Nell is joined by Theo (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a sexed up
insomniac designer, and Luke (Owen Wilson), a sleepless and
cynical psychology grad student who pays for his education by
participating in psychological studies.
After the subjects have arrived and settled into the house,
Dr. Marrow and his assistants, Todd and Mary, arrive and the Dr.
begins to explain to them how the study will work. Still
continuing his ruse he carefully explains to them the sad
history of Hill House. Sufficiently spooked, they decide to
retire for the night. Mary however begins to realize that there
is more to this story than at first it seems. She tries to
warn the group but the house strikes out at her in the form of a
broken piano wire. The house claims its first victim.
Unfortunately, for the guests of Hill House this is just the beginning.
They soon realize there is a great mystery and evil force behind
Hill House. But will they they be able to solve the mystery and
vanquish the evil and still remain alive?
I found The Haunting to be a spectacular horror film.
Visually stunning, genuinely scary, and it doesn't have to rely
on a high body count, although a few characters fall victim to
the house, to grab and keep my attention.
The casting was excellent, Liam Neeson as Dr. Marrow gave a
stellar performance. Lili Taylor, whom I've always been a big
fan of, brought the tortured soul of Nell to life. I would have
liked to see more of Bruce Dern and especially Marian Seldes.
Seldes was absolutely perfect and didn't receive enough screen
time by far. When you read a horror novel set in New England,
she is the old Protestant woman you picture in your mind.
The visual aspects of the film are remarkable. Phil Tippet,
Visual Effects Producer, brought years of experience and
expertise to the film. His other notable works include Return of
the Jedi, Jurassic Park, and Starship Troopers. For obvious
reasons, his most impressive contribution is the interior set
of Hill House. The massive and intricate set was too large for
even the largest Hollywood studios and had to be constructed in
the Long Beach Dome that once housed Howard Hughes' Spruce
Goose. The set is so intricate and detailed that the viewer can
literally get lost looking at the screen.
On par with the set are the impressive special effects that
realistically and literally bring the house alive. A combination
of mechanical and CG, the hand of Industrial Light and Magic
shows itself well. Effects are seamless and unique. Particularly
impressive were the cherub carvings throughout the house.
Bringing these wooden carvings to life added much to the
supernatural and surreal look and feel of the film.
As great as I think The Haunting is there are a few minor
points that bother me. First and foremost is Catherine Zeta-Jones' character
Theo and her interaction with Nell. A strong and sexy character is fine but the constant lesbian sexual
tension between Theo and Nell is both overdone and irrelevant to
the story. It doesn't tie back into the plot or sub plots and is
more of a distraction than telling us anything interesting about
the characters. Obviously a taint from the success of Zena and
Ellen. Second is Mrs. Dudley's warning early in the film. It's
perhaps the best dialog in the entire film...
"I don't stay after dinner, not after it begins to get dark. I leave, before dark comes, we live in town,
nine miles, so there won't be anyone around if you need help. We couldn't even hear you, in the night... No one could. No one lives any nearer than town. No one will come any nearer than that, in the night, in the dark."
If this warning, with the incredibly fine New England style
delivery Marian Seldes gave was left to stand on its own, it
would have created a great deal more intensity. Instead, they
decided to have this dialog repeated for each of the subjects in
the study allowing Nell to mock and make light of the dire
warning. I understand that this was to give insight, to the
viewer, on the nature of the study but I think they should have
gone a different route.
In conclusion, The Haunting was one of the best horror movies
of 1999, and one of the best available on DVD. If you haven't
seen The Haunting or haven't seen it recently, get
yourself to the video store and pick up a copy. Better yet go
out and buy it because you will want to watch it over and over
The DVD special features include:
- Theatrical Teaser
- Theatrical Trailer
- Behind-the-Scenes Feature
- Cast & Crew Biographies
- Production Notes
- English Subtitles
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