THE HAUNTING

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Movies Mike Oliveri Review by
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SHOULD YOU?
TIP JAR
THE HAUNTING - 1999
USA Release: July 23, 1999
Dreamworks/Amblin Entertainment
Rating: USA: PG-13

This film has an unusual past as it is a remake of a movie made from a novelization. The first film, also called "The Haunting" and made in 1963, was based on the novel "THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE" by Shirley Jackson (short story: THE LOTTERY). So how much of a difference can thirty-six years make in a script?

For starters, the plot has changed little, which unfortunately means it is still rather weak. Our heroine, Eleanor Lance (Lili Taylor) has just lost her nasty, bedridden mother and now her sister is taking away her apartment. A phone call directs her to a newspaper ad where she can volunteer for a sleep research program for nine hundred dollars per week.

Reluctantly, she enters the program.

The man behind the program, Dr. Jeffrey Marrow (Liam Neeson: KRULL, HIGH SPIRITS, DARK MAN) , has set up the sleep research program as a front for his studies on fear. He takes his subjects out to Hill House, a century-old, gothic-style manor out in the country. As further subjects he picks up a society girl named Theodora (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and the adventursome Luke Sannerson (Owen Wilson: ANACONDA, THE MINUS MAN). They soon find themselves tormented by the haunted manor, while Eleanor finds herself tied to the house's original family in a way she never could have expected.

In the original film, the character of Theodora is moderately psychic, and can tell what the house is doing and when. The new Screenwriter, David Self (this is his debut film), has eliminated this trait and has made the rest of the characters more skeptical about what is actually happening in the house. He has also changed the ending, though it is only slightly less disappointing than the original.

The trailers and commercials portray Zeta-Jones and Neeson as the two headliners, so it was an odd move to me to see Lili Taylor become the focus of the film. Taylor does a spectacular job, however, and is convincing when she acts terrified. She's got her panicking down pat, straight to the tears, red face, and the sniffles. It may be interesting to catch her as Janis Joplin in the biographical flick "Janis".

Now, let's discuss the real draw of the film: the special effects. As we all know, special effects have come a loooong way since 1963. This time around, Director Jan de Bont (CUJO, FLATLINERS, BASIC INSTINCT) steers us through the action with the help of the special effects teams from Tippett Studio and Industrial Light and Magic.

And let me tell you, the effects are terrific. There are those who would say the original flick without the added effects was just as creepy, but in some parts I have to disagree. Sure, the banging doors and the eerie moans can't change much, but the effect of an entire room twisting to frown and glare at the characters is much more effective than three little holes in a wall that are supposed to be a frowning face.

There are moving statues, shadowy figures, and even ghosts interacting with the live actors. Intense stuff, and while not actually scary most of the time, they are impressive and occasionally creepy.

The house itself is mostly a computer-generated creation and is very beautiful. It has a gothic feel, is filled with large, eerie rooms and chambers, including several novelty rooms such as a mirrored carousel, a hallway of stepping-stone-books floating in water, and a repeating room that is supposed to look like a series of reflections. There is an old greenhouse, a hidden study, and everywhere are pictures, tapestries, bas-reliefs and carvings of the family and the children that used to live in the home. It would be a wonderful place to visit, but I for one could never live there.

Perhaps the most impressive of the effects is the sound. Stereo and sound buffs will have a great time at this film, and the coveted "sweet spot" at the center of the theater is highly recommended. It starts simple, with the great doors groaning or growling as they are opened and closed, and the hallways seeming to breathe. The chains clank menacingly when the caretakers lock the group in for the night. And when the real fun begins, listen up! The banging and the ghosts' roars are almost deafening, enhancing their frightening affect tenfold. This will be one to get on DVD for those with 5.1 channel surround in their homes.

All told, a typical ghost story with a simple plot, a simple ending, yet incredible effects. Horror or special effects buffs will have the best time with this one, and it is definitely a catch-it-in-the-theater movie for the latter. I didn't regret spending the dough to see it, though I probably won't be snapping it up when it hits video.

I give it two shriek girls and one negative shriek girl.


This review copyright 1999 E.C.McMullen Jr.

The Haunting (1999) on IMDb
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