A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Haunting (Robert Wise, 1963)

The scariest thing in The Haunting is Rosalie Crutchley's smile. Crutchley was an English actress who exploited her deadpan mien, playing sinister and forbidding characters in scores of films and TV series. (I remember her fondly as the melancholy Judith Starkadder in the 1968 BBC production of Cold Comfort Farm that ran on Masterpiece Theatre in the States in 1971.) In The Haunting she plays the dour housekeeper of Hill House who warns the group of unwanted guests that she doesn't stay in the house at night, and that she won't be able to hear them if they cry out for her. Then she bids them good night with a monitory rictus of a smile. Otherwise, I find The Haunting more a study in missed opportunities than anything else. Things that go bump in the night are scary (except around my house, where it's likely to be one of the cats), but things that go wham, wham, wham! in the night, as they do in The Haunting, are more annoying than frightening. The music cues by Humphrey Searle constantly telegraph an upcoming scare, and the Hill House interior crafted by production designer Elliot Scott and set decorator John Jarvis is so fussily overdone that that it's distracting: I kept wondering what that tchotchke or that dado was instead of feeling threatened or oppressed by it. Worst of all, Nelson Gidding's screenplay gives us no character with whom we feel a strong emotional connection, essential if we are to fear for their lives. Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris) is supposed to be the film's central consciousness -- she is the one who arrives at the house first and is presented as the most physically and emotionally vulnerable -- but her hysterical voiceovers become tiresome. I haven't read the Shirley Jackson novel on which the film is based, and it's possible that she brings her characters more to life than Giddings and Wise do, but the whole premise of putting these people in a haunted house -- i.e., to do parapsychological research -- is bogus, no matter how often it's copied. I find it peculiar that the movie is celebrated as one of the most frightening of all time by people like Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, who have ably demonstrated their own superior ability to scare us.