Thursday, February 27, 2014

Horror Movie Classics: The Haunting

We are now watching The Haunting (1963), one of many films based on Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House. I saw the 1999 movie of the same name in the theaters because I was in junior high and going to the movies and Shari's was all we could do. I remember Catherine Zeta-Jones being crazy and some pseudo-lesbian thing happening with her and the other lady and it was shitty and not scary and I should probably put it on the queue and rewatch it. The end.

Hill House, a huge Gothic mansion in silhouette is 90 years old and creepy. A "house that was born bad." Some sort of wagon accident killed the original owner's wife, Mrs. Crain, before she could see the house her husband had built for her. Her daughter Abigail was forced to look at her dead body. Good, good. Hugh Crain remarried. The second wife was thrown down the stairs by unseen forces. Some sort of narrator is intrigued. Hugh died in England with his daughter left home alone with a nurse. She stayed there in her childhood bedroom until she got old and died. A girl from the village lived with her and took care of her when she was elderly. Supposedly the old lady died while the young lady was fucking her boyfriend elsewhere in the house. She inherited the house and lived there alone. Eventually this woman hanged herself. A distant relative, Mrs. Somebody, inherited the home.

Our narrator wants to investigate the house. Dr. John Markway, an anthropologist. Nobody's ever stayed there longer than a few days. The professor's wife doesn't approve of his paranormal research. The old lady owner's young relative Luke will be called in to supervise. Nell (Eleanor) is a sad lady who took care of her mother while she died. Her bitchy sister she lives with doesn't want to let her take the car (she half owns) on a mysterious vacation. The brother-in-law is sympathetic, but her niece makes fun of her "nerves." Secretly she picks up the car from the shop and is pumped to have been accepted into the study at Hill House. She's excited to finally do something for herself. She fantasizes about having her own apartment one day.

She finds the gates of Hill House locked. The groundskeeper is cranky and claims there's no one there she'd want to see. She demands to be let in. He says, "You'll be sorry I ever opened the gate." She's going to report him (Dudley) for sass. He gives her shit about being a "city person." There's really dramatic music as she sees the house for the first time. "It's staring at me," she thinks. She considers just leaving, but thinks she has nowhere else to go. Nell sense evil waiting for her inside, but obvs she will go in anyway.

Is that...?
Everything here is so ornate and hideous. Mrs. Dudley silently lets her into the house and shows her to her room. She will set out dinner, but leaves "before the dark comes." Nobody lives closer than town. Mrs. Dudley gives her a really creepy smile. I'm not sure if the good doctor has told her that the house is haunted and they're there to investigate. She comes upon the exotic Theodora in the room that shares her bathroom. Theo jokes about them becoming close, "Like sisters?"

Nell and Theo are lost in some dark hallway. Nell says the house is alive. Theo tells Nell that the house wants her, Nell. Hot. The doctor bursts through a doorway. He takes them to the Purple Parlor and to dinner. The doors are hung slightly off-center throughout the house, which the doctor says explains why they shut themselves. I'm having a hard time picturing what that even means, but it sounds like a good mansplanation.
Sure, Doctor. I'll participate in your "study."
The three of them find the dining room. Young, douchey Luke shows up, mixing drinks. Apparently the other selected assistants dropped out after researching the house's history. Nell and Theo haven't done any research. GOOD IDEA, LADIES. The doctor's tweedy mustache sweater look is textbook.

There you go.
The doctor chose them carefully. Theo's psychic.* Supposedly Nell's family's house was pelted by rocks for three nights when she was ten, but she claims it never happened. Luke is a skeptic. The doctor thinks this house is "sick." Nell rants about her mother, who was an "unhappy" person. Nell tries to convince herself that these people are her friends and that she belongs. Nell screams from the stairway. She thought she was being watched. Theo knows. The doctor gives them mimeographed forms to fill out before bed. Luke doesn't know what psychokinesis is. Theo says Nell can come in her room if she's scared. They all turn in for the night. Nell is sure to lock her bedroom door.

In the middle of the night, a pounding noise wakes up the women. Nell thought it was her mom knocking on the wall. Your mom's dead, bro. Something's banging in the hallway. It comes to Theo's door. Nell runs to it and screams and bangs back. It stops for a minute, then starts again. Theo's doorknob turns. She didn't lock her door earlier. The banging happens again, then we hear creepy laugh/screams echoing. The women are huddled together in Theo's bed. Nell runs out of the room and the dudes are just walking by casually. They didn't hear anything. The men followed a ghost dog outside. OF COURSE. Dr. John points out that they were clearly meant to be separated.

Tweedy perfection.
The next morning, John tells Nell she looks very pretty, which is totes professional and not at all patronizing. John's parents were disappointed he became anthropologist instead of an Oxford-educated lawyer as they expected. John has been into ghosts since he was a kid. Theo and Luke arrive for breakfast. Luke shows them a message written in chalk on the wall. The dudes taste it and John says it's "like chalk." Hm. It says,  "help Eleanor come home." Nell freaks out that it's her name. Theo pisses her off on purpose so she won't be scared. Theo is kind of a dick.

Luke asks Theo to "show him her ESP." She slaps his hand away. Something about Luke's entitled rich boy schtick reminds me of Logan from Gilmore Girls. Nell dances around a Crain family statue. Wind blows. John brings them to the library. Nell won't go in because she smells her mother in there. I want that library so much. Abigail's companion hanged herself in the library. Luke claims he'll turn it into a nightclub one day. He starts dancing on the stairs and they begin to shake. He jumps off quickly. We're getting a lot of Nell's inner monologue. She gets vertigo on the balcony or something and John saves her. He says he didn't realize she was "so nervous" and is worried about the validity of her paranormal claims. Luke says Nell must've gotten "dizzy like a fox." IS THAT IDIOM EVEN TRANSFERABLE? WTF.

Vixen-level "dizziness," apparently.
John asks Theo to move in with Nell. They do their nails and drink brandy. Nell is very CHANGEABLE. The doctor is yelling in the hall. He's found a "genuine cold spot." It's right outside Abigail's nursery/lifelong bedroom. These dudes' robes are pretty sweet. Luke is still so skeptical. A minute ago I swear he was drinking champagne or something, now his glass has a dark beer in it. Theo says something about how she doesn't think Nell killed her mother. Nell snaps at her to go to bed.

A cold spot! Better bring a drink!
Maybe it's just a shadow, but I like to believe that halfway through this scene Luke slammed the rest of his champagne, took a Guinness out of his robe pocket, and refilled his glass.
In the night, Nell hears voices. Singing, I think. Some giggling. She wants Theo to hold her hand, but I don't think it's her who's grabbed it. Now we hear a baby crying. She thinks Theo's breaking her hand. She's pissed about a child being hurt, so she yells. She wakes up and she was a sleep on a couch, across the room from Theo. Whose hand was she holding?

The next day, Nell finds John in an awesome corduroy jacket. He says the harp was playing itself. Nell says she's still scared. John tells her it's all harmless, that they're only afraid because they don't understand how it works. Nell says the night her mom died, she ignored her mom's wall knock, and then she died. She'd never ignored her in eleven years. John tells her she's a good person or whatever and she's into it. (He is hot and British and well-mustachioed, I don't blame her.) The harp disturbs them by playing itself again.

Subtle framing there with the legitimate wife on a higher level than Nell and John caught between them.
Luke does a reading out of some creepy hell fire and brimstone book that dead Hugh made for dead Abigail when she was a child. Nell yells at Hugh's ghost. Theo teases Nell and John about liking each other. Nell tells Theo she's one of "nature's mistakes." RUDE. Isaac says Nell and Theo have a serious frenemy thing happening. WORD. A taxi shows up. John's wife wants him to come home. Nell somehow didn't realize he was married. His wife wants to sleep in the creepiest place to prove he's wrong about ghosts existing. Mrs. Markway insists on sleeping in the nursery. They see the doors (previously locked and they don't have a key) to the nursery are standing open. John tries to tell Grace she can't stay in the nursery alone. She's not afraid. Very cocky.

John wants Theo and Nell to sleep downstairs and he and Luke will keep watch upstairs. Everything in this house is so gaudy. John's elbow patches are cute as he sleeps in a chair. Luke's come downstairs with a flashlight to find some booze. I respect his ghost hunt priorities. The parlor door slams shut by itself. John chides Luke for not being upstairs. Windy noises outside the door. Pounding noises. John's worried about Grace upstairs alone. The door unnaturally pushes outward like something's trying to break through. Even Luke is terrified. Nell is so annoying. Luke won't let John out. Nell decides to give herself to the house and runs out another door.

A noise like a train's brakes fills the hallways. Nell runs around, getting scared by statues and mirrors. She gets stuck in some curtains because apparently she is like a tiny puppy or something. She thinks the house is destroying itself. She runs upstairs. "It's" in the nursery. Nell finds the room empty. The others run in and decide to look for Grace. Nell wanders off and tells the statue of Hugh Crain that "we killed her." She dances around like a crazy person. Nell is in love with the house. The others are looking for her now and she runs, finding herself in the library, even though she refused to go in there before.

She finds herself going up the rickety spiral steps which are apparently attached to the wall with only one screw or something. "I'm home." A bell at the top beckons her. The stairs sway for a few moments. She is almost to the top when John yells for her to come down. The stairs are about to come out of the wall, but John starts up after her. Theo and Luke are like, "Bad idea." Eleanor reaches the top. John follows her up. She leans over the railing, but he pulls her back up and strokes her face a little bit. John's all sweaty and she looks relieved. They start to head back down, but she sees Grace peak down from a trapdoor in the ceiling. Creepy! John insists Nell leave the mansion.

Nell claims the house wants her and that Grace will be a poor substitute. Nell insists on driving herself, but Luke is in the car with her. Theo and John say goodbye. Luke gets out to get the gate key and Nell zooms off by herself down the long driveway. Something starts to take over the wheel. "Something's happening to me!" Nell sees a woman run past and hits a tree. I think she's dead. It was Grace running by. She got lost and is scared. Nell hit the tree that the first Mrs. Crain hit in her wagon. Theo says Nell will be happier now. Luke thinks Hill House should be burned down.

Nell voiceover about walking alone. She is one of the house's ghosts now, I guess. THE END. That movie was okay. Lot of emphasis on height and verticality with that cinematography, too. So that was a thing. THE END FOR REAL.

*Her supposed abilities will play -0% of a role in the story. 

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