The Haunting (Robert Wise / U.S., 1963):

The neuroticís crypt, "so ugly yet so comfortable." "Born bad," Hill House claims two wives, a caretaker and a little girl grown decrepit as its victims; "the dead are not quiet" there, making it the perfect place for a quartet of scientists, doubting Thomases, and nervous Nellies. Richard Johnson is the supernatural anthropologist, his control group includes a chic psychic (Claire Bloom), the manorís smartass heir (Russ Tamblyn) and a poltergeist-struck wallflower (Julie Harris). The grounds are redolent of circular mirrors, pillars, effigies, zigzagging wallpaper and heavy portals -- Robert Wiseís architectural reference might be Wellesís Xanadu, or the British mausoleums of Losey. Cosmopolitan crypto-lezzie that she is, Bloom approves: "Nothing cozier than an old gargoyle, except maybe a whipping post or two." Frigid winds and a rubbery door heaving and pulsating are some of the frissons in an expert assembly that doesnít neglect the unworldly rattling that turns out to be the tinkling of ice cubes in the wise guyís drink. "There isnít a square corner in the place," Johnson marvels of Hill House, and Wise, taking a head-clearing break between West Side Story and The Sound of Music, scrambles to do the same with his direction. The camera tumbles from one floor to another, corkscrews down a spiral staircase, and bungee-jumps from towers onto the characters. The results try to reconcile the fastidiousness of Claytonís The Innocents with the cheekiness of Castleís House on Haunted Hill, though the horror remains admirably attuned to the sense of solitude in a premature spinster. As Harris agonizes through feelings of abandonment and a shy crush, the creaking, moaning, swelling walls around her alternately suggest a behemoth slowly digesting a captured critter and a welcoming mother pressing a lost child to her bosom. In any case, "next vacation I must really go somewhere else." Nelson Gidding adapted Shirley Jacksonís novel. Cinematography by Davis Boulton. With Fay Compton, Louis Maxwell, Rosalie Crutchley, and Valentine Dyall. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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