Robert Wise, 1963
Starring: Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn
One of the greatest films about a haunted house based on one of the greatest novels about the same subject, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, this film is included in my trilogy of greatest classic haunted house films ever made, along with Legend of Hell House and The Changeling.
Paranormal investigator, Dr. Markaway, is trying to prove once and for all the existence of the supernatural. He takes a couple of research subjects to a mansion that is allegedly the most haunted house in America, Hill House. He brings the future owner of Hill House, Luke, who is the rational skeptic of the group, as well as two women, Eleanor and Theo, who are "sensitive" and have had documented paranormal experiences in the past. Eleanor -- aka Nell -- is particularly drawn to the house. She has spent almost her entire adult life caring for her sick mother, who has recently died, and seeks adventure and liberation from the shackles of the past. The house calls to her and a number of macabre events unfold. When his wife makes a surprise visit, Dr. Markaway realizes that Nell has to be taken out of the house, but it may be too late.
One of the most influential haunted house films ever made, The Haunting is chilling, suspenseful, and also manages to be a sensitive portrayal of one woman's trauma. Julie Harris's pathetic, almost tragic Nell is truly the driving force of the film. While she is not always a likable character, she is sympathetic and curious enough to pull us along with her as she gets sucked further and further into the psychic aura of the house. I really can't say enough good things about the film. It has complex characters, a simple plot, and absolutely beautiful visuals. Wise balances everything perfectly and does justice to Jackson's remarkable novel, even if he has to change a few minor details along the way.
While I tend to hate feminist horror -- "The Yellow Wallpaper" can absolutely fuck off -- Jackson does an amazing job combining a terrifying yarn with real issues of the time, namely the difficult expression of sexuality and domestic life as a prison. Between the insecure, neurotic Nell and the sexually confident but troubled Theo, Jackson presents two believable and sympathetic female characters.
Twin Peaks fans, prepare to have your minds blown by a very young Russ Tamblyn as the skeptical, greedy Luke. If you haven't seen this film... for shame. Pick up the very basic Warner DVD and school yourselves. As a final note, absolutely ignore the 1999 remake. I have no idea why that travesty was ever visited upon the earth.