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Film / The Haunting (1999)

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A 1999 remake of Robert Wise's horror masterpiece, directed by Jan de Bont and starring Liam Neeson, Lili Taylor, Owen Wilson, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Nell (Taylor), Luke (Wilson), and Theo (Jones) are invited to Hill House to partake in a 'sleep study' directed by Dr. Marrow (Neeson). The frightening old house seems to have a life of its own and terrifies the participants with strange happenings in the night.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • While Hugh Crain was by no means a pleasant character in the original Jackson novel or the original film, his attitude was suggested to come in part from the accidental death of his first wife. In this adaptation he is explicitly identified as the malevolent presence in Hill House and in life he not only intentionally drove his first wife to suicide (and is strongly implied to have attempted to kill his second when she discovered his crimes) but kidnapped and murdered children from his mills.
    • While he isn't a villain, Marrow outright lies about the purpose for the guests staying at the house, while Montague, his book counterpart, and Markway, his equivalent in the 1963 film, were open about the supernatural nature of the experiment from the start.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: Eleanor shouts, "Who was holding my hand?" in homage to one of the original's creepiest moments. Problem is, the context is completely different and there's absolutely no reason for her to be saying it, although the circumstances could imply it was Hugh Crain doing so.
  • All Take and No Give: Eleanor spent 11 years of her life taking care of her invalid mother, only for her sister Jane (whom never did anything for them) to inherit their mom’s apartment. Both Jane and her husband immediately decide to sell the apartment, not giving a damn that they’ll make Eleanor a homeless. When Eleanor protests, Jane says okay, she may live with them... as long as she’ll babysit their spoiled son.
  • Artistic License – Geography: Hill House, in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts, is described as being nine miles from its nearest neighbor. There is no location in the Berkshires that is anywhere close to being so isolated. Even one mile would be unrealistic.
  • Badass Boast:
    Nell: Well, I've come home Grandpa. And you—you can go straight to Hell!
  • Bedsheet Ghost: Wait until you see the child ghost's body in the sheet. As in, formed by/from the sheet, rather than wearing it.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Theo, Luke and Dr. Marrow break through the door of Nell's room, arriving in time to save her from being raped by Crain.
  • Blank Slate: Nell again, and referenced by Theo when she calls her a blank canvas: "I could paint your portrait right on you..."
  • Captain Obvious: Owen Wilson's entire role. "That staircase won't hold your weight!"
  • Chekhov's Gun: The doors and their inscription.
  • Closed Circle: The gates are locked every night when the Dudleys leave and, as in both the book and the original movie, they stay in town since "no one will come any closer than that" and "they couldn't even hear" if they needed help. In a concession to the modern setting, Dr. Marrow has a cell phone for emergencies (and he uses it to call the hospital before Todd leaves with Mary), but this is, conveniently enough, broken during Marrow's rescue of fugue-state Nell from the rickety wrought-iron staircase.
  • Continuity Nod: The sound effect used for the pounding upon the doors is the same one used in the original movie.
  • Creepy Circus Music: As one reviewer put it, "Because no horror movie would be complete without creepy circus music." Justified by Hugh Crain having built the house (supposedly) for children to live and play in, hence a rotating carousel room.
  • Death by Adaptation: Luke. Like in the original, Nell dies too, but in a completely different manner.
  • Death of a Child: Hugh Crain killing his children is what sets the events of the film into motion.
  • Dem Bones: What Nell discovers in the fireplace.
  • Died Happily Ever After: Nell dies confronting the ghost of Hugh Crain, who kept the spirits of the children he killed imprisoned in the house. He is banished to Hell, and her spirit joins those of the children as they all float up to Heaven. What makes this unusual (and a bit disturbing) is that thanks to the earlier scene in the mirror carousel room which implies reincarnation, it isn't clear if it is Nell's spirit or Carolyn's that ascends.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Nell, for a good portion of the movie. It's genuinely creepy.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The assault upon Nell in her bedroom by Hugh Crain—his ghost plunges down from the ceiling toward her with a wide, leering mouth (filled with many grasping arms, no less), while the bed is pulled toward him and Nell is held pinned in place by numerous long, thin wooden spikes decorated with barbs. The directors described the ceiling moving downward and the spikes growing longer as a manifestation of Nell's claustrophobia, but hmmm... See also Heir Club for Men.
  • Dull Surprise: The reactions of most of the actors to the CGI, but particularly Dr. Marrow and Luke during the rescue of Nell from the bedroom assault.
  • Ethical Slut: Theo is bisexual and has both a boyfriend and a girlfriend - who clearly know about the other one since she says they don't like each other. She also flirts openly with Luke and shares tender moments with Eleanor. She's not presented as bad and is shown to properly care for Eleanor in a romantic way.
  • The Eyes Have It: The stained-glass windows in the scene where Crain assaults Nell in her bedroom, complete with Red Eyes, Take Warning. More subtle examples occur when statues shift their eyes or turn their heads out of view of the characters; an easily missed one occurs with the hooded statue which Theo, Luke, and Marrow pass as they race to find Nell in the nursery.
  • Facial Horror: Poor Mary was the first to leave the house after being injured by wire from a clavichord. She might very possibly be left with facial disfigurement...or something worse.
  • Fashion Hurts: Theo dons a pair of thigh-high Prada boots (Milan, not New York!) in her early scenes. As she tells Nell, "They're killing me... Small price to pay for such savage kicks."
  • Foreshadowing: One of the guests was about to tell the others that there's more to the story of the house, but then a clavichord wire suddenly broke and cut her eye.
  • Forced from Their Home: Eleanor joined the sleep study because she was forced to leave the apartment where she had lived with her late mother for years, after her selfish sister and brother-in-law decided to sell it.
  • Friendly Ghost: The ghost children unlike Hugh Crain's ghost.
  • Genius Loci: The house is a particularly frightening one.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: A study on fear (disguised as one on sleep) and the psychological implications of this (and Nell's insane reactions to it) turns into a horror-filled action piece where the characters have to figure out how to end a haunting, or at least escape it alive.
  • Hearing Voices: Nell hears the voices of the ghosts, who turned out to be very childish voices.
  • Heir Club for Men: Crain's reason for wanting Nell to stay at Hill House, first implied by Carolyn/Nell's pregnant reflection in the carousel room, then made graphically explicit in the bedroom assault scene.
  • A House Divided: Before the phenomena become undeniably real, much of this occurs—Nell and Theo hear the pounding but Luke and Marrow don't, blaming it on faulty plumbing, Nell is disbelieved when she thinks the flue is something else, and when the message defaces the painting, Luke and Theo turn on each other while Nell blames everyone. This last scene is particularly effective since, as the viewer soon learns the children's ghosts painted the message, when Marrow asks which of them did it he genuinely doesn't know the answer—so as far as he knows, one of them is indeed secretly plotting to raise the fear factor.
    Nell: Whoever did it... it's cruel.
  • Hypocrite: Much like in the original film, Theo calls out Eleanor for being a possible Attention Whore... which Theo has pretty much been the entire time.
  • Intimate Hair Brushing: There's a moment where Theo (who is bisexual) combs Nell's hair. As opposed to Theo's casual flirting, this is more of a Friendship Moment between them.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: There's one Nell hums a lot, which turns out to be a song played by the music box in the nursery.
  • I See Dead People: Nell can see ghosts from the sheets and curtains.
  • Jerkass: Nell's sister. After their mother dies she evicts Nell because she can't make rent, and offers her the choice of becoming a live-in-nanny or pretty much living on the streets. Then she gives her an old car like it's an act of immense charity. Nell quite satisfyingly tells her to go fuck herself.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Theo is openly bisexual (with a girlfriend and boyfriend at the same time who know about each other). She wears her hair long and has fairly feminine attire, though it isn't exaggerated.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Nell, to the children, Carolyn, and Hugh Crain, or vice versa.
  • Made of Plasticine: That was one slow-moving and completely un-sharp lion head flue to take a man's head off (cleanly, no less).
  • Mind Screw: Instead of the book and first movie's questioning of Nell's sanity and whether the haunting is actually real, this version plays with Nell's ancestry and her relation to the house. In two very surreal scenes, Nell has an identity crisis (possibly brought on by her being her great-great-grandmother reincarnated) and can't even recognize her own face in the mirror, then discovers that the locked nursery where Carolyn had her baby looks exactly like her own mother's bedroom back in the city. This last could be explained by the house's Genius Loci mirroring what was obsessing and haunting Nell's own mind, which has rather disturbing implications...
  • Off with His Head!: Poor Owen Wilson.
  • Ominous Music Box Tune: In the locked nursery.
  • One-Winged Angel: Crain manifests himself as a giant, cloud like ghost in the climax of the film.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: Nell's necklace, it turns out.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Hugh Crain and the ghost children he murdered.
  • Pater Familicide: A particularly disturbing variation: Hugh Crain, the Eccentric Millionaire who built Hill House, not only seems to have killed or driven his wife to her death (and the second one too), but the children from the mills whom he 'adopted' were also slain by him, or else allowed to waste away due to neglect. So even though, presumably, the mitigation of what ruined his life (no offspring) should have made him happy and fulfilled, the industrialist instead destroys the very thing he'd been seeking for so long.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: The skeleton in the fireplace.
  • The Power of Love: Eleanor defeats Hugh Crain's ghost by using this (and luring him to the iron door that leads to Hell). It's evident in her Breaking Speech towards him.
  • Preserve Your Gays: Theo is set up as the slut as well as the bisexual woman in a way that make it clear to the viewer that she'll be one of the first to die. Surprise surprise, it's a trick. She turns out to be the morally upstanding Ethical Slut, and she does survive.
  • Psychic Link: Nell seems to have one with the children's ghosts, possibly Carolyn and Hugh Crain as well.
  • Psychic Powers: Aside from Nell, both Marrow's snide commentary and her own reactions to the house imply his assistant Mary has these too. Which may be why she was injured and made to flee the house.
  • Reaction Shot: The interest, alarm, and terror of the child-ghosts is represented this way, using the cherub carvings around Nell's bed.
  • Scenery Porn: The sets of the house itself are intricate and gorgeous.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Nell's quest to free the children from the mills.
  • Shackle Seat Trap: When Crain animates the woodwork in Nell's room, ornamental spikes above the bed stretch out to pierce the bed all around Nell's body, boxing her in.
  • Spooky Painting: Of Hugh Crain; it becomes even worse when the defacing somehow smears/eats away the paint so that his face becomes a skull.
  • Tempting Fate: Luke really shouldn't have attacked Hugh Crain's painting...
  • Tomboyish Name: Theo is a bold and open bisexual woman.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Luke's death really comes across as this. Even if we generously ignore that he could have just rolled to the side to get off the haunted carpet (perhaps he was too scared to think of that), he's still in the fireplace for around 15 seconds just standing there (even though you'd think he'd realize that if the carpet tossed him in there, it's not a safe place to stand around in), and then a rather slow moving lion's head flue swings down to decapitate him. Even though it only moves about 5 miles per hour, and he's facing towards it and has time to react, he stupidly just stands there and lets it lop his head off. Even worse, Nell starts yelling for him to get out, only for him to keep standing there and die like an idiot.
  • The Voiceless: Only one of the two assistants spoke more than a line or two, not that they're relevant to the story anyway. Lampshaded, perhaps, by the character having the same first name as his actor.
  • Undead Child: The ghost children after Hugh Crain killed them and burnt them in the fireplace.
  • Unwitting Test Subject: Variation - Dr. Marrow is attempting to use a fake sleep study as a smokescreen for an experiment on fear. There's plenty of carefully constructed tales to help put the idea of haunting in their heads, the dispensing of some of it to the ladies and some to Luke to encourage mistrust and suspicion, denial of events as having a natural, rational explanation or simply being imagination, and so on. The attitude behind this is exemplified when Marrow tells his supervisor, "You don't tell the rats they're actually in a maze!" and, even after Nell starts descending into madness, still continues making recordings about what's happening. Nell is clearly aware of some hidden agenda early on when she inserts herself into Mrs. Dudley's script for Luke's welcome and says "We're like rats in a maze!" to Theo, but when it turns out the house really is haunted...
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Marrow, for hiding the nature of the study and how he treats his victims. While Luke begins the suspicions of the good doctor's motives, and Nell is justifiably upset, it's Theo who calls him on it, and satisfyingly so.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Hugn Crain's whole MO, and the reason the house is haunted.