The Haunting (1999)
By: Angela Moss on September 8, 2012  | 
Paramount | Region 4, PAL | 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English Dolby Digital 5.1 | 107 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Jan de Bont
Starring: Liam Neeson, Lilli Taylor, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson, Bruce Dern
Screenplay: David Self
Country: USA
External Links
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At first glance Jan de Bont's 1999 foray into gothic horror, The Haunting, looks good on paper. De Bont, who made his directorial debut with the faced paced action blockbuster Speed, assembled an impressive cast and a hefty budget to create a modern film adaptation of the classic 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House. But oh how looks can be deceiving...

Eleanor Vance (Lilli Taylor), an introverted, long suffering carer of her recently departed mother, faces eviction from her apartment by her older sister (played by Virginia Madsen). Desperate for cash, Eleanor signs up for a sleep study taking place in the Hill House Mansion after receiving a mysterious phone call from Dr Morrow (Liam Neilsen). Joined by two other participants, the lascivious artist Theodora (Catherine Zeta Jones), and Luke Sanderson (Owen Wilson), Eleanor takes to exploring the cavernous mansion while undergoing the sleep study. The participants however are unaware that Dr Morrow's true motive for bringing them to the secluded manor is to study the effects of fear by subjecting them to spooky tales of the mansion's builder, the reclusive widowed textile tycoon, Hugh Crain.

Things take a sinister turn when Eleanor, spurred on by ghostly apparitions, discovers that Hugh Crain was more than a reclusive widower yearning for children of his own. She finds remains hidden in the fire place, and this provokes the restless spirit of Crain to pursue her by invading the very foundations of the house. However, Eleanor's fragile sensibility leads the others to believe she has simply lost her grip on reality due to the creepy surrounds and Morrow's ghost tales. But soon enough they discover for themselves that Eleanor's experiences are real.

The elegantly claustrophobic tone of Shirley Jackson's novel has been stripped away and replaced with an 'Adventures of Scooby Doo in the Haunted House' vibe. The beauty of the book, and the 1963 film adaptation (directed by Robert Wise), is the slow burn 'lurking in the shadows' quality to the supernatural phenomena. In de Bont's adaptation you are assaulted at every turn with tittering Casper's appearing in billowing curtains and Eleanor's hair, along with garish carved cherub faces coming to life. Even worse, ghostly faces appear in Eleanor's pillow case in the most abysmal use of CGI since Anaconda.

However, the prize moment of the film is when (spoiler alert - although at this point I haven't exactly sold it to you if you haven't already suffered through it) Owen Wilson meets his untimely end. Lilli Taylor offers up a blank stare and utters "oh no" with a 'Just taking a pay check here' delivery. I'm fairly sure witnessing a decapitation would get a stronger response. In fairness, the actors in the film have a proven track record of quality work, however try as you might, if the script is as lacklustre as the one penned by David Self then there is only so much you can do with it.

The real mystery of the piece is whatever happened to the research assistants (Alix Koromzay, Todd Field)? On the first night in the house an assistant has her face slashed open by a paranormally wayward clavichord string and she is whisked away to the hospital by the other assistant, never to be mentioned again, which makes their presence completely pointless.

The ridiculously overblown art direction, set design and use of poor CGI eradicates any chance of creating a chilling atmosphere, an essential element to a movie entitled The Haunting. The main 'character' of any haunted house film, the house itself, looks more like a hokey theme park ride, complete with fun house mirrors, whirring kaleidoscopic installations and fairground music. In no way do you feel convinced that this is a real house. Throughout the viewing of this film my frustration and anger at the sheer stupidity of the dialogue and the Disney-esque haunted house set made me want to give up and press eject. But in hindsight a viewing of this film is not completely pointless, as it offers the viewer a master class on how not to make a ghost film, along with some unintentional laughs.
Presented in its intended 2.35:1 aspect ratio the quality of the picture is strong, with vivid colours and natural skin tones.
The audio is of excellent quality. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack showcases the loud, creepy sounds and dialogue is as clear as a bell (unfortunately).
Extra Features
The behind-the scenes featurette consists of Catherine Zeta-Jones giving the performance of a lifetime trying to convince us how much of a roller coaster ride of thrills and chills the movie is going to be. Two theatrical trailers are also included.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
This film is in no way scary. However, it is horrific in a way purely unintended by its makers. My advice? Instead of wasting 107 minutes of your life on this, go make yourself a cup of coffee (or tea, whatever makes your meat loaf), get comfortable and crack open Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. You'll thank me for it.

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