Skip to content

The Haunting (1999) #MovieReview

A disparate group of volunteers come together in the mysterious Hill House to take part in a psychological study of insomnia (one which is so ethically and practically dubious it would never pass the review board in real life).‌ Things are, inevitably, not what they seem: the House has a dark history and it won’t remain hidden for much longer… ‌

The Haunting movie cover

 ‌Some houses are born bad

Starring:‌ ‌  Liam NeesonCatherine Zeta-JonesOwen Wilson, ‌ Lili Taylor

Released:‌ ‌‌1999 ‌| Runtime: 2hrs 5 min | Genre: Horror | Source: Streamed | Country: USA | Starred Review

Page break indicator for Sci-Fi & Scary

The Haunting Review

Warning:‌ ‌this‌ ‌review‌ ‌contains‌ ‌mild‌ ‌spoilers.‌ ‌ 

Let me be clear about my undying love for The Haunting (1999): it is unending and burns brighter than the sun. I mean it. This is a movie I would cheerfully jump into a burning building for if it asked me to. Yes, it gets an ungenerous 5.0 out of 10 (based on, at the time of this writing, 68,545 ratings) score on IMDB, and a whopping 16% on Rotten Tomatoes. I couldn’t give a monkey’s bum. I love it, so there. 

‘But why??’ I hear you ask. ‘Why, Gemma?!!!’

I know. I know. 

But to this I say the following: remember Ghost Ship? How your love affair with that film was developed in the opening minutes? And Deep Blue Sea? And Anaconda? And Thirteen Ghosts? You love them all, admit it. Because, as Russel Crowe once said in that film about fit gladiators: ‘Are you not entertained!?

Yes, yes I am, thank you very much. And sometimes that is enough of a reason for me to fall in love with something (or someone). Did I enjoy watching it? Yes. Did I watch it more than once? Yes. Did I remember parts of it vividly years later? Yes. Did I giggle with glee at how ridiculous and brilliantly bonkers it was? Yes. Case closed, your Honour. 

Some of this love is doubtless nostalgic, and harkens back to a 17 year old version of me spending all her wage money in HMV on stacks of VHS tapes, and by that I mean allllll my money apart from what I needed to buy cigarettes and a bag of potatoes, true student food. I remember picking this particular gem up one day and nearly wearing the tape out within a week, I watched it so much. True, I was drunk and stoned a lot of the time but there was just something so…so…comforting about it. Like pulling on a large, cosy sweater.

The rest of it though…the love comes from the sheer scale of what the movie tries, and fails to achieve, by way of some extraordinary set-pieces and a whole lot of gumption, if not a lot of much else. 

The Haunting is, for those who are uninitiated, a sort of loose adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. By now, unless you’ve been living under a bush, you’ll no doubt be acquainted with the sublime and far superior adaptations including the 1969 movie of the same name, and the serialised The Haunting of Hill House (2019) courtesy of Mike Flanagan and Netflix. And yes, this little 90’s film can’t really hold a candle in terms of pathos and writing and sheer, raw emotion. But it is fun, and reasonably faithful to the source material, at least in the first ten minutes or so.

A young woman, Eleanor, or Nell, has been looking after her sick mother for years and when she dies, finds herself written out of the will. Desperate for change and money, she signs up to a psychological experiment to take part in a study on the effects of group fear and hysteria in a stimulating setting, led by a curiously deadpan Liam Neeson, otherwise known as Dr. David Marrow. So far, so not that far from the original, if that makes sense. The rest of the players seem to complement Jackson’s original story- at the very least there is a Luke (Owen Wilson being charming and Owen Wilsony) and a Theo (played with lascivious aplomb by Catherine Zeta Jones) and a Mr and Mrs Dudley, neither of whom wish to stay in the Crane mansion overnight…and some other superfluous folks, only there to be disposed of as soon as possible. After that, things deviate rather quickly from the novel, but meh. Who cares? We aren’t here for literary horror.  

And then, you see, there is the set. 

Oh, the set. The real star of the show: Hill House itself. An expensive, gorgeous mess. I want to live there. Please let me live there. This is pre-CG overload, so the computer effects are minimal and the physical accoutrements impressive to say the least: There is a lot of varnished wood and stained glass and marbling and oil paintings bigger than your car and ridiculous, huge sculptures and carvings and massive, massive doors that no-one human could possibly open or shut, and it’s all just so much, so ridiculously over the top that it bears a rewatch on a cinema-sized screen simply to enjoy the full effect. 

I won’t spoil the plot: there isn’t really one, and on the whole, this movie is about as scary as a dead halibut on a pink sequined plate, but it is dramatic. And gorgeous to look at, if you’re into the Casper-the-Ghost-meets-Vincent-Price aesthetic. And the deaths are gloriously over the top and as florid as your granny’s perfume. There is an excellent amount of flouncing off alone into dark corners of the clearly really fucking haunted house, and lots of shouting and screeching and hair-tugging and pouting and over-reacting and staring wistfully into the fireplace. It’s like a warm cup of sweet cocoa on a blisteringly cold day. Watch it, and bask in the glow of it’s ambition, if nothing else. 

It’s a little gem, and I refuse to countenance otherwise, chimney decapitation or no chimney decapitation (whoops, spoiler). And long live Zeta-Jones, who steals the show, as she does every show. Hurrah for her. 

Published inMovie Reviews

One Comment

  1. I’ve always liked this movie, but haven’t seen it for several years. Time for a re-screening.

Comments are closed.

©Sci-Fi & Scary 2019
%d bloggers like this: