Director: Robert Wise
Warner Brothers

The release of Robert Wise's masterful THE HAUNTING was long in coming to those of us that hold this classic in high regard. The previous widescreen laserdisc release tended to be a little dark and lacked clarity compared to this DVD. Having seen this film on countless occasions I played the disc with the audio commentary as soon as it arrived. For a film nearly 40 years old it is amazing we have the entire cast plus the writer and the great man himself--Robert Wise--to make comments throughout the film.

Julie Harris was going through a bout with depression during the filming informing her performance with an echo of truth that impressed me as a youngster and carries the film today. Her fellow cast members found her remote to say the least however at the end of filming she presented Claire Bloom with a gift to make amends for her behavior. A few years ago this reviewer was fortunate to correspond with Julie Harris regarding this film. She enclosed a photo of herself in front of the gates of Hill House with the following inscription: "Here is poor Eleanor in the Haunting of Hill House far away from the real New England of Shirley Jackson's story."

Wise chose to film THE HAUNTING in Britain as MGM had a studio over there, and the financing was done from London as well. Having the insights such as they are from the whole cast is great fun and sometimes very insightful as Russ Tamblyn recalls trying to get out of the project only to contribute dialog and finally accepting the fact he was in a classic ghost story to boot.

This reviewer was told by Robert Wise himself that his lawyers made sure MGM did not colorize his film as they were planning to do awhile ago. One of his assistants came in as he was prepping ROOFTOPS and said "Have you seen the purple room in the Haunting? Wise then used a clause in his contract that stated he was engaged to direct a black and white film and managed to halt the colorization there and then.

THE HAUNTING is perhaps next to Jack Clayton's THE INNOCENTS the finest adaptation of a ghost story on film. The black and white cinematography of Davis Boulton creates the atmosphere of unease and dread in Hill House combined with Humphrey Searle's music which beautifully underscores the delicate balance of Julie Harris' character--frightened and in love for the first time. The House is made to be a living, pulsating monster as real as any "House of Usher" could ever be.

Time has not diminished set-pieces like Julie Harris's Eleanor discovering what is really holding her hand in the dark of Hill House or her wild race through the corridors distorted by camera angles and lighting creating a real nightmare effect that still delivers the chills after nearly four decades.

Much has been written about whether or not Eleanor is experiencing a real haunting or is it the result of an overactive libido. The same controversy exists with The Innocents and the character of Miss Giddens. For this reviewer it is always better to side with the ghosts and believe these ladies watch their phantoms dance in the moonlight.

The character of Theo as played by Claire Bloom has always been a controversial role due to the underlying lesbian tension between the two women. As director Wise points out in the commentary, he had shot a scene in which we see Theo in her apartment watching her lover drive away in anger, only to cut it from the final print as unnecessary. Bloom is a hoot dressed in ultra chic Mary Quant fashion with arch dialogue like "We'll have fun like sisters!"

Richard Johnson as Dr. Markway is romantic and obsessed with the supernatural at the same time. Johnson observes on the commentary that "My character could have saved Eleanor if he had not been so obsessed with discovering the secret of Hill House." Johnson was at the height of his career during the filming of The Haunting with an MGM contract and a marriage to Kim Novak in the mix.

Warner has presented THE HAUNTING on DVD with a gorgeous 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The print is in terrific shape; there are some minor blemishes on the sharp black and white image, but all in all, the presentation is very attractive. The sound is a point of debate as to how it could have been enhanced a bit; however, this reviewer had no problem enjoying the film as one would a visit from an old friend. There is also a French language track, plus optional English, French and Spanish subtitles.

As mentioned, there is a commentary track provided with director Robert Wise, writer Nelson Gidding, and cast members Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson and Russ Tamblyn. All were recorded separately, but blended together to make an excellent document of the film's production, with all participants contributing delightfully. There are two stills galleries, one of production photos and publicity, and another of excerpts from the script. "Things That Go Bump in the Night" offers a text essay on ghost movies, and there is also a cast and crew list, as well as the original theatrical trailer. (David Del Valle)