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Haunting

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 Theo (Claire Bloom) a woman with ESP skills. 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.


This movie contains examples of:

  • Ambiguously Gay: Theo.
  • Attention Whore: Theo suggests more than once that Nell is one.
  • Big Fancy House
  • Book Ends: "Hill House had stood for ninety years and might stand for ninety more. Silence lays steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there... walked alone."
  • Creepy Housekeeper: Mrs. Dudley who makes sure to remember the guests that she lives miles away from the house, that there won't be anyone around if they need help, no one will hear them if they scream and then unsmiles.
  • Crusty Caretaker: Mr. Dudley

  You'll be sorry I ever opened the gate.

  I'm Theodora, just Theodora.

The Remake has these additional tropes:

 Nell: Well, I've come home Grandpa. And you--you can go straight to Hell!

  • Bi the Way: In the original, there's a vague sense of Les Yay between the two female leads. The original had good reason to keep it purely subtext, but times change.. In the remake, Theo is openly bisexual and polyamorous, casually mentioning as one of her first lines that she has both a boyfriend and a girlfriend. During the rest of the story, she keeps making overt but benevolent and rather chivalrous attempts to seduce Nell. This may have been helped along by the fact that right after first resisting her advances, the first thing Nell does is show her her bedroom...
  • Blank Slate: Nell again, and referenced by Theo when she calls her a blank canvas: "I could paint your portrait right on you..."
  • Bury Your Gays: Theo is set up as the slut as well as the gay person in a way that make it clear to the Genre Savvy 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.
  • 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 Tom 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.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Nell
  • 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. Word of God 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.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Nell's.
  • Ethical Slut: Theo.
  • 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.
  • Friendly Ghost: The ghost children unlike Hugh Crain's ghost.
  • Gaslighting: Variation--instead of trying to drive the participants of his study mad (though that ends up being the ultimate effect for Nell anyway), Dr. Marrow is attempting to use a fake sleep study as a smokescreen to frighten them and then examine the results. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Nell, to the ghost of the children, Carolyn, and Hugh Crain, or vice versa.
  • 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.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: Nell's necklace, it turns out.
  • 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.
  • Psychic Link: Nell can only see ghosts such as 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.
  • 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.
  • Spooky Painting
  • Tempting Fate: Luke really shouldn't have attacked Hugh Crain's painting...
  • Thigh-High Boots: Theo dons a pair from Prada (Milan, not New York!) in her early scenes. As she tells Nell, "They're killing me...Small price to pay for such savage kicks."
  • 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.
  • 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.
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