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The Haunting (1963) – Episode 46 – Decades of Horror: The Classic Era

“… I leave before the dark. We live over in town, miles away. … We couldn’t hear you. In the night. No one could. … No one will come any nearer than that. In the night. In the dark.”  Okay, get the picture? Hill House is an inviting and comforting place to stay, right? In fact, you’ll feel so at home, you might never want to leave. Join this episode’s Grue Crew – Whitney Collazo, Chad Hunt, and Jeff Mohr – as they brave a few nights in Hill House with The Haunting (1963)!

Decades of Horror: The Classic Era
Episode 46 — The Haunting (1963)

Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson), a researcher in psychic phenomena, has gained permission to stay in Hill House, a 90-year-old mansion with an evil, deadly history. Markway invites six people with a variety of psychic abilities to accompany him as research assistants, but only two take the bait: Eleanor (Julie Harris), a woman with a history of poltergeist phenomena, and Theo (Claire Bloom), who has proven ESP abilities. Luke (Russ Tamblyn), a member of the owning family and a skeptic, comes along to keep an eye on his property. Mrs. Dudley (Rosalie Crutchley), one of the caretakers of Hill House, makes an appearance early on to ominously warn the researchers that after dark, they will be alone and no one will come to help them. Almost immediately, Hill House begins to exert its power over the interlopers. They only last three nights and not everyone survives The Haunting.

The film is brilliantly directed by Robert Wise, sandwiched between his Oscar-winning efforts on West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965). Wise, one of Val Lewton’s acolytes at RKO, exhibits mastery of Lewton’s preference for implicit, rather than explicit, danger in The Haunting. The screenplay by Nelson Gidding, adapted from Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Haunting of Hill House (1959), deftly establishes the four personalities of the research team members, their interpersonal relationships, and how Hill House interacts with and affects them. The acting, cinematography, and music fit the filmmakers’ vision perfectly, ramping up its nearly unbearable, sinister atmosphere.

Once again, the Decades of Horror: The Classic Era Grue Crew have a much greater appreciation for the film they discussed than they had going into this episode. Whitney loves the character of Eleanor and Julie Harris’ portrayal. She also likes the way the story walks a tightrope between the supernatural and insanity. On the other hand, Chad is all over the supernatural justification of events in The Haunting and loves the scenes with the inexplicable pounding on the Eleanor’s and Theo’s bedroom walls. Jeff was entranced with the optical distortions created by Wise’s intentional use of a not-ready-for-primetime lens and loved the introductory “history of Hill House” scenes. Of course, Chad managed to, yet again, find a Batman reference. Your Grue Crew highly recommends The Haunting (1963) as one of the top haunted house films in history, and especially now as a comparison to the recent Netflix series, The Haunting of Hill House.

The Decades of Horror: The Classic Era Grue Crew plan to release a new episode every other week. The next episode in our very flexible schedule will be Herk Harvey’s one-off classic, Carnival of Souls (1962).

Please let us know what you think of Decades of Horror: The Classic Era! After all, without you, we’re just four nutjobs talking about the films we love. Send us an email or leave us a message, a review, or a comment at GruesomeMagazine.com, iTunes, or the Gruesome Magazine Horror News Radio Facebook group.

To each of you from each of us, “Thank you so much for listening!

Jeff Mohr
Jeff lives smack dab in the middle of the cornfields of Iowa and is a long-time horror fan. His first remembered encounters with the genre were The Wizard of Oz, Tarzan gorilla chases, and watching the first broadcast of The Twilight Zone episode, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." While he now qualifies as an old fart, he strives to be an Old Boy. Paraphrasing Robert Bloch, he has the heart of a small boy. He keeps it in a jar on his desk. Jeff has written for Horrornews.net and SQ Horror Magazine. He currently writes for Gruesome Magazine and is a co-host of the Decades of Horror podcasts - The Classic Era, 1970s, and 1980s - and the Gruesome Magazine Podcast.