Year of production: 1963
Original release: September 18th, 1963
Running time: 112 minutes
Director and producer: Robert Wise
Writers: Nelson Gidding, Shirley Jackson
Cast: Julie Harris, Richard Johnson, Claire Bloom, Russ Tamblyn, Lois Maxwell, Fay Compton
Whose hand was I holding: 01:09:26 to 01:12:30
There are just some places you shouldn’t go into. In many cultures around the world it’s believed that when something bad happens there, a stain from that moment remains, especially if it’s a violent death.
For that reason it’s customary to have a holy person bless and cleanse a house before moving into it because sometimes you just don’t know what might have happened there before.
Those who have a certain kind of sensitivity can feel it at once, either a chill or intense heat, a wave of nausea or a dark, clouding feeling passes over them. I’ve experienced it before once, terribly, in a hotel in Chenonceau.
The feeling was so intense that something awful had happened there that it’s a wonder we endured the night, but it was the only hotel for miles and we’d been driving all day. The next morning at breakfast I discovered it wasn’t just me who had a sleepless night.
We didn’t finish our croissants but paid the bill and left. It was so fast that I don’t even recall the name of the hotel but from what we experienced the night before we felt that a fire there had burned several children to death maybe a couple of hundred years ago. Something from that night remained there in that old Gothic hotel with its red panelled walls and deep green velvet curtains.
The experienced reminded me very much of the 1963 film, The Haunting. Directed by Robert Wise, it’s the story of a group of psychics lead by a paranormal investigator, Dr. Makrway (Richard Johnson) who spend a weekend in a haunted mansion. The focus is however on Eleanor (Julie Harris), who seems to be drawn to the house and its ghostly goings-on as she sinks deeper and deeper into it.
Filmed at MGM Studios in Borehamwood as well as Ettington Park Hotel, near Stratford-upon-Avon, The Haunting is quite simply one of the most effective psychological horror films that have ever been made, not because of what it shows, but because of what it leaves to your imagination.
Having seen it a number of times both before and after my visit to Chenonceau, the effect has always been the same – pure terror. It’s a film where you can’t escape the Gothic, it’s all around and in every frame of the film. The term usually refers to a type of architecture that was prominent in Western Europe between the 12th and 16th century.
Buildings would usually have tall pillars, pointed arches and tall pointed windows with patterns or stained glass and they were usually cathedrals or castles but also mansions very much like the one in The Haunting.
Gothic also refers to a genre of literature that became popular in the late 18th century, most notably with novels like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Reilly’s Frankenstein. Common features of the Gothic novel would be haunted castles and mansions, a presence that continues to haunt the living, dark and eerie places, graveyards, an uneasy romance or a tragedy of some kind. The Gothic is also closely linked to themes of the fantastic, the uncanny, the marvellous and the horror genre.
Women are also a prominent feature of the Gothic and a lot of the attention is focused on them; usually becoming the victims of a terrible presence, paranormal force or the actions of a mere mortal (but deranged) man.
Fred Botting, is his book, The Gothic, tells a little bit about some of the characteristics of the typical Gothic film:
Gothic scenes of terror is exactly what we have with The Haunting rather than Gothic scenes of horror with a grotesque villain. It’s a terror that plagues Eleanor but is entirely unseen as in the following scene described by by Alain Silver and James Ursini in The Horror Film Reader:
The story of what is happening to Eleanor is presented in such a way that you never see the terror but you feel it. What you are left with is a lot of suggestion that something is going on here, but as a viewer you are never given the real proof for it.
The vague outline of a face in the wall that glares down at Eleanor, but is it really a face? We hear the children’s voices but maybe it’s all in Eleanor’s mind, as if she is haunted by her own experiences with her mother and possibly her guilt for her death.
A prevailing theme in the gothic is madness and with this scene from The Haunting, I’m back in that hotel room in Chenonceau, feeling the heat of the walls closing in on me and hearing the scratching at the door.
Thank God I kept my hands tightly gripping the covers around me because I think had I felt anything else on me I might have lost my mind and leapt out the window that night.
Botting, F The Gothic, Essays and Studies (2001), D.S.Brewer
Silver, A., Ursini, J. Horror Film Reader (2000), Limelight Editions
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
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