The Haunting (1963) was a British horror film directed and produced by Robert Wise who is known for directing such films as TheBody Snatcher (1945), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), The Andromeda Strain (1971), The Hindenburg (1975) and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). The screenplay was written by Nelson Gidding based on the novelThe story revolves around a parapsychologist Dr. Markway conducting experiments to prove the existence of ghosts in what is believed to be a haunted house. The doctor hires three individuals to help with the investigation. The trio includes a clairvoyant, and a skeptic who is also future heir to the property and a somewhat unbalanced psychic.
While working on West Side Story (1961) for which he would receive an Academy Award for Best Director, Wise read a review of Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House, he found the review interesting and purchased a copy of the novel. After reading the novel Wise was convinced it would make an intriguing film and hires Nelson Gidding to write the screenplay. After reading the novel Gidding was convinced that the story was not about supernatural but rather about Eleanor’s mental collapse. When Gidding discussed his observation with the author she told him that that was not her original intention but liked the idea.With script in hand Robert Wise approached MGM the studio liked the idea but was reluctant to provide the $1 million budget that Wise asked for. So Wise went to London where he pitched the film to the MGM Studios at Borehamwood, who agreed to finance the film at $1.1 million. The film, although set in New England was actually shot in the United Kingdom.
The cast was made up of an impressive ensemble of actors:Julie Harris as Eleanor "Nell" Lance. Harris was an accomplished stage, screen, and television actress. She won five Tony Awards, three Emmy Awards and a Grammy Award, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in The Member of the Wedding (1952).
Richard Johnson as Dr. John Markway. Johnson was an English actor, writer and producer, who was at one time considered for the role of James Bond. Johnson declined the role and later said that he thought Sean Connery made a much better Bond that he would have.
Robert Wise was no stranger to the horror genre having worked with Val Lewton and RKO during the 1940s making low-budget horror films. With The Haunting (1963) Robert Wise demonstrated his directorial prowess by creating remarkably eerie and suspenseful scenes throughout the film. Wise insisted on shooting the film in black and white, despite the studio’s reservations. Wise also used a 28mm lens (some accounts claim it was a 30 mm lens) provided by Panavision to give the hallways a distorted appearance. Panavision would allow Wise to use the lens only after he agreed to sign a letter in which he took full responsibility for the distorted lens effect.The house used in the film is Ettington Park near Stratford-on-Avon. The house was reportedly haunted and Russ Tamblyn claims to have had some supernatural experiences while making the film. The exterior of the house was shot with infrared film which provided a high degree of contrast. The interior sets were built at Borehamwood Studios. Unlike most movie sets, the sets constructed for The Haunting (1963) included ceilings to give it more of a claustrophobic sense. Most movie sets do not include ceilings making it much easier to light the set.
Robert Wise said that The Haunting (1963) was his favorite movie-making experienceand that he made the film as a dedication to the memory of Val Lewton, who had died 12 years earlier. Julie Harris, however did not find the making of the film a positive experience at all. During filming, Harris reportedly suffered from depression and believed that her co-stars did not take the film as seriously as she did. She reportedly would cry in her makeup chair prior to filming her scenes. Claire Bloom did not speak to Harris while filming, which worsened her depression. Bloom later told Harris that the lack of interaction
had helped her build her own performance and the two women reconciled. Harris incorporated her own depression into her performance which helped her give a very convincing performance. Wise heightened the sense of conflict by having the actors "step on one another's lines", allowing one character to begin speaking before the other had finished.
The Haunting (1963) made the most forceful statements of lesbianism up to its time, with Theo’s references to sisters, Eleanor’s accusations that she is “one of nature’s mistakes” and Theo’s rebuff of Luke’s advances. Claire Bloom was said to have been intrigued to play the role of a woman who was attracted to another woman.The film was released on September 18, 1963 to mixed reviews. While many critics found it to be a stylish film they also found major flaws in the plot and lack of overall excitement. Despite its initial lukewarm reception The Haunting (1963) has over the years gained a cult following and is now considered to be one of the scariest films ever made.