Film: The Haunting (1963)
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
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?
- Attention Whore: Theo suggests more than once that Nell is one.
- 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.
- Crusty Caretaker: Mr. Dudley.
"You'll be sorry I ever opened the gate."
- Died Happily Ever After: Nell willingly dies because all she wants is to stay in Hill House, because she's finally wanted somewhere.
- Driven to Suicide: One of the past owners of the house hanged herself. Nell may qualify too.
- Evil Is Deathly Cold: The air around the nursery is terribly cold, Dr. Markway says it's the heart of the house.
- The Film of the Book: Which not many have heard of since. (In the niche circles of horror literature fandom, the book still has a reputation as something of a classic, though many are still introduced to it via the works inspired by it.)
- Foreshadowing: Nell asks to borrow her sister's car, to which her sister replies: "How do I know you'll bring back my car in good condition?" Nell is killed when she crashes the car into a tree.
- Genius Loci: If you take into consideration what Eleanor says about the house, it certainly is one.
- Ghostly Chill
- Haunted Heroine: Nell. Most of the hauntings centers around her.
- Haunted House: Hill House
- Haunted House Historian
- 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.
- Jump Scare: Especially in the last few minutes.
- 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.
- My Beloved Smother: Eleanor's late mother.
- Nothing Is Scarier: Part of the movie's reputation as a horror classic is because it doesn't show you anything.
- Only One Name: Theo
I'm Theodora, just Theodora.
- The Ophelia: Nell as the house slowly drives her insane. She even starts twirling and humming to herself.
- Our Ghosts Are Different
- 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.
- Psychic Powers: Theo is supposedly psychic.
- Skeptic No Longer: Luke, just before the final credits.
- 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.
- Title Drop
- The Titling
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: Theo and Nell.
- 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.
- Wham Shot: The open nursery door, which Markway had specifically suggested should be left closed earlier.
- Womanchild: Eleanor, somewhat.
- You Look Like You've Seen a Ghost