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Haunting, The

113 minutes
fantasy, horror, mystery, thriller

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This entry created 4 August 2021. Last revised on 4 August 2021.

1,723 hits since 4 Aug 2021
©1994-2024 Bill Armintrout
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Haunting, The

Imagine remaking perhaps the best haunted house movie ever made, gutting the backstory, and replacing all of the psychological drama with state-of-the-art digital effects.

That's 1999's The Haunting, which has so little to do with the previous movie or the novel that you wonder why they bothered to get the intellectual property.

The premise has changed: This time, three volunteers have been recruited to take part in an insomnia experiment at Hill House, conducted by unscrupulous Dr. David Marrow (played by Liam Neeson) – in reality, he's conducting an investigation into the psychology of fear.

The volunteers are Nell (Lili Taylor), whose abusive mother has recently died; Theo (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who identifies as bisexual; and Luke (Owen Wilson), a skeptical graduate student who is a frequent research volunteer.

Hill House, which was a large American mansion in the novel, then an even larger brick manor house in the original movie, is now an even larger, many-towered, castle-like mansion, complete with such wonders as a stepping-stones-across-water room and a dancing hall with revolving floors. The individual rooms are enormous, both in extent and height; for a haunted house, the place is surprisingly well lit.

Soon, things began to happen… is this part of Dr. Marrow's experiment, or is there something wrong with Hill House?

In the 'making of' documentary included on the DVD I viewed, the filmmaker pays lip service to preserving the psychological drama of the original, but that's difficult when Nell has been turned from victim to avenging angel, Theo's character has been so gutted by the script that one wonders why she is even in this picture, and the script can't decide if Dr. Marrow is a villain or just a really nice guy who did a bad thing. The characters show no romantic interest in one another, so Theo's revelation as bisexual (the original movie hinted she was lesbian) has no impact on the plot.

The special effects are lavish, skillfully combining physical and digital effects, but by the end of the movie, they are extravagant and overpowering. The carved cherubs, which at first are subtly moving between shots, become so animated that they become silly.

Lili Taylor is solid as Nell, transitioning from mouse to warrior; the others just run about reacting to things. Owen Wilson is his usual amusing self.

I should mention that veteran actor Bruce Dern makes a brief appearance as groundskeeper Mr. Dudley.

Can you wargame it? The room with the rotating floors might be interesting on the tabletop.

The movie is just an amusement park ride of thrilling scenes and an almost cosmic climax, with little to do with the original movie or novel. The entire idea of a house that's insane has been jettisoned for a Scooby-Doo-ish ghost villain. It's mildly fun if you don't expect too much actual horror.