming or dangerous?
We guess from the very beginning that Eleanor has almost no money. She owns half of a little car, with her sister Carrie. She is homeless and lives at her sister's house. 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.
That's a terrible thing to say. Let me explain. Why is it so that Eleanor had to devote eleven years to her ill mother, whilst her sister Carrie was relieved from any constraint? Carrie was apparently too busy to provide any help, while dating, marrying, founding a family — maybe also first getting an education, a job — getting a house and a financial security? All those things that Eleanor was totally denied access to. When a parent is sick, is it normal to "assign" one daughter to the everyday care whilst the other daughter is free from any assignment or responsibility? If the sister cannot be there for a good and solid reason, shouldn't it be normal to request that she provides — at least — a financial support to make life easier? Although the family could have afforded a laundress, the monstrous mother probably decided that Eleanor could do it — for free. Eleanor was there to serve : a slave has no right. End of discussion. Some horrible parents — that are called "toxic" nowadays — don't see their offspring as a seed to grow and nurture, but only as a resource to use, whatever the price, whatever the permanent psychological damages they inflict.
Last but not least, at the very end of the movie, wouldn't you say that the house is willing to return Grace in exchange for a permanent hostage — Eleanor — killing the later in the operation? The ultimate sacrifice of a persecuted innocent.
There is a clear parallel between Eleanor's life and Abigail's. Both endured a traumatic experience during their childhood: Abigail's mother died; Eleanor supposedly caused a poltergeist. For different reasons, both lived a life of complete solitude, had no lovers, grew old and eventually became spinsters. Sadly, both died all alone, violently.
There is also a clear parallel between Eleanor's life and the companion's life. Both take care of an invalid person during a long illness. After the death of the sick person, both are accused of neglect and of being responsible for the death. Both also died all alone, violently.
Have you noticed that, in this movie, the female characters are vastly more complex and more interesting than the male characters?
Theodora is quite an example. She is gorgeous, icy, sophisticated, independent, dressed in black haute couture and very clever. Theo is clairvoyant and has a gift of ESP; but she feels open and comfortable about it. Theo would probably like to be the center of attention. Although she displays a very self-confident attitude, Theo is probably not as strong as we might initially think she is. When the house gets wild, Eleanor is much stronger than Theo... But I think Theo would not change a thing in Theo.
We do not know much more about her, really. Theodora or Theo is the only name she has. Just Theodora as she says. We know that she lives in couple but is not married. She avoids making any statement that might reveal the gender of her companion. She uses "we" instead. But do not conclude that Theodora is hiding anything. Theodora is a lesbian but this part of her personality is — subtly — expressed in the movie, although more openly expressed in the original book. When you guess, when you add all the details, you understand that she is obviously a lesbian. Today we would celebrate it, but in 1962 it was a different story.
Theodora would probably answer "Yes!" without hesitation to the question "Are you a lesbian?" This is the kind of question that I personally find very inappropriate, incongruous and inquisitive. Do you ask your acquaintances and colleagues "Are you straight?"
Theo feeds the underlying sexual desire. There are many examples in the movie.
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:
The first evening at Hill House, before dinner, the team has a drink to chat a bit and get to know each other. Eleanor says:
Theo stares defiantly at Eleanor and replies:
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:
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:
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:
When Eleanor and Theo spend their first night together in Eleanor's room, Theo tells Eleanor:
When you watch the movie again, pay attention to the way Theo looks at Eleanor in a couple of scenes. She seems to be observing Eleanor, watching her — sometimes in an almost possessive way — and monitoring her reactions. Sometimes she looks at her with envy, like an éclair au chocolat in the window of a patisserie. Sometimes she seems to defy her. But each time, note that it is Eleanor who captures Theo's full attention and not the other two (male) participants in the experiment.
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 speak for themselves.
When Theo decides to leave, she has no intention of going alone and wants to take Eleanor with her. She says:
When Eleanor fights and begs to stay at Hill House, Theo kindly packs Eleanor's suitcase.
When Eleanor, leaving, is about to start the engine of the car, Theo gives her best wishes to Eleanor:
By the end of the story, Theo is genuinely concerned about Eleanor's fate.
Theo seems to really care and feel sorry for Eleanor.
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 keep the control and limit the risks. He feels responsible for the safety of the team, since he dragged all the other characters in this adventure. He is a scientist, although the topics he is studying are at the border between the scientific and paranormal investigations' fields. He is fascinated by the house, but wants to make sure that no-one gets hurt. He rescued Eleanor several times, taking risks for himself doing so. Professionally, he is responsible and protective.
On the other hand, he is personally really ambiguous. He doesn't feel the need to state that he is married. When his wife shows up unexpectedly, she has to ask:
With Grace, he doesn't behave like a loving husband — and Grace doesn't behave like a loving wife either. With Eleanor, his flirting attitude is dangerous however, because Eleanor is emotionally fragile, and she might believe that John also has a crush on her. And indeed she does believe that John has a crush on her. Sometimes he behaves like a flirting lover, sometimes like a father, sometimes like a cold-hearted selfish scientist. It is just like a shower that runs hot and cold, hot and cold, hot and cold... I believe that, in the music room, he was just about to tell Eleanor he was married, when the harp suddenly started playing by itself. His scientific experimentations in Hill House are probably more important than anything else and the harp gets all his attention. He just forgot what he was about to say to Eleanor.
Luke is young, careless and light-hearted. He was born in a wealthy family. He has no other preoccupations in life than to enjoy himself. He probably enjoys going out in sports cars, drinking a lot, partying all night and fooling around. He probably didn't earn any of the dollars he is spending.
That is the reason why nothing seems to be really important for Luke: he never faced the harsh reality that lots of common people have to endure. He is very different from the other three characters:
Luke just didn't face any of these constraints: he didn't have to. Luke was born to have fun. It is that simple. Alcohol seems to be very attractive for him. I would not say he is alcoholic, but there is an obvious tendency to drink alcohol whenever possible, even in the middle of the night. Socially drinking with friends is something. Getting up to drink alcohol in the middle of night is more worrying.
Here are some elements that characterise a good haunted house movie:
The Haunting has become a cult movie over the decades for several simple reasons that are fairly easy to identify.
The Haunting is a multi-layered movie, that can be decrypted/seen at different levels. These different ways, to understand and to appreciate the movie, make that a lot of different people get interested in this masterpiece.
At the surface, it is a ghost and haunting house movie, superb in its black and white glory.
The story perfectly follows the classic path: a magnificent sinister old neo-Gothic mansion, abandoned for a long time, complete with suicides, unexplained deaths and mysterious dark chamber. A team comes in to explore the phenomenon, and their expectations are fully fulfilled.
Decades after its original release, the movie remains highly considered and grandly appreciated because it is ageless. Instead of using crude special effects tricks to show ghosts and other strange events, Robert Wise — who was definitely a genius — used our fear of the unknown, of the unseen, of the unreal. The terror largely comes from the soundtrack, from the fear of "Who or what is behind the door?", "Who or what is pounding on this wall?", "Who or what wrote this in the corridor?", "Who or what is secretly staring at me?". Nothing is seen. Everything is suggested, especially with strange distant noises and eerie sounds. Lots of people do praise the superb black and white images. Strangely, only a few people do pay a really good attention to the background music. I strongly believe that this great sweet and melancholic music was the perfect choice for the soundtrack. I wish it had been released on record at the time. I would like the renewed enthusiasm for the movie to encourage the release of the music on vinyl LP.
The movie proves that a black and white rendering can be a strong, valid artistic choice, and not necessarily a technical constraint. That choice still remains valid today. For instance, with recent movies such as Mad Max Fury Road, Black & Chrome edition. From that perspective, The Haunting is perfectly executed, with the great addition of sequences captured with some infra-red film, to create a dreamy, unreal feeling.
You might have missed it, but the camera rarely follows the action. It scarcely follows the characters as they move on screen from one room to another. The viewer can lose the directions, because the rooms in Hill House then seem unconnected. It is impossible to draw a coherent map of the interior layout of the house. Instead, the camera acts like the eye of a living entity. On numerous occasions, we have the feeling that the house itself is watching the characters. It is obvious when Eleanor first arrives in the premises: the house watches its new prey. On other occasions, we see the action as the characters supposedly see it too. When the first Mrs. Crain falls down the stairs and dies, we see exactly what she sees: the entrance hall, upside down.
Last but not least, I think that the idea to add a voice over is a genuine masterstroke. Instantly and very naturally, it gives us a raw access to Eleanor's innermost thoughts. It helps us understand her motivation, her fragilities, her hopes and despair.
These artistic choices made by Robert Wise were quite unusual at the time and demonstrate his professional competence and mastery of subject matter. All these elements, carefully thought out, provide a timeless quality to the movie.
Below the surface, it is the story of Eleanor, who lived and died too young, lonely and unhappy.
We cannot help but think that it is just not fair. We feel so sorry for Eleanor, who has done nothing wrong: it is the other way around. She spent all her adult life taking care of her invalid mother, until the mother died. How was she rewarded for this devotion during all these tough years? Well, she was not rewarded at all: she just spoiled very valuable years, missed chances to meet someone, and was left with no money and reproaches from her sister, who blames Eleanor for the death of the mother. For a while, we think that Eleanor finally received the chance she had long deserved: the invitation at Hill House is her first chance for a vacation in all her adult life. As she arrives, her survival instinct screams to get out of the place. But Eleanor has been waiting so long for such a thing to happen. Something, at last, happening to her. It doesn't take long to realize that it will all go terribly wrong, through hopes and disappointments, eventually leading to the death of our poor beloved heroine.
Eleanor is fundamentally a good person, a caring person, and like anybody else she deserves to be happy. She deserves to meet someone who will love her, someone who will take care of her, for a change. We all have been brought up with the strong precept that good people are always rewarded for their goodness and generosity. But as an adult, we know it is often very wrong, and this leaves us with the bitter feeling, the strong conviction that it is so unfair.
If you dive even deeper, the movie raises a general and fundamental question about the meaning of life, and the possibility of life after death.
After all, who or what are these entities trying to communicate with Eleanor? What is the meaning of all this? What are they trying to tell us? Some might object that Eleanor is insane, and that all this is just a trick of her disturbed mind. But in that case, how come that Theo and then the whole team also experienced it? After her death, Eleanor doesn't leave Hill House. Still lonely, she continues to exist in the house, but in a different, immaterial, form. The soul of our poor Eleanor will remain in the place she cherished so much. Her tormented soul will continue to suffer, forever.
Depending on your preferences, interest, own experience and sensibility, you will see the movie at a different level. There is food for thoughts for everyone.
Some fans will focus on the house and its mysteries; some others will focus on our poor tormented Eleanor. With such strong female characters in the movie, it is a little bit funny that most of the fans who contacted me in the past 25 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 fans. Eleanor gets all the attention of the people who suffer or have suffered from loneliness, general disenchantment, disappointments in relationships, unrewarded generosity, and maybe people disappointed in life, in general. All fans are all welcome to contact me. I am just surprised that the lesbian character of Theo, who is positively depicted as a good, caring and flamboyant person doesn't get more attention from the community.
On a DVD — French DVD, The Innocents, in the bonuses section — that I was about to discard in exchange for a Blu-ray edition, I found a very interesting analysis of the haunted-house/fantastic movie genre by Alexandre Tsekenis that also totally applies for The Haunting. I translated it, summarized it and added references to The Haunting.
For strange and unknown reasons, a scream was added in the various trailers when the second Mrs. Crain falls down the stairs. As you obviously know, this scream is not in the film... except in the French dubbed version where it was kept. I've checked other dubbings (German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish): no scream.
In this disturbing scene, the companion who has lived for years in complete solitude in the empty house decides to end it all, and hangs herself from the top of the spiral staircase in the library.
Dr. Markway summarises the situation as follows:
Who or what seems to be fleeing immediately after the suicide by rushing down the stairs, as if to escape?
At the very beginning, Dr. Markway selects some assistants...
...in a list consisting of:
Patricia Doyle (actress) was Robert Wise's wife, from 1942 until her death on Sep 22, 1975.
Note that Dr. Markway selects Patricia Doyle...
The story goes that the names on the chalkboard were all friends or family of writer Nelson Gidding.
Albert Trepuk was his stepfather (his mother: Meryl Trepuk, née Meryl Frank),
Charles Stern, Ruth Murray, Rufus Matthewson, and Paul Kirschner were friends,
and Joshua Walden was his then 14-year-old son.
The classic office you would expect to see in the sixties. Complete with telephone, lamp, typewriter (the one used to send the letter to Eleanor?), bookshelf, chests of drawers,... a cluttered space, the usual mess.
But how come there is a poster of Mendel's first law of genetics (law of segregation)?
My dear "haunting" fellows, what a shock! Mother is here and has always been! Yes, a picture of Mother on the mantelpiece. Look closely and the doubt is not possible. Who else would be on the mantelpiece?
I had 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 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 movie 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 (120-inch) diagonal image I saw her. Mother was here! A picture of Mother on the mantelpiece!
Screenshots #1, #2, #3 directly from the Blu-ray. Screenshots #4 is #3 with perspective correction and anamorphosis.
If you really think about it, you will realise that the music heard in the movie is a soundtrack music, which the protagonists do not hear, probably because there is not much partying at Hill House. However, there are two notable exceptions.
One is absolutely obvious: when Eleanor hums in front of the statues, and starts a dance step in the middle of the night, it is she who hums. The music is probably in her head but the humming is real.
The other is much more subtle: when Eleanor quarrels with her sister Carrie and brother-in-law Bud, the music you hear comes from a vinyl record playing in the room. When Carrie and Bud are gone, Eleanor becomes aware of the cheerful music that is annoying her, so she jumps up and make the music stop.
The turntable is not visible on the screen, but we can distinctively hear the stylus and arm of the turntable being lifted up by Eleanor. And of course, no records were actually played on the set during the shooting, this sound was added in post-production. Otherwise, it would have been impossible to have continuous music during the different shots that make up this scene.
This tune was composed by Humphrey Searle.
This unexpected picture makes me wonder. Is Bud a hockey player? Is someone in the house a Boston Bruins fan?
Screenshots #1, #2, #3 directly from the Blu-ray. Screenshots #4 is #3 with perspective correction and anamorphosis.
Is it really a hockey-related picture? Did I get it wrong?
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 sole property. So Eleanor had to wake up really early to take it. It is only 6:40 in the morning when Eleanor picks it up at the garage...
Eleanor's suitcase is on the back seat, and as she breaks to read the signs and the letter, the suitcase falls...
I have mirrored and magnified the original image to allow you to read the stickers.
After years of hesitation, I have finally been confirmed by several US-based friends that they were genuine 1962 Massachusetts stickers. The sticker on the windshield was used in combination to the license plate, in order to prove that the car was dully authorized on the road in 1962. This is because the new plates were issued every other year and not every year.
It makes sense: although shot in the UK, the action supposedly takes place in the USA, and starts in Boston, Massachusetts.
A fan kindly confirmed that this was indeed a 1962-area US Massachusetts licence plate. Mystery solved!
The licence plate of Eleanor's small car reads "F3251". Does it mean anything special?
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 am just trying to find a meaning to a meaningless detail.
In the cast I added "Ettington Park" and I think the house is a character in its own right. It seems alive, right from the start. It is not the presence of the small group of researchers that wakes it up. It was already waiting, patient. It observes. It communicates through noises, knocks on doors, writing on walls, calls that seem human but are only incomprehensible voices, prayers, incantations, laments, maniacal laughter. It has a strategy to divide the four protagonists, to separate them. It is not a poltergeist who empties all the cupboards in the kitchen and piles all the chairs on top of each other, stupidly. It is much more subtle.
I would like to come back to the unpleasant, permanent sensation that the house is watching its occupants. Robert Wise perfectly instils this idea that the characters are constantly being watched. All this is expressed as soon as Eleanor arrives. The house spies on the little car that approaches.
This shot is very incongruous. We should see wide shots of the house, of Eleanor in the car, but why show us a shot taken from high up in the upper floors of the house? And this is only the beginning. Theodora instinctively and very quickly has the feeling that the house is alive, and that it is calling Eleanor.
Later on, it is Eleanor who feels oppressed to the point of screaming, as she feels that she is being watched on the stairs.
Throughout the movie, several shots — usually very high up, out of reach of a standing human — show us the point of view of someone or something watching. This makes the viewer very uncomfortable, because no one, no character in the film can be in that place at the time of the action. You feel, in a confused way, that this is not normal.
Last but not least, what could that enormous close-up of the dead salmon's eye mean?
You have seen the movie countless times, probably, so you know that we actually see the entrance, the lobby of Hill House. Just before Eleanor reaches out for her suitcase, we clearly see the left side of the entrance.
Afterwards, a panoramic scrolling lets us discover most of the lobby. Most of it... Except for the very right side of the front door.
But I recently realised that we actually see this section of the room, when the second Mrs. Crain dies, falling down the stairs. We see it through her eyes (upside down). I just needed to rotate the image (180°).
The next time you watch the movie again, try to think about this: there are (almost) no paintings on the walls of Hill House. It is really quite surprising and you'll probably object "Well, I’m not sure but I think I remember some". The decoration of the house is extremely charged, it is almost cliché. Fabrics, curtains, imposing furniture, sofas and armchairs, canvases depicting bouquets of flowers, plates, knick-knacks, rugs, tablecloths, liquor with crystal glasses, lace, statues, mirrors, cherubs, trays, dried flowers under a glass globe, small carved wooden chests, etc. They're absolutely everywhere. You don't know where to look to rest your eyes. And yet, if you look very carefully, you will make the same observation: there are very few figurative paintings. Embroidery and flowers, yes. Portraits, no — can we consider Hugh Crain's book like a collection of portraits?
Screenshots #1, #2 directly from the Blu-ray. Screenshots #3 has perspective correction.
I only found two paintings portraying actual people. One picture in Eleanor's room. A second one in the dining room. Did you find another one? And can you identify these two? Are these familiar sceneries? Are these famous artists?
Have you noticed that, in many scenes, it is possible to see the ceiling of the room in which the action takes place? Probably not I suppose, because it is rare to pay attention to it. This is particularly noticeable in the final scenes where the terrible noise seems to come from the floor just above, while John and Eleanor look up at the ceiling in horror.
It was not common to see a ceiling in a 1962 studio movie for several reasons.
Firstly, for a technical reason: this space was a privileged place to install technical equipment, above the actors. At the time, the cameras and photographic films were much less sensitive than today and therefore required much more lighting. This lighting had to be concealed somewhere. In addition to the spotlights at head height, many spotlights were installed above the set, and were carefully avoided during filming. Microphones could also be attached for sound recording. LED lighting, hypersensitive microphones, lavalier microphones that are hidden in the hair or wig, and cameras the size of smartphones were not available in 1962. The space of the ceiling was often needed for many technical reasons.
Secondly, for a budgetary reason. Preparing a ceiling for the set is extra time and money, perhaps not essential for the development and understanding of the scene.
Thirdly, as mentioned elsewhere on the site, mirrors are ubiquitous in the Hill House decor. Hiding the reflection of a camera in a mirror is one thing, but hiding the direct light of a spotlight is difficult if not impossible. Having most of the light sources above the set facilitated the filming.
And finally, if you look at other films from the same period that were also shot in a studio, it was unusual to show the ceiling.
Two final remarks:
I'm sure you'll pay attention to the ceilings when you watch other movies from the same period now.
Look carefully at these two images. Something is not consistent.
When you are inside Eleanor's bedroom, it seems that the room expands towards the front door. The area of the bedroom is that of a rectangle (*) plus the area of that protrusion where the door is.
On the other hand, when you are outside Eleanor's bedroom, in the corridor, it seems that the space has been trimmed to place the door in a triangle whose area has been removed from the bedroom. The area of the bedroom is the area of a rectangle (*) minus the area of this recess where the door is located.
(*) Ignore for the moment the alcove next to Eleanor's bed, which does not change the conclusion of this discussion.
The story goes that Robert Wise was asked to install twin beds in Eleanor's bedroom, so that Eleanor and Theo could sleep in the same room without actually sharing a bed.
To stay under the censorship radar, I suppose.
Look at Eleanor's bedroom. That's strange, because, in a usual twin bed setting, the two beds are usually apart, and certainly not that close.
Theo, like any adult, has a huge king size bed.
This prop is so important in the movie that I cannot believe that it was chosen light-heartedly. Theo's door handle is Medusa (from the Greek mythology).
According to this Wikipedia Article, it could mean a lot of different things, ranging from a terror of castration that is linked to the sight of something to a symbol of female rage.
Have you noticed that there is another room (bedroom?) just across Theo's bedroom; same corridor, with the entrance just opposite Theo's door? Someone must be occupying it because in various scenes, the lights are on or off. We hardly see the furniture inside, but we see the chandelier with 3 light bulbs.
Here are a few close up screenshots
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.
Again, a detail I noticed only recently (2019). It is very incongruous but true: the joyous team dine and have breakfast on an extending table. In other word, the table is actually too small to comfortably accommodate a luxurious table set up for four, so it was extended to a larger set up. It is very visible just below the table top: you can see the extension, and the missing wood panel, looking really "raw" compared to the rest of the deluxe furniture.
That's weird, because at dinner time a simple table cloth covered it up perfectly.
It is fascinating to realise how ambiguous this simple little sentence can be.
First of all, you might have noticed that all the words are capitalized, except the first one: "help Eleanor Come Home". That is unusual and incorrect. We might have expected "Help Eleanor come home!" with a classic capitalization and an exclamation point.
Then, when you think about it, it can have several meanings.
If it is a message directly addressed to Eleanor herself, then it is a plead: "Help (me) Eleanor, come home!". Someone is calling Eleanor for help, begging her to come home. An additional comma would also have helped to avoid confusion, to remove any ambiguity.
If it is a message addressed to the group, then it is an order: "Help Eleanor (to) come home!". Someone is asking the group to facilitate and speed up Eleanor's return home.
But, wait a minute. Where is "Home"? This home should be clearly related to Eleanor, since it is her who is supposed to come home, whatever the possible meaning of the message (see above). That wish however cannot be granted. Eleanor clearly states in the movie:
Since Eleanor doesn't really have a place of her own to call "Home" — she pays part of her sister's rent to sleep on the living room sofa ; since she considers Hill House to be her new home now, could this message be an invitation for Eleanor to join the spirits of Hill House, her new "Home"? I wonder.
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?
I don't believe this is a special effect but more probably the result of the wild imagination of the enthusiastic viewers. This is simply anthropomorphism: the automatism of our brain which attempts to recognise faces everywhere: in the clouds, on the fold of a pillow, etc.
So it seems that there is a face on Eleanor's pillow (lighted up on the close-up). As she wakes up on the meridian sofa, advising Theo not to react to the voices, a face complete with eye, nose and mouth can be seen.
Is this a log stove or a coal stove on the exterior veranda on the ground floor? How extravagant! I thought the passion for brasero/fire pits in gardens was quite recent. Well, apparently, no. A wealthy family could find it normal to install a stove on the veranda, in the open air, to be cosy on chilly nights. Or am I totally misunderstanding the purpose of this stove?
I selected this screenshot — taking place at the end of the movie when Eleanor and Theo are having an unpleasant discussion, just before Mrs. Markway turns up — but I could easily have picked another one. This log stove is there right from the start: When the companion is fooling around in the veranda with a farm hand; later when John rescues Eleanor; basically, in every scene depicting this part of the house. Since this scene is taking place at night, I added a lot of light to help you see the log stove.
Another bizarre thing I noticed recently (2019). In the purple parlour, there is some light in the fireplace. Light coming from above, from the chimney duct itself.
Have you noticed that Theo sleeps with her make-up on? When the bangings and poundings start, Eleanor rushes into Theo's bedroom, only to find her with well made eyes: stylish in all circumstances.
Theo is also wearing tall stilettos with her dressing gown. It is a lot less comfortable than big slippers, but c'est tellement chic.
Another intriguing detail: while Eleanor is busy trying to warm up Theo, she also looks for something for herself. She sees, takes and puts on Theo's dressing gown, lying on the bed. This is unexpected because we know from the book that Eleanor is very, very reluctant to lend some clothes to Theo and thus, reciprocally, I cannot imagine Eleanor borrowing Theo's clothes.
Or is it another censorship obligation: forbidding the two women to hold each other so closely without proper clothing? Theo shielded by the thick bed sheets; Eleanor by two layers of clothes.
This is another thing that becomes absolutely obvious when you know it, but is not obvious until you notice it. During the breakfast scene, before Eleanor arrives, Dr. Markway is busy scrutinizing the floor plan of the house. Except... it is not the floor plan of Hill House.
Move your mouse over the plan to zoom.
Two things stand out:
Firstly, the plan does not match the house: the shape of the entrance hall, the number of towers and their location, the small hexagonal tower, the shape of the house, nothing fits with Hill House.
Secondly, the angles seem perfectly straight — nothing slightly off — and the mansion represented there does not suffer from a big distortion in the house as a whole.
In this impressive scene, someone or something seems to be lunging at Eleanor from the top of the tower. Something totally invisible to us.
A few seconds earlier, Eleanor was looking at the tower, then she forced herself to look at something else — the garden — but an unknown force compelled her to stare at the tower again. Then a very strange idea — which can be heard — crosses her mind. Something with no obvious connection to the history of the house:
And then suddenly something comes over Eleanor, as if to push her down from the balcony where she is standing. One can imagine a body falling from the top of the tower, from this window, and dragging Eleanor down. But this is not plausible. It would take an enormous amount of momentum to follow a parabolic trajectory that would reach Eleanor's balcony, which is not in line with the tower but a few metres in front of it, and to its side. This trajectory would be more like that of a bird of prey, waiting patiently, before swooping on its victim.
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?
All this reminds me of a very famous sculture. 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.
Very quick digression: If you have heard about The Da Vinci Code, here is the link: The priest of that church in Rennes-le-château, l'abbé Bérenger Saunière, is the central figure of many conspiracy theories trying to explain how an humble priest in a small remote village could become so inconceivably rich. Many of these theories were used by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code, in which the fictional character Jacques Saunière is named after the priest.
Two heads staring at you... If you are standing where they can both look at you, they freeze you. This is a legend, but how come we can find so many of them in Hill House? Another very interesting example is the nursery doors, where they seem to create a cold spot (see below for details... and more light!).
Have you noticed that, although we witness the death of numerous characters in the movie, we never see a drop of blood? All of them are what I would call, "clean" deaths.
Robert Wise did it brilliantly; he avoided the tacky "gore" genre and created an "all time classic" movie that is classy, elegant, stylish, chic, tasteful and somehow very sophisticated. Whenever possible, life leaving a character is suggested by a falling object. It is as efficient and certainly much more graceful than torrents of blood.
The first and second Mrs. Crain, Abigail, the companion and finally Eleanor: The house only kills women.
The only male character who passed away in the history of the house died away from Hill House.
Well, it is not really a ménage à trois. It is just about 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. This makes Theo instantly jealous. He smiles at Eleanor and makes comments such as
His wife has not arrived yet. He never mentions her existence, and never mentions the fact that he is a married man. And I cannot see any wedding ring.
He never hesitates to have physical contacts with Eleanor. He gives her a hug; he touches her; he caresses her cheek; he pays a real attention to her problems. Eleanor has got a crush on him and assumes that John is also flirting with her. But she is very wrong.
Strangely, when Grace Markway shows up, he is really not cheerful and jovial with her. He doesn't seem really happy to see her. They have been separated for a couple of days and he doesn't behave like he has been longing for her. He doesn't touch her and she doesn't even get a kiss! He is cold and distant, but polite: he carries her luggage. Instead of spending a night together, like any couple would, he doesn't really insist on spending the night with her and takes her luggage to the nursery, where she will sleep alone. To be quite honest, I have to add that Grace Markway is not more cheerful than her husband.
Only after Eleanor dies — that is at the very end of the movie —, John takes care of his wife and he first touches Grace...
Theo has got a crush on Eleanor. It is the truth and there is nothing wrong with that. Robert Wise expressed this unconventional love in the movie in a very subtle way. The book is much more explicit. In the movie, it is not that obvious but when you add all the passionate looks, all the sweet touchings, all the knowing smiles, it becomes apparent. Robert Wise discarded from the final cut of the movie a scene from the very beginning where Theo and her girlfriend have a row, ending up with Theo writing "I hate you" on a mirror. This scene would have completely changed the tone of the movie. Although I would surely like to see this discarded scene, I am convinced that it was the right decision to make at that time. Claire Bloom plays her part perfectly: Theo initiates a sexual tension that is underlying, permanent and growing all along the movie. Nobody seems to get what they want: Luke is fooling around with Theo; Theo has got a crush on Eleanor; Eleanor fancies John and John loves Grace, his wife.
Even before entering, just above the nursery doors, this message: Honour thy [your] father and thy [your] mother.
is one of the Ten Commandments in the Bible.
Possible interpretation: appreciate them, accept their authority, treat them with respect and provide for them.
In the nursery, the book that Abigail is reading in bed is the Holy Bible. A crucifix can be seen in the background.
A biblical quote, in the nursery, right over Abigail's bed:
can be found in the Bible in Psalm 51:5.
Possible interpretation: A reminder of fundamental human sinfulness. Hugh Crain seems constantly to be drilling guilt and awareness of sinfulness into his child.
The words Suffer little children is engraved on the arches of the nursery.
can be found in the Bible in Mark 10:14, Luke 18:16 and Matthew 19:14.
Possible interpretation: 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!"
Another biblical quote, this time in Eleanor's bedroom, right over the bed:
can be found in the Bible in 2 Corinthians 12:9.
Possible interpretation: God's grace is all that we need.
Eleanor is really affected when Grace Markway shows up...
She is more than disappointed: disillusioned, marooned and inconsolable. She probably feels stupid, humiliated at having made a fool of herself, and betrayed too. That is particularly cruel: Eleanor doesn't have a lot of self-confidence, and this will probably reinforce the feeling that she doesn't worth anything and doesn't deserve anything.
And there are tears in her eyes that she cannot hold any longer. Still, she has pride and doesn't let anyone see or hear that she is crying.
Eventually, when forced to leave, Eleanor gently cries in her car.
I am talking about some details you might have missed because the image is purposely very dark or because the movie runs too fast. But when you look at it frame by frame, and if you add some light, you notice them...
Just before something starts pounding at Theo's door, we see the house, then the stairs, then Eleanor. But have you noticed that we see the face of a wooden sculpture on the stairs? More light will reveal it...
Wouldn't you say that the canopy, suddenly the mouth of a threatening monster, a devouring organism, is about to swallow Eleanor?
It is very brief and it is a very dark scene so you might have missed it too. The taxi that takes Mrs. Markway to Hill House is branded "NOrth hills 60700". A fan kindled confirmed that this was a phone number. In Massachusetts then, phone numbers were preceded by a section name. The first two letters were capitalized and stood for numbers corresponding to those of rotary phones of the time. Mystery solved!
The ugly wool patchwork blanket is on the rocking chair when the companion is watching over the old Abigail...
... and is still at the same place, decades later, in the same condition, when Grace Markway explores the dreaded nursery!
These plants in the corridor are there when Abigail is a young girl and the second Mrs. Crain still alive...
... and the same plants are still there at the same place nearly a century later!
Mrs. Sannerson inherited the cane of the late Abigail. You can see it leaning against her large armchair.
She also inherited the silver platter that the companion used when she hanged herself. You can see it on the coffee table, with the cups and the biscuits.
When Eleanor takes the car from the garage in Boston to drive to Hill House, she is wearing a white t-shirt with a small knot. Her hair style is perfect and tight, she looks peaceful and well determined.
When she leaves Hill House, somewhere much later, she wears exactly the same outfit. Her hair style is undone and untidy. She looks scruffy, tensed and nervous. Was it purposely done? A before and after effect? A sense of closure? Is there another meaning to this? Women (unlike men) do make real efforts to change their outfit every single day. There must be a very good reason to wear the same outfit again.
Have a look at these screenshots and reconsider how Grace Markway appears to Eleanor — and only to Eleanor — at the very end of the movie. To me, it is an obvious reference to the legend of the Banshees [attic trap door] and maybe also a reference to the Vanishing hitchhikers [apparition by the tree].
The Banshee is a ghostly lady dressed in white, who appears suddenly to make an announcement about an imminent death. Grace appears very briefly to Eleanor — and only to Eleanor although John is by her side — through the attic trap door, in some form of ghostly white distorted face, as a bad omen announcing Eleanor's forthcoming death.
The Vanishing hitchhikers are usually women, dressed in white, who appear suddenly to car drivers on the side of the road — or in the middle of the road — to warn them about a dangerous section ahead, where one or several people died — usually including the hitchhiker herself. Grace appears right by the tree where the first Mrs. Crain got killed in her carriage, in some form of ghostly white silhouette, to warn Eleanor. Seconds later, Eleanor dies at the very same location, against the same tree.
Robert Wise gave some thoughts to every single scene in the movie. The fact that he chose to have Grace appear twice to Eleanor truly means something. When you consider the scenes I have mentioned, it is otherwise quite absurd to imagine that Grace got lost in the house, found herself in the attic, opened a trap door she could not reopen to escape, left the attic, got outside the house at some point, and then went straight deep into the park in the middle of the night, instead of seeking refuge near the house.
Remark: I had to add much light to most of these screenshots to allow you to see something.
I wonder why it took me so long to realise that the "purple parlour" — an important room in the movie, a haven, a safe place to retreat — is referred to as the "little parlour" in the book and never as the "purple parlour". This means that the addition of the colour purple comes from the movie-script, not from the book. That is indeed quite strange for a movie that was purposely shot in black and white.
So I tried to imagine what it could have looked like.
Have you noticed? They are everywhere! Now that you know it, watch the movie again, and keep this in mind. You will find a mirror in almost every single Hill House "indoor" scene. In some scenes, several mirrors are present. For instance when the four team members have their very first meal together: there is a mirror behind Dr. Markway and another one behind Luke, reflecting Eleanor and Theodora. It is even more twisted than that: after the first "attack", when they all gather in Theodora's bedroom, the multiple mirrors of the room reflect each other in a very complicated arrangement.
It must have been technically difficult to set all this properly. Having a mirror in a set adds a difficulty: you must make sure that nothing "technical" (camera, lights, microphone, crew,...) reflects in the mirror. The mirrors are so numerous in the house that I am forced to conclude that it was purposely done, but what is the meaning?
These are just a few examples taken among many, many scenes, and not at all exhaustive!
Have you noticed? No wonder that one feels oppressed and observed in Hill House. An army of statues is watching you, watching every move you make, in every corner of the house. I believe it is an artistic choice because these statues are used in a couple of shots in the very foreground.
These are just a few examples taken among many, many scenes, and not at all exhaustive!
Have you noticed that, on some exterior scenes, we can see lights coming from the house? Rooms that are lit? Or something else?
At the very beginning, when we are introduced to the house, a light is switched on upstairs. It is just like an eye, giving you the horrible feeling that the house is opening an eye to stare at you.
When Eleanor is eventually forced to leave Hill House, again, some lights: one room is lit upstairs, one room is lit downstairs on the right, and there are some lights from the tower too.
Have you noticed that Hill House has been renovated and some modernization work has been done? The decoration remains completely identical with genuine period furniture, but still, the miracle of electricity made its way to Hill House too.
When Abigail is a young girl, the house is lit by gas lamps and candles. There is a huge gas-chandelier downstairs (where Mrs. Crain was carried lifeless) and another one in Abigail's bedroom (left top corner of this screenshot, the flames can hardly be seen). The rooms and corridors are generally poorly lit with glowing halos of light.
When Abigail is an old lady, the house is lit by electric bulbs. In Abigail's bedroom, we can see several electric lamps and chandeliers. The rooms and corridors are now lit by more powerful electric lights.
Some long-time fans know it already, but the others might ignore that a special scene with Theodora was shot but not included in the final cut. In this scene, Theodora is having an argument with her girlfriend who is about to leave for a special week-end, presumably with another lover. Theodora writes "I Hate You!" on a mirror and smashes some personal objects in the apartment that used to be their love nest.
This scene was eventually discarded from the final cut, because it stated obviously the fact that Theodora was a lesbian. Robert Wise decided to let the viewer add the clues and guess. I believe this was a good move: the lesbian couple is not hidden nor denied, but just suggested. This is an important part of Theodora's personality, but it doesn't dramatically influence the story. It just helps to better understand her behaviour.
I have been hunting this deleted scene since I heard about its existence, in the early 90s. I was really disappointed that it didn't make it into the 2003 DVD edition. I was disappointed again when the Blu-ray edition was released in 2013, still without it.
Last but not least, the story goes that the BFI (British Film Museum) has a copy of this deleted scene, included in an "alternate early cut " of the movie. It would make sense, as the movie was shot in the UK.
Original cut of movie (shown 24 Sept 2003 at Filmhouse, Edinburgh, UK) has several differences from the general release print. Alternate opening with voice-over by the Mrs. Sannerson character in place of the Markway monologue. The titles prior to this scene are slightly different. The "History of Hill house " scene continues into the meeting with Mrs. Sannerson and Markway but in this version, it is Sannerson who is doing most of talking. The following scene from the general release print of Markway listing his subjects on a blackboard is missing. In its place is a scene where Theo throws her lover out her apartment and, next to a photo of her lover, writes "I Hate You!" on a mirror in lipstick, looks at her reflection and mutters "I hate you too...".
She then receives her invitation from Markway. This is delivered to her by her landlady who requires the excess postage to be paid. Theo already knows this is to be paid and there is humorous exchange concerning her ESP or her "gift ". There are several extended scenes involving Eleanor's "inner thoughts " — most of which tie into her thoughts on her possible relationship with Markway. The scene showing her travelling to Hill house is extended with more "inner monologue " material including a couple of shots of her turning onto "route 238 " and commenting on "Journey's end in lovers meeting...". The morning/harp scene runs longer and contains more dialogue from both Eleanor and Markway.
This print had a title card prior to the MGM logo — "This print is on loan from the National Film and Television Archive"
This main deleted scene didn't sink without a trace. Some promotional pictures were taken during the shooting, and some of these pictures were distributed. I was able to buy some of them. They are extravagantly priced... What a delight! An intense thrill! In these pictures, you can see Theodora — in rage — wearing a new outfit that was not used in the movie, and more importantly a picture of Theodora's girlfriend.
I don't have much hope but maybe some of you would share some other pictures of this deleted scene with me?
A fine connoisseur and fan of the movie informed me that the car Eleanor is driving is a two-toned "Hillman Husky Series II". I have to confess I had never heard about this manufacturer. Although the make is British, Eleanor actually drives an American or European-continental version, hence the right-hand steering wheel in the movie.
The version depicted below is the English one.
Here is the English brochure of the time, which I would like to acquire but at a reasonable price.
Hillman Husky Series II car, 1960-1963 UK market sales brochure:
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.
When I realised that the car was two-tone, I wondered what very dark colour it could be. Of course I tried a few colours, just to see. But how do you determine the exact colour? With photos of the shoot? With preparatory documents from the film? I'd love to know.
Again, there is more than meets the eye, since Eleanor is actually seen in two different cars in the movie. I reproduce here — with their permission — all the discoveries made by the contributors of the IMCDb site, with the brands and models of the cars. Thank you, Antoine and the contributors!
I invite you to read all the details — and maybe contribute yourself if you are an expert — on the IMCDb (Internet Movie Cars DataBase) site
In an earlier version of the script, where Theo's flat is shown, a small sign reads: China - Ceramics - Objets d'Art. Lovingly Repaired by Theodora.
Theo, an artist herself and an art connoisseur, immediately recognizes the work of Bernard Palissy.
Bernard Palissy (France, 1510-1590) is the most famous figure in the history of French ceramics.
During a programme "Affaire Conclue" on France 2, the French expert and auctioneer Harold Hessel presents Bernard Palissy in order to put into context another ceramic — a much later copy — by Alfred Renoleau.
Well, on Dec 12, 2003, I went to Paris with a couple of dear friends for a xmas shopping week-end. On Sunday, we had planned to go to Le Louvre to see some Palissy... We indeed found them. I must admit it is really strange to see the real objects, it is so realistic it looks almost alive. Please find below some pictures taken that day.
In early November 2016, a friend visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum in London took additional pictures of superb blue Palissy plates!
Left: Circular dish with decorations cast from life, with raised foot and turn-over edge. In the middle a snake or slow-worm in relief, coloured grey and black. Surrounding it a radiating design of ferns and acquatic plants, coloured green on a blue ground, and interspersed with small shells in white relief. The reverse is mottled green, blue and brown.
Right: Earthenware dish with distinct decorations in relief of reptiles, plants and shells coloured with bright glazes.
This is the V&A's presentation of Bernard Palissy.
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 socially isolated, in a precarious financial situation. Not only can she not afford to spend on clothes, but she is unlikely to know which designer is on trend.
Dame Mary Quant, 1934-2023, 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 colours; and the wet look achieved by tightly fitted vinyl clothing for a young and avant-garde clientele.
Her filmography as "costume designer" includes:
This is Theodora's outfit when we first meet her.
This picture (left) doesn't appear in the movie. It was released as promo picture and also appears in the MGM Exhibitor's Campaign book. See this outfit in the movie (right).
This is Theodora's outfit when she first meets Dr. Markway and Luke for dinner. It is a bit masculine with a tie...
This picture (left) doesn't appear in the movie. It was released as promo picture and also appears in the MGM Exhibitor's Campaign book. See this outfit in the movie (right).
This slight variation of the previous outfit — this time with a long-sleeve coat — is not seen in the movie.
These pictures do not appear in the movie. They were released as promo pictures. The one on the left also appears in the MGM Exhibitor's Campaign book. The one on the right also appears in the "stills galerie" — in the bonuses — of the Warner DVD.
This is Theodora's outfit when she shows up for breakfast. The black is chic haute-couture but also a bit aggressive.
This picture (left) doesn't appear in the movie. It was released as promo picture and also appears in the MGM Exhibitor's Campaign book. See this outfit in the movie (right).
When they share a single bedroom together, Eleanor and Theodora are both wearing their nightgown. I assume Theodora's one was a Mary Quant design. This picture does appear in the movie.
This is Theodora's outfit for the final scenes. After John rescues Eleanor in the spiral staircase, he decides that Eleanor has to leave right away. Theodora got dressed up very quickly and packs Eleanor's suitcase. This is the outfit she wears then and up until the end of the movie.
I assume that is was a Mary Quant design. This picture does appear in the movie.
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: These pictures were released as promo pictures but don't appear in the MGM Exhibitor's Campaign book, nor in the movie. So, I cannot find any credit about the outfit.
Have you noticed? The house is full of genuine expensive period furniture. The MGM Exhibitor's Campaign book gives all the details about the remarkable pieces that are present in the house, or, more precisely, on the set. The most expensive item is a "gilded Adams chandelier" valued at $1,400 in 1963 — which is equivalent to $12,000 in 2020. 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.
An article from Kine Weekly (Dec 6, 1962) elaborates that Claire Bloom discovered Victorian period furniture at an antique fair in Chelsea; furniture that has been used to decorate interiors for the movie. I invite you to visit the "Magazines about Robert Wise, The Haunting or Shirley Jackson" section on the "RW Mags & Books" page for all details.
During a programme "Affaire Conclue" on France 2, the French expert and auctioneer Bertrand Cornette de Saint Cyr presents the statue, in order to put into context another one which was used as a model/inspiration.
The presence of this statue in Eleanor's room is therefore very strong, symbolically. It is not hidden in the scenery. It is clearly visible, in evidence, and well lit. This is not a detail, it is well thought out. Robert Wise even presents the statue and Eleanor in the same shot, face to face. Eleanor is the pure young girl, the virgin.
Well, I have to admit that the movie comes with a few continuity glitches. But it seems to me that it is too far fetched to blame the technical team at the time. 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 that you could not see to check?
The movie and story are set in the USA, near Boston. However, it was actually shot in the UK, as the MGM studio near London could produce the same result for a lower budget. Some small, typically English details may (or may not) have crept into the movie.
Who is that policeman who appears in the background in a blur? Is he a policeman in the Boston uniform of the time? Is it an English "Bobby"? It is difficult to be categorical.
The house is "to let" but shouldn't it be "for rent" in the USA? This is not so certain. It seems that "to let" was also used in the USA at that time, even if today the turn of phrase is obsolete, and considered "en-gb English only".
On her way to Hill House, as Eleanor passes and stares at the house with a pair of stone lions guarding the gates, we can clearly see that an overcoat is hanging, attached to the garden' gate.
Literally one second later, as we watch Eleanor leaving the lions, the overcoat is gone.
It is very easy to understand. Due to size/weight/volume of the camera, a team without Eleanor first drove past the house. Then the camera was removed from the back seat, and another one was installed to film Eleanor behind the wheel. The car drove past the house again, with Eleanor driving, but the set was then slightly different. This is only a speculation: these two scenes could have been shot in reverse order.
You surely noticed that it was partially shot in studio, but did you notice the rest?
Ironically, nowadays (2019) the old road in front of Ettington Park still exists, but cannot be used anymore. It leads to a rusty metal bridge (over a small stream), which has started to collapse, 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.
Can you explain why Eleanor's dark blouse with a big bow turns bright white when she leaves the hallway for the dining room? Look carefully at Eleanor's face, which does not change in colour. It is not the whole scene that becomes lighter or darker. Only the blouse seems affected.
I had recently a very interesting discussion about this topic with an American fan who shared a very interesting theory. I didn't realise that this type of change could be due to a colour lightning (see below), or simply due to the use of coloured lens filters.
If you use a blue filter for a black and white film, then skin tones look dark and reds look dark. However, if you use a red filter, then skin looks smooth and white, and red clothes look white.
So colour filters have probably been used in these scenes to create this effect.
Wait a minute. Have a look again at these screenshots taken from the same scene. When the camera makes a close up of the mirror, we see the ladies in bed, but nothing between the bed and the mirror. A few seconds later, with a wider view of the bedroom, we clearly see that there is a table and lamp, between the mirror and the bed. It should be reflected in the mirror, right?
Unless, of course, the table was removed to make room for the camera making the close up of the mirror. I believe that this is what happened. Indeed, this close up of the mirror is the start of a panoramic scrolling view of the bedroom. This probably required heavy camera and machinery.
These two screenshots come literally one after the other on the sequence of all the movie's frames. Eleanor is intrigued by this story of a dog running past the doors, holding up her hand close to her mouth.
Then the camera moves and Eleanor is instantly holding her hands close to her waist.
As Eleanor enters the dinning room to have a breakfast, we can see in the background a dark wall with a lighter zigzag motif.
But 5 seconds later, with a different camera position, the colour of the same wall is really different. The zigzag motif disappeared and the whole panel looks lighter and brighter.
What happened? There could be several explanations for this. I don't believe the wall was changed in any way.
It could be a different roll of negative film, which reacted very differently to the same colour.
It could also be for instance a colour lighting: if you light up a blue motif with a blue light, the motif disappears. If you light up a red motif with a red light, the motif disappears. They might have changed the lighting between the two shots. That is really what I think happened. If you look closely at the first motif, you will notice that a lamp on a nearby table makes a shadow on this wall and in this shadow, you just cannot see the zigzag. Then 5 seconds later, the wall looks completely different and the shadow of the lamp is gone too.
See how this sample colourful motif reacts under different lights.
Can you see for yourself how this same motif looks totally different under different colour lights when converted to black and white?
I guess no one told Richard Johnson that his cigarette was in his left hand...
...and then suddenly in his right hand, noticeably shorter.
The fire is intense when Luke enters the purple parlour, looking for a drink..
... but almost extinguished less than 10 seconds later.
It is easy to figure out why: try to pause the filming to set up a 1962 camera in front of the coach with the girls, and see how long it takes.
That one is so obvious, you can't have missed it.
Wait a minute. Have a serious look at all these pictures.
Eleanor doesn't sleep in her bed, but in a meridian sofa. This sofa is leaning against a wall; behind this wall is the corridor that leads to all the bedrooms and the nursery.
The meridian sofa is (obviously) asymmetric. There is a place for the head, and another for the feet. Close to the place for the feet, against the same wall, stands a French door with curtains.
Before the threatening figure appears on the wall, we have a look through this French door. We can see outside of the house. This is a view of some towers. But that's just impossible! The outside world is behind the opposite wall, behind Eleanor's bed, where Theodora is sleeping!
There is an obvious inconsistency here. The first night, when all the guests part to go to their respective bedrooms, Luke goes to the right when you face the nursery doors.
But when later he comes at the call of John to see the cold spot for himself, he seems to emerge from the other side (left when you face the nursery doors, right when you come out of the nursery — this screenshot).
When the team leaves the veranda with the life-size statues, they head to a door behind the statues. One second later, as they're about to explore the library, the team enters the house though the main entrance door.
But, wait a minute, no! When Eleanor first enters the house though the same door, you can clearly see that there is no veranda nearby. It is obvious with a front view of the house.
The body of the first Mrs. Crain was carried lifeless in the house, and laid gently on this sofa. And ninety years later Eleanor and Theo are still using it.
Except, except when they have their coffee after the first diner: Eleanor is in exactly the same room, with the same furniture all around, except the sofa she's seating on which is slightly different. Maybe a cheaper model that could be damaged and stained with coffee?
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?
This little anomaly is really not serious, it just makes you smile.
The movie was shot in 1962, long before the advent of home automation and centralized control systems.
The problem in this scene is the lighting. If you look closely, when Eleanor is lying in her own twin bed, next to Theodora, she has only one switch (her little bedside lamp) at her disposal. To her right is a recess, an alcove. It is quite large, wide and deep. It is best seen in another scene. In this alcove are several sources of light.
Well, when Eleanor turns off her little bedside lamp with its strangely dark globe, she manages to turn off the whole room. Both the central ceiling light, but also all the lights in the alcove.
Theodora also has the same super power. In front of the fireplace on the right is a table with another lamp — a lamp by which Eleanor puts nail polish on her feet earlier before going to bed. Well, when Theodora turns off her little bedside lamp, she also manages to turn off all the lamps on her side of the room at once. But when she turns it back on during the night, the same switch only allows her this time to turn on her bedside lamp again.
As Eleanor is hypnotized, mesmerized and irresistibly attracted by the spiral staircase in the library, something strange is happening outside. Although this new event is undoubtedly taking place at night, some windows in the tower are lit like in daylights... whilst some others remain as dark as the night. What is really going on here?
This scene is an indoor scene. So it was shot in the studios, and not on location at Ettington Park (See the page dedicated to The House for more details. You will see what is really inside the square tower). So what did happen? Could the technicians forget to check the switches? Did no one on the set notice the strange effect? That is weird.
Moreover, this scene is supposed to take place at night: Eleanor is wearing a nightgown. So all the exterior lights should be dimmed. The windows are surely meant to be seen, but not with such a bright light. Even at dawn, with the sun rising at East, there should not be such a huge difference between the various windows.
Pay attention to the stained glass just above Theo's door. When John and Luke are in the corridor, the stained glass is brightly lit.
A few seconds later, as they enter Theo's bedroom, the stained glass is almost in the dark, although the lights seems unchanged in the corridor.
Strangely, when Luke hops out of the car to get the keys, he just leaves the door wide open. Seconds later, as Eleanor decides she'll do whatever she wants and leaves abruptly, it is neatly closed.
On her way to Hill House, almost opposite the house with the stone lions, Eleanor can see very briefly on her left side a kind of off-road car (actually a Land-Rover 80" Series I) parked on the grass., under the trees, with men all around busy with technical equipment.
That is especially strange because I double checked: during the country-side part of her trip, Eleanor meets or sees absolutely no-one, until she reaches Hill House. There are a couple of other cars on the road, but there is no-one in the gardens, no-one on the road side, except for these men around this car.
My guess is that they are technicians working for the movie, making sure that no-one comes right on Eleanor (this was shot in England, she drives on the "wrong" part of the road, right?) or coordinating the shots with another team? I really don't know, I just assume.
Eleanor, answering the obscure call from the house, flees from one room to another, from one corridor to another. She then enters the music room, where a mirror falls in her presence. But the mirror doesn't shatter into pieces on the wooden floor. It keeps hanging on the wall.
Well the explanation for this is clearly visible, and more obvious if you add some light. The mirror is attached with a string...
It is not something purely technical or abstract to understand: a camera, just like your eye, can only focus at one distance at a time. That means that it adapts to see sharply the object you are staring at. The other objects that are farther away will be blurred, as well as the closer objects.
Imagine a fly on the window. If you stare at the fly, you will see it sharply but the trees in the garden will be blurred. Now if you stare at a tree in the garden through the window, the fly on the window will be blurred. You can only focus at one distance at a time: the fly or the tree.
The camera has the same limitation. But sometimes the director would like to see sharply two objects that cannot be seen sharply together in reality. For instance, a scene in the foreground and another one in the background. It seems easy with today's techniques and computer generated effects but in the sixties, it was not...
For decades I thought in good faith that it was simply a split screen effect. It could have been done with a split screen effect, but only the eye of a movie expert (not me) could make a correct diagnosis. So the discussion below about the "split screen effect use in the movie" is inaccurate/theoretical, but I'm leaving it voluntarily anyway to explain the principle.
A technique called "split screen" can help to achieve this desired effect. 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:
This simple technique was frequently used in the past, but many other solutions exist today to solve the same problem.
The solution to this problem was revealed to me by Ernest Farino, a movie expert. He published a very interesting article on "The Haunting" (see the section "Magazines about Robert Wise, The Haunting or Shirley Jackson" section on the "RW Mags & Books" page for all details).
Source: "Retro Fan" magazine, November 2021, No 17, article "Whose Hand Was I Holding...?" by Ernest Farino, page 48
I quote the passage that explains the technical details:
(*) Laurent's note: it is Theo, in fact, not Dr. Markway.
No. The swinging mirror! To get such an effect, you just need to shoot the reflection of the scene in a mirror, and move the mirror while filming. You can move the camera to get the same effect but, trust me, it is easier with a mirror.
Another proof — if needed — of Robert Wise's talent. This scene is absolutely superb and yet easy to set up: As Eleanor moves forwards, the camera moves backwards to keep the distance between them unchanged. So the background becomes blurred; it is normal because it is farther and farther away. The lights are progressively dimmed as well to end up with a complete darkness in the background. Eleanor is disappearing inch by inch into this house!
That's right. With this wonderful not-ready-for-use lens, it is nearly impossible to figure out the exact shape of a room. Your brain just cannot materialize what is really going on in reality.
With software, I have created a panorama view out of several screenshots. Look at the result: it is so difficult to draw or figure out the shape of a room...
I wonder what kind of effect or meaning this was supposed to add to the scene, but the grass is badly (see the rough decoupage) incrusted in the nightly view of Hill House. It seems that the grass shot during the "most lit" view was cut and reused in the "less lit" view of the house, to make it look "luminous" at night.
Did you pay a good attention to that view of the music room? We see it when Eleanor is drifting and running around in various rooms of the house. Did you notice the incredibly high ceiling? Can you see the length of the cord of the chandelier? Well, as a matter of fact, if you add plenty of light on this screen shot, you can actually see the top of the actual set, created with wood.
With today's special FX (special effects) and CGI (Computer Generated Images) it is just so easy to create the perfect morphing. Here is a simple and rough one (just 8 intermediate images), created in less than 15 minutes with my own computer.
But back in the early sixties, I guess the only available solution was to create this "fade to next image" effect with more or less plausible median (intermediate) picture.
Again, with today's special FX (special effects) and CGI (Computer Generated Images) it is just so easy to create a fake "breathing door" effect. But Robert Wise had to use a much simpler — yet as effective — solution: the door is actually built with layers and layers of laminated wood.
To make it "breathe", some strong operators/workers were behind the door, pushing it. It was that simple. Still, it is one of the best remembered feature of the movie.
Well, well, what a strange balcony! We distinctly see this part of the house when Eleanor first sees Hill House.
We see it again when Eleanor flees with her car.
So, look attentively: when Eleanor, staring at the tower, gets dizzy (or pushed?) and nearly falls off the balcony, she stands on a balcony that simply doesn't exist in the house. Playing the movie frame by frame, you can even see some "too short be noticed" technical construction details, including a hole with a ladder. I added a close-up.
It lasts only three frames or so.
You might also wonder: how was the camera set-up?
To fully appreciate the movie, it is also important to place it in the cultural and historical context of the time.
Can you understand and appreciate all the references to the American culture, Greek mythology, famous people of the time? I am French, neither English nor American, born in the seventies, so some research was necessary for me.
What was going on when The Haunting was first released in 1963? Which other movies were released that year? What was the predominant movie genre? Who was at the top of the music charts? Who were the book bestsellers? Historically, what was going on in the world in 1963?
When Mr. Harper suggests to Mrs. Sannerson that Luke should accompany the expedition to Hill House, she is taken aback by this choice.
After reconsidering the proposal, she concludes that Luc finally has an interest in protecting the house.
According to some fans, the "young Lochinvar" is a reference to the Lochinvar poem by Sir Walter Scott
While the little group, lost, is looking for its way to the dining room and Dr. Markway is bragging about studying the map — running straight into a broom closet —, Eleanor seems troubled and evokes a similarity with the short story "The Lady, or the Tiger?", referring to a problem that is unsolvable.
According to Wikipedia, "The Lady, or the Tiger?" is a much-anthologized short story written by Frank R. Stockton for publication in the magazine "The Century" in 1882. Source: Wikipedia
Over dinner on the first night, Dr Markway explains that he brought Eleanor in because of her past experience with a poltergeist.
Despite the 1982 "Poltergeist" movie which made the concept better known to the general public, I think that a clarification is necessary.
According to Wikipedia, a poltergeist (German for "noisy ghost" or "noisy spirit") is a type of ghost or spirit that is responsible for physical disturbances, such as loud noises and objects being moved or destroyed. They are also depicted as capable of the movement or levitation of objects such as furniture and cutlery, or noises such as knocking on doors. Source: Wikipedia
So, there are fundamental differences between a ghost and a poltergeist.
Ghosts, on the one hand, are traditionally linked to a house or a family. They induce feelings, mostly negative ones such as fear, fright, terror, but can also induce joy, consolation, reassurance and other positive feelings. They are often — but not always — linked to a financially well-off environment. An old family mansion in the countryside must have its ghost. The English consider them quite chic.
Postergeists, on the other hand, are strongly linked to an individual. They cause destruction, damage or create an immeasurable mess in a room. They seem also provocative, trying to upset or push everyone to their limits. They are often — but not always — linked to a financially modest background. They are often triggered (unconsciously) by someone who may suffer from not having much power in an unequal and unfair relationship (real or perceived), such as a teenager, a woman or a domestic worker. The English consider them to be almost vulgar.
During the same evening dinner, Dr. Markway talks about Hill House, quoting Greek mythology.
This excellent article from the encyclopaedia Britannica sums up in a few words what the House of Hades is all about: [...] A labyrinth of dark, cold, and joyless halls, surrounded by locked gates and guarded by the hellhound Cerberus.
After the first "attack" in Theo's bedroom, Luc is amused to observe that Eleanor and Theo seem to take the events with decontraction — whereas their unexpected burst of laughter is only the consequence of the massive quantity of adrenaline running through their veins. Luc then refers jokingly to Theo as "Miss ESP" and to Eleanor as "Bridey Murphy".
According to Wikipedia, Bridey Murphy is a purported 19th-century Irishwoman whom U.S. housewife Virginia Tighe (April 27, 1923 — July 12, 1995) claimed to be in a past life. In early 1956, Doubleday released a book by Morey Bernstein, "The Search for Bridey Murphy", which was made into a 1956 film of the same name. Source: Wikipedia
This Gladstone bag is mentioned by Dr. Markway at breakfast when he is alone with Eleanor. He gives details about his family, explains what his academic background is and where his interest in the supernatural comes from.
According to the Maxwel-scott bags web site, the Gladstone travel bag, named after the late British prime minister William Ewart Gladstone, has become a traditional leather timepiece, a symbol of Victorian Britain. This bag is like a briefcase having two equal compartments joined by a hinge. Source: Maxwel-scott bags
A little later, when Theo joins Eleanor and Dr. Markway for breakfast, Eleanor explains what she is really afraid of.
This expression comes from "The Cornish or West Country Litany"; Francis T. Nettleinghame Polperro Proverbs and Others (1926). The phrase is used as a humorous way of referring to nocturnal disturbances of all sorts.
In spite of changing attitudes toward the medium, by 1960 there was no question that television was the dominant mass medium in the United States. That year, average daily household radio usage had dropped to less than two hours; TV viewing, on the other hand, had climbed to more than five hours per day and would continue to increase annually. Between 1960 and 1965, the average number of daily viewing hours went up 23 minutes per TV household, the biggest jump in any five-year period since 1950.
At the movie theatres, weekly attendance plunged from 44 million in 1965 to 17.5 million by the end of the decade.
Source: britannica.com > Television in the United States > The 1960s
Percentage of the US population that went to the cinema, on average, weekly, on the 1930-2000 period:
The graph shows a steady percentage below 10% of the U.S. population that averaged going to the movies weekly since around 1964. But before that point in time, there was still a good amount of people going to the movies. In 1930, more than 65% of the population went to the movies weekly.
Source: cinemablend.com (text); cuny.edu: City University of New York (graph)
First of all, let's replace The Haunting in the Robert WISE's 1961-1966 movie timeline. I invite you to read a comprehensive filmography on the IMDb site
Then, amongst the 2600+ movies and documentaries released in 1963, I selected these 10 titles that are still vividly remembered today.
According to IMDb, the non-mainstream horror movie genre was quite abundant in 1963 with no less than 66 movies on the silver screen. The top 5 most represented movie genre in 1963 were: drama (1002 movies), comedy (551), romance (226), documentary (226) and finally action (230). All in all, it was a good time for horror movies.
Size of box: number of movies released in 1963, classified by specific genre.
According to IMDb, 112 minutes was not the standard running time for a movie in 1963. The standard was more in the range of 80 to 100 minutes.
X axis: Running time (duration) of 1963 movies in minutes † Y axis: Number of movies of that duration † Source: IMDB
0 = between 0 and 10 min. † 10 = between 10 and 20 min. † 20 = between 20 and 30 min. ... 210 = between 210 and 220 min.
According to IMDb, The Haunting did make some money during its initial release in the US: a gross revenue of $2.62 Million for a budget of $1.40 Million, but some other movies released the same year were more much successful, moneywise. However, The Haunting is now a cult classic movie whilst other more lucrative competitors are now long forgotten...
X axis: Name of the movie † Y axis: Gross revenue generated by that movie, in million US dollars † Source: IMDB
What were the Fiction Best Sellers of 1963 in the USA?
Source: bobborst.com and Wikipedia
Who were the Top selling artists in music in the USA? Well, to name a few, alphabetically:
Source: Thepeoplehistory.com and Wikipedia
Source: Thepeoplehistory.com and infoplease.com
Source: Thepeoplehistory.com and Wikipedia
Important note: the flags depicted here are the current flags, not necessarily the 1963 flags. Some countries have split, merged, been renamed, so the best effort has been made to accommodate the most appropriate flag.
Who were the presidents and heads of government?
Instinctively, it is quite obvious that Eleanor is the main character of the movie, with the longest screen presence. However, as scientist, I like facts and figures, so I decided to check. I exported the complete movie into single images, frame by frame, and started to count.
Checking who is visible on every single frame would be a maddening task, as least manually. I decided to focus on "logical scenes", instead of single "frames". For instance, Eleanor and Theodora discussing in Eleanor's bedroom is a scene, according to me. During that scene, we might see Eleanor alone (discussing with Theodora, off screen), or Theodora alone (discussing with Eleanor off screen), or the both of them. For that scene, I would record that both Eleanor and Theodora are present - despite the fact that, individually, they might not appear on every single frame of the scene. After cutting the movie into scenes, I did an inventory of all the character who are presents in those scenes, and the duration of the scene, in frames. Of course, if a character enters or leaves during a scene, I have to break down the scene into shorter scenes, to keep an accurate recording of who is actually present and who is not. For instance, after the writings on the wall, the Dr. Markway, Eleanor and Theodora discuss in the dining room. It would seem logical to identify this sequence as a single scene. However, Mrs. Dudley enters at some point and demands to clear up the breakfast, then leaves. So I broke down this scene into 3 shorter scenes: before Mrs. Dudley's entrance, with Mrs. Dudley, after Mrs. Dudley's departure.
Obviously, the movie has main and secondary characters. It didn't seem relevant to me to record the on screen presence of absolutely everyone. So I made choices and decided to focus on the characters who live in the house during the experiment: Mr. and Mrs. Dudley, Eleanor, Theodora, Dr. Markway, Luke and Grace.
No one likes to read long tables with figures, so I created a couple of graphics that should perfectly illustrate these statistics.
With 84% of screen presence, Eleanor is the undisputed main character of the movie.
Surprisingly (again, to me), Dr. Markway and Theodora share almost the same screen presence, with a slight advantage for the Doctor.
Amazingly (at least, to me), Eleanor is alone on screen for almost 20% of the movie!
Since I recorded an "inventory" of all characters present in all the scenes I have identified, it allowed me to demonstrate that the most common configuration is Eleanor + Theodora + Dr. Markway + Luke sharing a scene, then Eleanor + Theodora, then Eleanor + Dr. Markway, then Eleanor alone, etc.
Disclaimer: First and foremost, let me repeat again and again that I am ferociously against the colourization. I love the movie as it is. Period. I am just waiting for a better 4K or 8K version, with deeper blacks.
This movie was shot in black and white, on purpose, as stipulated in Robert Wise's contract. This is an artistic choice of the director and, as such, cannot be questioned. It was his vision; how he envisaged "The Haunting". If Robert Wise had had a bigger budget, he would have not shot in colour — the choice of black and white is not a consequence of a limited budget. I have the greatest respect for Robert Wise and for his, this, masterpiece.
Still, I try to keep an open mind. I've been wondering for a while: what would it have looked like in colour? So, with my limited tools and skills — I am not a professional graphic artist, merely a fan of the movie, I've devoted hours and hours to try to colourize a couple of snapshots, just to get a very rough idea. I hope you can appreciate my approach and the effort it required, just to share with you a "what if…" sneak preview.
Leave your mouse pointer over the image to compare with the original in black and white.
During the 2021-2022 holiday season, I read an article about colouring in a British computer magazine. The author was very enthusiastic about the amazing progress of artificial intelligence (AI) to automatically colour films or photos. Obviously, I am very curious and I wanted to try the "automatic" solutions he proposed.
You will see for yourself, we are still far from human intelligence to recognise shapes, objects, boundaries and contours, textures, etc... It seems that the tool has been very well trained to choose appropriate colours for colouring faces, but the "which part to colour exactly" algorithm is not really worked out yet: It often forgets the neck, the neckline or even part of the face. On the other hand, the colourisation of greenery, the sky or the yellow/orange stone characteristic of Oxford still need some adjustments.
Some results are nevertheless really interesting: Mr. Dudley at the gate, the chalk message in the corridor, John examining the map, the "breathing" door, etc.
I'll let you judge for yourself.
Source: YouTube, Channel: Rumble Dog Pictures, Video: The Haunting 1963 - In Colour
It is not on the ceiling, it is the cover of the book that Theo was reading, and that she left on her night table before switching off the light. This got me confused for years until I read the movie-script. In this scene, Theo is reading a copy of the bible that belonged to Abigail Crain: the name of the latter is embossed on the leather cover. This is the book that Theo insists to show to Eleanor before they start arguing. After the falsely nice "Good night, Nellie my Nell" from Theo, Eleanor — obviously very upset — lays in her bed, and seem to stare at the ceiling for a brief moment. In the next shot, we see a close up of the embossed "Abigail Crain".
My brain concluded that Eleanor was looking at something on the ceiling, just above her. The movie editing was misleading. Maybe Eleanor's look at the ceiling should have been cut? Maybe the close-up scene of the book was not enough zoomed out, to see the whole book or the whole night table? It is very difficult to realise that you're actually looking at a night table with a book and a lamp on it.
When Theo closes the book, you can see very briefly (and with a wide screen) the embossed name on the cover.
Last but not least, I can hardly see the point: why does it make any kind of difference that Theo is reading Abigail's bible?
This film is so subtle, intelligent, moving, fascinating, captivating, addictive and disturbing... that nothing should spoil your experience.
You are absolutely free but just consider this as a friendly advice. Choose a rainy or windy dark evening. Do not spoil it and make sure that everything is perfect before starting. Do not let anything or anyone disturb you: answering machine "on" if you still have a land line, social networks "offline", smartphone "off", tablet "off", computer "off", door "locked". Do not watch it alone. Do not watch it in a crowded room either, your best friend or a friend or two will be fine. You will probably be happy to have someone to talk to when it is over (to share your experience). If you are the kind who nibbles, take immediately the food and drink you need (and go to the bathroom before you start). Do not watch it until it is really dark outside. Do not watch it in a luminous room, that would ruin the experience. Dim the lights. An atmospheric lighting will be fine. The soundtrack, together with the black and white images, has the highest importance in this film. So make sure that the room is really quiet and turn the volume up. Feel cosy and get ready to have a good chill.
This movie was and remains my very favourite one. Although I have been watching it countless times, I still get a lot of pleasure and thrill in watching it over and over again. It is not as good and as intense as the first time but I appreciate every single time I watch it. In fact, I would even say that every time, I discover new details I had not noticed the previous times. To continue to enjoy it, try different things...
You will discover a lot of details...
... if you keep on looking at the people who do not speak (you usually spontaneously look at the people who do speak)
... if you focus on the set instead of the actors
... if you have the chance to watch it on a huge screen (home cinema or movie theater)
Just try and you will see that every single detail was purposely chosen. It is definitely a real masterpiece.
What are you talking about? Yes. I realise how incredible that sounds, but if you are the lucky owner of a 3D TV able to perform some "on the fly" 2D to 3D conversion, you will be amazed at the result.
The crisp black and white image seems to be perfect for that purpose (I had weak and unimpressive results with very colourful movies or music videos). The 3D conversion engine is able to perfectly understand where the background and the foreground are, and to create some depth accordingly.
Don't expect to see any object popping out of the TV, it is all about depth. Not just "front" and "back", but a whole range of depth; a genuine 3D perception.
If you have the chance to see it for yourself, you will be very impressed to see highly realistic 3D scenes. It works incredibly well in many scenes where an actor is moving in the foreground while the camera also moves, creating a "parallax scrolling effect". Sadly, I cannot make any 3D screenshot to demonstrate this.
I cannot make any statement nor give any guarantee about every single model of TV. I had great results with the Samsung SmartTV UE46ES7000
You might be also interested by these pages:
The Watcher in the Woods is a 1980 American supernatural horror film directed by John Hough and Vincent McEveety and starring Bette Davis, Carroll Baker, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Kyle Richards, and David McCallum. Based on the 1976 novel by Florence Engel Randall.
The film tells the story of a teenage girl and her little sister who become encompassed in a supernatural mystery regarding a missing girl in the woods surrounding their new home in the English countryside.
My review: What makes this film interesting for me is the house, that is Ettington Park (aka Hill House), here in colour in this 1980 film. For the rest, I'm not so much a fan of this film genre.
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 neo-Gothic mansion of Sheffield Park, in East Sussex (UK, Europe). The film marked the first film role for child actor Pamela Franklin.
In Victorian England, the uncle of orphaned niece Flora and nephew Miles hires Miss Giddens as governess to raise the children at his estate with total independence and authority. Soon after her arrival, Miss Giddens comes to believe that the spirits of the former governess Miss Jessel and valet Peter Quint are possessing the children. Miss Giddens decides to help the children to face and exorcise the spirits.
My review: an excellent movie, although I still believe that the decision of Robert Wise not to show anything is the best solution to instillate the fear of ghosts. In The Innocents, the ghosts are seen, which was not really necessary to produce that sense of unease throughout the film. The director perfectly created an eerie feeling that grows and grows during the film. The house is not as threatening as Hill House but the outdoor scenes (in the garden) are superb. The Criterion Blu-ray edition is a must-have!
The Uninvited is a 1944 American supernatural mystery/romance film directed by Lewis Allen. It is based on the Dorothy Macardle novel Uneasy Freehold.
A brother and sister move into an old seaside house they find abandoned for many years on the English coast. Their original enchantment with the house diminishes as they hear stories of the previous owners and meet their daughter (now a young woman) who now lives as a neighbour with her grandfather. Also heard are unexplained sounds during the night. It becomes obvious that the house is haunted. The reasons for the haunting and how they relate to the daughter whom the brother is falling in love with, prove to be a complex mystery. As they are compelled to solve it, the supernatural activity at the house increases to a frightening level.
My review: maybe I am just too demanding but this one was really disappointing to me. The romance part of the movie plus a lot of easy tricks didn't convince me at all. Still, if you want to give it a try, don't miss the Criterion Blu-ray edition!
Waxwork II: Lost in Time, directed by Anthony Hickox, pays a not-very-subtle but funny homage to The Haunting, with numerous sequences in black and white, and characters who strangely look like the cast of the original movie. See for yourself!
If you have not seen it, lucky you! Do not change a thing!
If you have seen it, now you know that making a good movie requires talent whilst making a awfully bad movie just requires a lot of money.
The one and only positive side-effect of this abominable remake was that the Shirley Jackson's book was reprinted in 1999 with a new cover in numerous countries, in various translations (the English editions were always widely available).
Frankly, there is not much to say. It looks like a licensing deal: the permission to reuse the name of The Haunting of Hill House and its characters for something very different from the original book and film.
Again, a positive side-effect is a revigorated attention for the original movie and book.
I am not close to the family, but I have read enough biographies on the subject to conclude that "Shirley" (2020) — the movie and the book it is inspired from — does not describe the reality of the Jackson-Hyman couple and life with their children — a subject that Shirley herself had mentioned in her books.
I was not surprised to read that the children had not been consulted.