The ultimate example of less-is-more in horror cinema. Eleanor "Nell" Vance (Julie Harris) has volunteered for a study on paranormal activity conducted by Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson), with two other participants: Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn), who stands to inherit Hill House, where the study's being held, and Theodora (Claire Bloom) a supposed psychic. Turns out the doctor's suspicions about the existence of ghosts are correct. There's something in the house with them. But what?Made in 1963 and directed by Robert Wise, it was based on the book The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.Remade in 1999 with Liam Neeson, Lili Taylor, Owen Wilson, and Catherine Zeta Jones. There has also been a stage adaptation.
Abusive Parents: After his wife died, Crain was incredibly harsh with Abigail. He made her stand and look at her mother's fresh corpse as he read scripture over it, and his idea of bedtime stories was a book detailing how she'd be tortured in hell for her sins.
Ambiguously Gay: Theo, who Eleanor rather pointedly calls one of "nature's mistakes" at one point.
Eleanor: What scares you, Theodora? Theo: Knowing what I really want.
Ambiguous Ending: Was everything Nell went through really just her being crazy with no true supernatural elements involved, or is the house truly haunted?
Big Fancy House: Hill House is certainly big. And it's certainly fancy. Also creepy as hell.
Book Ends: "Hill House had stood for ninety years and might stand for ninety more. Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there... walked alone."
Brick Joke: Two jokes for the price of one punchline: Markway is warned not to play Gin with Luke as he's a card shark. Theo's psychic powers were tested by having her identify playing cards she couldn't see (scoring 19 out of 20). On their first evening in the house, Luke loses spectacularly to Theo and angrily insists that she was cheating as she gloats and tells him to pay up.
Closed Circle: The gates are locked every night when the Dudleys leave and, as in the book, they stay in town since "no one will come any closer than that" and "they couldn't even hear" if they needed help.
Creepy Housekeeper: Mrs. Dudley, who makes sure to remind the guests that she and her husband live miles away from the house, that there won't be anyone around if they need help, no one to hear them if they scream...and then unsmiles.
I Just Want to Have Friends: Nell is overjoyed to be part of the study because it simply means she's wanted somewhere. When the house wants to keep her permanently, she gladly dies just so she can belong somewhere.
Lovecraft Country: The film takes place in an unspecified, isolated part of New England, and has the requisite spooky woods, creepy Puritan background, and unfriendly country folk. Shirley Jackson, the author of the original book, lived in Vermont.
Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: By playing up the psychological element - specifically, Nell's dubious sanity - the film leaves open the possibility that nothing supernatural was happening. We never saw anything, after all. Which makes it much scarier.
Meaningful Echo: Nell reveals that she ignored her mother's tapping on the wall on the night she died, exactly as the Companion did the night Abigail died.
Poltergeist: Nell is recruited because Markway believes she'd been the focal point of poltergeist activity as a child. Nell remembers the incident as vandals throwing rocks at her home, but her mother may have given her that idea.
Screaming Woman: Played with. Nell certainly spends most of the film in various states of mental distress, but she does fairly little actual screaming.
Supernatural Proof Father: Luke. He is not a father (not even fatherly), but he certainly is very skeptic about all the hauntings. Mrs. Markway is even more skeptical, and dangerously so. Both are quite convinced by the end.
Too Dumb to Live: Mrs. Markway bribes her way into the house and refuses to leave, and purposefully demands to sleep alone in the most haunted room. Unsurprisingly, she disappears in the night. She comes out of it all right, but the house confuses her into wandering around covered in dirt, eventually frightening Nell to her death.