The artful cinematic strokes of director Robert Wise and staff are not quite enough to override the major shortcomings of Nelson Gidding’s screenplay from the Shirley Jackson novel [The Haunting of Hill House].
Gidding’s scenario is opaque in spots, but its cardinal flaw is one of failure to follow through on its thematic motivation. After elaborately setting the audience up in anticipation of drawing some scientific conclusions about the psychic phenomena field, the film completely dodges the issue in settling for a half-hearted melodramatic climax.
The story has to do with the efforts of a small psychic research team led by an anthropology professor (Richard Johnson) to study the supernatural powers that seem to inhabit a 90-year-old New England house with a reputation for evil. The group includes an unhappy spinster (Julie Harris) obsessed with guilt feelings over the recent death of her mother; a young woman (Claire Bloom) of unnatural instincts (she has lesbian tendencies coupled with an extraordinary sense of ESP); and a young man (Russ Tamblyn) who is to inherit the house.
The acting is effective all around. The picture excels in the purely cinematic departments. Davis Boulton has employed his camera with extraordinary dexterity in fashioning a visual excitement that keeps the pic- ture alive with images of impending shock. As photographed by Boulton, the house itself is a monstrous personality, most decidedly the star of the film. The pity is that all this production savvy has been squandered on a screen yarn that cannot support such artistic bulk.