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HAUNTING, THE(director: Jan de Bont; screenwriters: David Self/based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson; cinematographer: Caleb Deschanel; editor: Michael Kahn; cast: Lili Taylor (Nell), Liam Neeson (Dr. David Marrow), Catherine Zeta Jones (Theo), Owen Wilson (Luke), Alix Koromzay (Mary), Marian Seldes (Mrs. Dudley), Bruce Dern (Mr. Dudley); Roth-Arnold/DreamWorks; Runtime: 112; 1999)
“It’s all hokum from beginning to end.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This one’s a bomb. The house is the star and the actors are the props. This insipid horror story has little to recommend it; it wasn’t scary, or campy, or well-acted. The few thrills it offers are all a result of special effects.

The real horror it provided was in zapping Shirley Jackson’s very literate psychological thriller. A far better film version and one that was actually thrilling, is the one done in 1963 by Robert Wise. The director of this film, Jan de Bont (Speed/Speed 2/ Twister), is not up to dealing with a psychological story and directing characters in a sensible way, he is more into making silly theme-park movies that rely solely on special effects.

A research test for volunteer insomniacs is advertised in the paper as a psychologist, Dr. Marrow (Liam), is using that as a cover for his study of group fear. Unhappy with her lot in life Nell (Taylor), who is a repressed and timid spinster who took care of her invalid mother until she recently died, finds out that her mother didn’t even leave her the apartment they shared. She seems relieved to get away from her unpleasant situation and do the experiment, and welcomes the chance to be living with other volunteers, even if they will live in the scary Hill House.

Theo (Zeta) is an extrovert, an attractive NYC artist, an insomniac who is bi-sexual, though favoring lesbian relationships, causing her to have problems with her boyfriend and wanting to change her scene for awhile. Luke (Owen) is an insomniac, with a hyper personality and manic energy, who will comically walk around among the griffins and in the spacious hallways in his pajama bottoms with a baseball glove. Soon they will all experience strange phenomena such as Nell’s name written on the wall welcoming her home and telling her to leave or else; a moving flume; house breathing sounds; animated ghosts of murdered children and the ghost of the ogre who built the house; and, one dramatic shot of the ogre’s wife who committed suicide, who is seen suspended from the ceiling by a rope around her neck.

This house is haunted Hollywood style, which Theo describes as a cross between something Charles Foster Kane would build and the Munsters’ house. It’s all hokum from beginning to end and it is so poorly scripted that tedium quickly sets in, leaving the film with no purpose except to be laughed at for how stupid it all is.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”