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The Haunting

Frightfests come no better than old dark-house chiller "The Haunting." Helmer Robert Wise's fever dream of a film, prominent among batch of genre titles dusted off by Warners, serves to remind an industry currently awash in wretched summertime excess that less can be so much more. Forty years on, its suggestive, willies-inducing power remains undiminished.

With:
With: Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson Russ Tamblyn, Lois Maxwell, Rosalie Crutchley, Fay Compton, Valentine Dyall.

Frightfests come no better than old dark-house chiller “The Haunting.” Helmer Robert Wise’s fever dream of a film, prominent among batch of genre titles dusted off by Warners, serves to remind an industry currently awash in wretched summertime excess that less can be so much more. Forty years on, its suggestive, willies-inducing power remains undiminished.

A “To Let” sign on a country road is only hint pic was filmed in Blighty, just up the road from Stratford-on-Avon (the actual house is now a 5-star hotel). Wise acquired Shirley Jackson’s novel during post on “West Side Story,” and scripter Nelson Gidding skillfully streamlined tome’s pokey narrative.

The principals are still kicking, and though they seem to have been recorded separately, their commentary track is unusually informative. Wise relates oft-told tales of pic’s gestation with the calm precision of his best work; feisty Gidding comments on Claire Bloom’s character Theo; Johnson holds forth on acting; Russ Tamblyn relates initial skepticism towards project; Julie Harris reveals her on-set fears; and Bloom discusses Theo’s bohemian wardrobe.

The disc showcases first-time D.P. Davis Boulton’s velvety widescreen B&W lensing (transfer is possessed by sporadic, minor blotchiness). Thankfully, Humphrey Searle’s extraordinary score and pic’s terrifying audio track have been preserved in their mono glory. Compare this cumulative creepiness to the witless 1999 remake to see why some prime properties are best left in the way they’re found.

The Haunting

Production: A Warner Home Video release of the 1963 Argyle Enterprises production, MGM release. Produced, directed by Robert Wise. Screenplay by Nelson Gidding, from the novel "The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson. Release: Aug. 5

Cast: With: Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson Russ Tamblyn, Lois Maxwell, Rosalie Crutchley, Fay Compton, Valentine Dyall.

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