The Haunting (1999)

Film: The 90s were a time where horror was really suffering. The idea of creating a franchise rather than good, quality horror, due to the popularity of Jason, Michael and Freddy, had become paramount to the studios and it didn’t kill the genre, but it certainly put it on life support.

The Blair Witch Project was a clever manipulation of the general populace with a crappy film made interesting by the suggestion that is was real, and many people fell for it. It want u til Scream thoigh that Wes Craven really pulled horror back from being like westerns or musicals: only made now and again for nostalgias sake.

Another thing that saved horror in the late 90s and early 2000s was the remake, the idea that taking an older film and redoing it. Not a new idea surely, especially when you consider the popularity of John Carpenter’s The Thing and Chuck Russell’s The Blob. Also, taking a film from another country and making an English version of it seemed to really give the genre a kick in the pants. Yep, remakes were the way to go…

Unfortunately, and I’m burying the lead here, The Haunting possibly wasn’t a great choice.

The Haunting is a close to the book film, based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and this version was written by Road to Perdition’s David Self and directed by Speed’s Jan De Bont.

It’s tells of Nell (Lili Taylor) who after 11 years of taking care of her ill mother, has joined a group including Theo (Catherine Zeta Jones) and Luke (Owen Wilson) of people with sleep disorders, collected together by Dr. David Marrow (Liam Neeson), at Hill House, a beautiful old mansion with a hidden secret.

The house isn’t the only thing Wilma secret though, Dr. Marrow hasn’t brought them to the house for an insomnia study… no, he had brought them together to study fear, and house suggestions can make the human mind create a false narrative, but what he didn’t expect was that the house MIGHT just actually be haunted…

This film starts of with a casting choice that’s pretty impressive. Taylor, Neeson and Zeta Jones are really quite adept at the character archetypes they create (the shut-in, the nutty doctor and the slut) but unfortunately Wilson sticks out like a sore thumb. Sure he’s fun in the comedies he’s been in, but here he feels like he’s taking nothing seriously. I’m not sure if De Bont thought he could take the bone-headed surfer dude-type and make him a serious actor route again, like he did with Keanu Reeves in Speed, but it doesn’t work here. He seems to take none of it seriously, and that’s a detriment to the story, which is a shame because with the right cast this could have been ok… even a challenger to the other remake about a haunted house that came out at a similar time, The House on Haunted Hill.

It is, however, nice to see cameos from Marian Seldes and Bruce Dern.

Unfortunately the visual aspirations of the film were possibly a little high too. There are several cgi effects that are so bad… SO BAD… that it’s hard to take the film seriously. I’m not a fan of bagging a film too much due to its effects, I’ve seen some films with truly DIRE special effects, but these are really horrible. A product of the time, sure, but terrible.

On the flipside if that, the set design is grand, and majestic, and overdone as some if those old mansions were!

It’s final and main problem is it’s just not good! The story is fine, but the jump scares aren’t jump scares, and the slow burn scares just don’t work. It’s never truly a scary film as a movie about scary ghosts SHOULD be!

Another issue I have with this film is the packaging. Lili Taylor is clearly the star of this film, but she is 4th billed on the cover, and in the original marketing. She’s a fine actor and that’s a bloody crime!

On a good note though is the quality of this Bluray. The image is super bright and crisp and presented in a 2.35:1 image, and the audio, which will really work out your bass channel, is presented in Dolby DTS-HD MA 5.1.

Even though the accuracy to the novel is lacking, the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House is a more entertaining prospect, you’d honestly be better off watching that.

Score: **1/2

Extras: Absolutely nothing.

Score: 0

WISIA: It’s not really very interesting, so no.