The Haunting (1963)

I was disappointed by the recent Netflix adaptation of Shirley Jackson's novel, for many reasons.* But fortunately we have Robert Wise's excellent black and white film to show what a real adaptation looks like.

It's a remarkable variation on the traditional Gothic themes. All of the characters are not-quite-stereotypes of figures familiar from the works of Le Fanu, Wilkie Collins and others. Eleanor Lance is the timid, virginal young woman lured to the sinister house - but she wants to go. Doctor Markway is the suave, intellectual older man who manipulates events - but he is a decent man who wants to protect Eleanor. Theo is the clever, attractive woman who often serves as sidekick/mistress to the villain - but she too has essentially good motives. Luke is the handsome young heir who might rescue the heroine - but has no interest in doing so and is quite ineffectual.

The absence of visible ghosts - they are always audible or tactile - also has a Victorian feel. In some novels the ghosts would be contrived to terrify the heroine. Eleanor, while undeniably terrified, is drawn to the house because it represents a simple solution to her problems, an escape from a world she fears as much as any ghost.

But watch the film yourself. It's open to many interpretations because it's a genuine work of art. And anyone looking for the flaw in the creation that must always be present, have a listen to Valentine Dyall's American accent. In the night. In the dark.

*There is an excellent (inevitably spoiler heavy) critique of the Netflix series here.


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