It’s intriguing how one kernel of inspiration can be a spin-off into widely different products that still share a similar theme. Usually, in these cases, it is the finer details that are similar and the broader strokes that are changed. Both Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre borrowed key elements from their sources while telling widely different stories, as did Dirty Harry and American Horror Story. In 1999, before the hit 2017 Netflix series but after its first cinematic appearance in 1960, a 1950s Gothic horror novel got a second chance to incite terror in the public as the shocking events of Hill House came to life in The Haunting.
When Eleanor mother, who she has been caring for eleven years, suddenly dies. Her siblings inherit the house and promptly sell it, leaving poor Elanor practically homeless. Luck smiles on her when she is invited to take part in a supposed insomnia study at the mysterious Hill House, the place she must spend the night at, with complete strangers, completely locked in. As the mansion’s dark history is revealed, this sleep study will involve anything but slumber as unexplained phenomena and past tragedies put the current occupants in jeopardy.
The house itself is a wondrous labyrinth to explore, a mixture of classic moody Gothic architecture and that helps kick the suggestible imagination into overdrive. If you’re familiar with the book or any of its adaptations, a lot of this place should be clear to you. Even the iconic iron staircase makes an appearance. Modern horror fans will know its significance if they have seen the also amazing the Haunting of Hill House. It is also home to ghosts, there is an additional element as the duplicitous nature of the study is hinted at, and the subjects turn on each other.
The cast, on paper, shouldn’t work so well in this paranormal setting, yet they do manage to flourish, with Liam Neeson channeling that combination of intellect and strength that made him so captivating in Darkman. Credit should definitely go to Lili Taylor playing the unfortunate Elanor, and both Luke Wilson and Catherine Zeta-Jones who both feel strangely at home (no pun intended) in the mansion and the horror genre, If you’re looking for late 90s versions of the Jackson originals, I struggle to think of anyone better.
The Haunting is eerie to a tee, soaked with the effective terror from the original story, it takes some intriguing creative decisions that make the film much better off for it, especially when compared with other supernatural thrillers that have come before and after. A mixture of fantastical with modern sensibilities, The Haunting drags you deeply into Hill House, and it will take some fighting on your part to even have a chance to let go.
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