What technique does Robert Wise use, particularly in the opening sequence to make ‘The Haunting’ (1963) a chilling film? What other features strike you as important to the film’s success? There have been two major versions of ‘The Haunting’: one in 1963 (the original) and another in 1999. The first version was an amazing hit and claimed almost cult status, while the second was a flop on it’s opening day. It had nowhere near the same impact on the public as the original did thirty-six years before. The 1999 production of the film had all the modern benefits of a big budget, famous Hollywood actors and actresses and special effects created using computers.
Even at the time of the release of the original film other very well known and popular horror films such as ‘Psycho’ used some quite advanced special effects and some even used colour film (which ‘The Haunting’ is not filmed in). ‘The Haunting’ used obscure actors and actresses and the entire film cost very little to make and yet still seemed to do better than the multi-million dollar production some years later. The film had help in its success as horror films came into main stream cinema at that time and so this could have helped the film, as it was something new on the horror scene. It had a new twist to horror and even a love theme all the way through added to the excitement and anticipation of the film. The whole story was new to the public this film was popular later on.
The film was proof that the horror does not need to be obvious or even visible to be scary. The film used this technique so well that it has had a few films imitate this ‘unseen horror’ in their horror productions, such as ‘The Blair Witch Project’ which was a very big hit at the cinemas recently. It is also proof that special effects and big actors don’t make the film good or particularly special. This is clear from the remake, which failed, and used much more obvious horror and special effects, perhaps to try to get a wider audience and update the film. I feel this need not be done as the film will last in peoples’ minds as a classic film and has not been remade convincingly or improved on.
The special effects in this film are very primitive; there were no big explosions and definitely no computer effects used to try to create a monster. In fact not a single monster or ghost was seen in the film which makes it far more chilling to watch and also to think about after watching it because of the mystery haunt the house pushes on its guests. Robert Shaw used camera angles and special lighting to achieve the eerie parts of his film. One very special shot used is of an object falling close up and from above falling into shot. In the very first scene the original tenants are on their way to the house and there is a small riff of chilling music (which is also very important).
The cart the lady of the house is in is turned over and crashes into a tree and then a close up on the cart sees her fall from above the frame and this technique is used other times too. When another lady of the house hangs herself you see her climb the library stair and then a shot focusing on the floor is intruded on by her body falling and then hanging from above. At the end of the film one of the main characters is driving away from the house and dies in an almost exact reconstruction of the crash and hits the same tree, and is followed by a close up and falling hand as before. This was very deliberate as Shaw was trying to show that with the haunted house nothing changes and probably never will.
The camera angles have a very voyeuristic look to them as if each person in the house is being watched from above or from a doorway and as the lighting is so dark they could be watching from anywhere. The main examples of this are as if the occupants are being watched from a window in the house and from a balcony inside. Close up shots play an important part to the film as they give a scale to the house during the film and as mentioned above, are a good way to scare an audience.
The lighting is very important. The house is very dimly lit and the dark almost seems to envelop the visitors to the house. It always seems to be nighttime in the house, making a very timeless environment. The house from the outside has a gloomy sky and dark windows that just adds to the menacing look to the building. The very beginning of the film gives you a clue to what is to come, mostly through the music.
It uses deep bass and high pitch violins to represent the horror of the house and the music is muddled and sounds almost chaotic with its jumpy and sudden jolts of high screams from violins backed by low fearful tones from bass sounding instruments. In between these bars of fearful music are tender tones, which are reminiscent of an old love song giving an insight to a possible love affair in the house, which strongly emerges through the horror surrounding the house.
The main effects in the film are the hauntings, which are mostly down to good acting as the reactions of the actors to a loud boom and slow turning door handles really are the chill behind the noise, their reactions are so fearful to watch they make the watcher feel scared. The actors use feelings of fear to scare and it’s the scream of the women and not the scratching at the door which causes the shock, as the haunt is not always visible, it is usually a feeling of pure fear to the occupants. The physical haunts are also very horrific, as the noise from them can be very disturbing. A child’s crying is chilling in the dark and being alone in a room where the door handles are being turned slowly is worse when you can’t see or even know what’s behind it. Shaw uses the mystery to scare, although it is more subtle than some ways of scaring people, it works just as well if not better.
The scenery plays an important part in the film, using very dominant statues and ancient ornaments adds an overwhelming feeling of being watched (along with the camera work). The film has a very unique structure and uses love relations and hate relations between the characters to help the story line. The way Shaw uses the thoughts of one of the characters is a very important and good way of getting across the point of view of this one character. She is very important in the film and she feels the house has singled her out as she has physic powers and is deeply scared by the death of her mother. She is sent into madness by the house, giving the viewer an insight into how the house affects the people in it. This was an original twist to the film and gave it an edge.
The characters chosen were an asset to the film, the atmosphere between them gave hints to their pasts and their feelings, as the group spend more time together the atmosphere becomes almost sexually charged as the script begins to suggest a love triangle with attractions between the group. These things all add to the film to make it original and excellent film, it’s new and groundbreaking filming and writing make this film a once in a lifetime film which can never be reproduced in such a way as has been proved by it’s recent remake.