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The Haunting

Some houses are born bad 

Year: 1999 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 (Scope) 
Certificate: BBFC 12A Cert – Under 12s admitted only with an adult 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  

Three people are invited to Hill House to take part in a study of sleeping habits by psychologist Dr. David Marrow (Neeson), who is actually using them as lab rats in an experiment to determine what makes people scared. However it soon turns out that not all the bumps in the night are those being made by Marrow and the house starts to take on a life of its own.

The Haunting was never going to be a groundbreaking movie that pushed back the limits of film-making however that’s not to say it doesn’t have some amazing moments. The budget has almost exclusively spent on sets and special effects and the house looks breathtaking. Conceived by Oscar-winning production designer Eugenio Zanetti (What Dreams May Come, Restoration), the vast and majestic Gothic mansion looks like something out of an architect’s dream and a housekeeper’s nightmare. There are endless curved corridors, walk-in fireplaces, rich gargoyle ornamentation, rooms with whirling floors and fake mirrors, wide staircases, secret passageways and statues that seem to track your every move. And that’s when its not being haunted.

As for the characters, Catherine Zeta Jones revels in her part as a flirty bisexual and pouts at the camera in pretty much every scene, Owen Wilson provides the generation X cynicism and a few smart lines whilst Lili Taylor gets the ‘serious’ part as the edgy Eleanor, who seems to have both the house and the world against her. Liam Neeson is good enough to get away with being on auto-pilot for the movie and the cleaners provide some neat tongue in cheek menace.

The special effects are delightfully over the top with ceilings turning into faces that try to swallow people and ghostly children moving through the curtains and sheets. The whole thing is directed by Jan De Bont, whose work on Speed and Twister showed a sturdy control of mindless blockbusters and Steven Spielberg tinkered with the end results the same way he did with Poltergeist. Good entertainment for no effort, what more do you want?

David Goody

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Screenings of this film:

1999/2000 Spring Term (35mm)
1999/2000 Spring Term (35mm)