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Watch The Haunting (1999), Story, Stars, Reviews & All You Want To Know About A Great Movie

Sep 8, 2022
Watch The Haunting (1999), Story, Stars, Reviews & All You Want To Know About A Great Movie

Watch The Haunting (1999), Story, Stars, Reviews & All You Want To Know About A Great Movie

 

The Haunting (1999)

A study in fear escalates into a heart-stopping nightmare for a professor and three subjects trapped in a mysterious mansion.

The Haunting (1999) Trailer

 

The Haunting (1999) Reviews

To my surprise, I find myself recommending “The Haunting” on the basis of its locations, its sets, its art direction, its sound design, and the overall splendor of its visuals. The story is a mess, but for long periods of time that hardly matters. It’s beside the point, as we enter one of the most striking spaces I’ve ever seen in a film.

That space is Hill House, the haunted manor selected by a psychology professor (Liam Neeson) for an experiment in the mechanics of fear. He recruits three people who are told they’ll get help for insomnia, and installs them in the ornate and gloomy gothic pile, where alarming things start to happen immediately. We assume the frightening manifestations are manufactured by the professor (last name: Marrow), but perhaps not.

The three patients are played by Lili Taylor, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Owen Wilson. Prof. Marrow is joined by two assistants, but in one of the screenplay’s several clumsy moves, one of them is injured during the first night, the other takes her to the hospital, and that’s the last we ever see of them. Taylor’s character, named Nell, is the key figure in the film, a woman whose life has been on hold until the ghosts of Hill House start to tell their story.

The exteriors of Hill House were shot at Harlaxton Manor in Nottinghamshire. Its architectural details look like a shriek from hell; now I know what a building looks like with its hair standing on end. (It’s a bit of an anticlimax to discover that the building is currently used as a foreign campus of the University of Evansville, Indiana). The interiors I gather are mostly sets, although some of them are inspired by Harlaxton and Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire.

The production design is by Eugenio Zanetti (“What Dreams May Come,” “Restoration”) and he has done a masterful job of creating interiors that seem to be alive with menace. One of the great moments in the film comes when Taylor and Zeta-Jones explore their bedrooms, which are so rich with detail that you want to wallow in them. The great hall of the house features a walk-in fireplace not unlike the one in Citizen Kane’s Xanadu, and indeed when Zeta-Jones first enters Hill House, she murmurs, “It’s like Charles Foster Kane meets the Munsters.”

The horror story itself is based on things that go thump (and bang, and wheeze) in the night. The cavernous halls and ominous corridors reverberate with great groaning echoing noises, as if the house has gas pains. Doors are hammered on. Ghostly manifestations appear. One or two moments are truly scary, including a recycled version of the classic “Carrie” end shot. We enter this space and feel enclosed by it; it’s not like a set, but more like a virtual reality.

Lili Taylor struggles valiantly with her character, the movie’s juiciest, and has some effective scenes, mostly by herself. “I can be a victim or I can be a volunteer,” she tells herself, when the going gets really rough.

The rest of the characters are underwritten, including Catherine Zeta-Jones’ beautiful Theo, who does some bisexual lip-smacking at the outset but never follows up, and spends most of her time running to the rescue. Owen Wilson, as the guy, asks obvious questions and helps tug open doors, etc., but is not made much of, and neither is Liam Neeson’s professor, whose motivations are explained in some flat opening scenes, and who then goes adrift in the plot (“All right, you two! Enough about pharmaceuticals!”).

But the special effects are original and effective, evoking a haunted house in unexpected ways. A floor-level gliding camera is insinuating. Scenes set in a huge old conservatory are creepy in the way they use dead vegetation, and there’s a nice scene on a shaky spiral staircase. To enter these rooms, to move among them, to feel their weight and personality, is an experience. I am reminded of the abandoned subway station in “The Mimic” (1997), another space with a personality of its own.

The movie often edges so close to being truly scary that you wonder why they didn’t try just a little harder to write more dimensional characters and add the edge of almost plausible realism that distinguished Shirley Jackson’s original novel. The movie does not, alas, succeed as a horror film. But it succeeds as a film worth watching anyway, and that is no small achievement.

  • Roger Ebert  –  Roger Ebert
  • Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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The Haunting (1999) Credits

The Haunting movie poster

The Haunting (1999)

Rated PG-13 For Intense Horror Sequences

113 minutes

Cast

Bruce Dern as Mr. Dudley

Catherine Zeta-Jones as Theo

Virginia Madsen as Jane

Todd Field as Todd Hackett

Lili Taylor as Nell

Liam Neeson as Dr. David Marrow

Owen Wilson as Luke Sanderson

Marian Seldes as Mrs. Dudley

Based On The Novel by

  • Shirley Jackson

Directed by

  • Jan de Bont

Written by

  • David Self

 

The Haunting (1999) Plot

Eleanor “Nell” Vance, an insomniac, has cared for her invalid mother for 11 years, sharing a Boston apartment with her. After her mother dies, Nell’s sister Jane and her husband Lou inherit the residence. They eject Nell to prepare for a sale. As she faces homelessness, Nell accepts an invitation to participate in an insomnia study by Dr. David Marrow at Hill House, a secluded manor house in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.

At the house, she meets Mr. and Mrs. Dudley, an eccentric pair of caretakers. Two other participants arrive: Luke Sanderson and the glamorous Theodora (“Theo”), along with Dr. Marrow and his two research assistants. Unknown to the participants, Dr. Marrow’s true purpose is to study the psychological response to fear, intending to expose his subjects to terror.

During their first night, Dr. Marrow relates the story of Hill House: Its original owner, Hugh Crain, a 19th-century textile tycoon, constructed the rambling home for his wife Renee, hoping to populate it with a large family. Unfortunately, all of Crain’s children were stillborns, and Renee, devastated by the multiple losses, killed herself.

Crain became a recluse. Marrow’s assistant is severely wounded in a freak accident and both research assistants leave for the hospital. Supernatural events begin happening, and Nell sees the ghosts of children. A large portrait of Hugh Crain is vandalized with the words “Welcome Home Eleanor” written in blood. Theo and Luke accuse Nell, claiming she is seeking attention.

Nell becomes determined to prove that the house is haunted. She finds Crain’s hidden office and learns that he extensively used child labor in his cotton mills. He tortured and killed several orphans in his home, then burned their bodies in the fireplace. She surmises that these children’s spirits are trapped in the house, providing Crain with an “eternal family”.

Crain had a second wife named Carolyn, from whom Nell is descended. Dr. Marrow is skeptical of Nell’s claims and soon reveals his true fear study to the group, but after a statue tries to drown him, he realizes Hill House is haunted. Nell reveals that she is related to Carolyn Crain and must help the children “move on” to the afterlife.

Dr. Marrow demands that everyone leave Hill House, but Hugh Crain’s ghost traps them inside. Luke defaces a portrait of Crain, enraging his spirit to decapitate Luke. When Crain himself manifests, Dr. Marrow and Theo hide in the house while Nell distracts him. Realizing that he thrived on the fear he created in children, Nell declares she is not afraid of him.

Her declaration weakens the ghost and he is cast into a decorative bronze door depicting distressed children in a purgatory-like scene. He drags Nell with him, but the spirits release her and she dies. Nell’s soul, along with those of the freed children, rise to heaven.

The following morning, Dr. Marrow and Theo meet the Dudleys at the front gate, where Mr. Dudley asks the doctor if he found out what he wanted to know. Dr. Marrow and Theo leave without saying a word, and leave Hill House behind.

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The Haunting (1999) Box office

The Haunting opened theatrically in North America on July 23, 1999, screening in 2,808 theaters, and earning $33,435,140 during its opening weekend. The film remained in theatrical release until November 1999.  It ultimately grossed $91,411,151 in North America, and $85,900,000 in international markets, making for a worldwide gross of $177,311,151. 

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The Haunting (1999) Critical Response

The Haunting was largely met with unfavorable reviews from film critics, with many citing its weak screenplay, its heavy reliance on horror clichés, and its overdone CGI effects. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a “Rotten” rating of 16% from 100 reviews, with the critical consensus stating “Sophisticated visual effects fail to offset awkward performances and an uneven script”.

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of “C+” on an A+ to F scale. As a result of the negative reviews, it was nominated for five Razzie Awards but lost all five to Wild Wild West.

Roger Ebert, however, gave the film a favorable review, praising the production design in particular: “To my surprise, I find myself recommending The Haunting based on its locations, its sets, its art direction, its sound design, and the overall splendor of its visuals. The story is a mess, but for long periods that hardly matters.

It’s beside the point, as we enter one of the most striking spaces I’ve ever seen in a film.”[6] Similar sentiments were echoed by The New York Timess Janet Maslin, who deemed the film “a lavish illustration of how to take a fairly modest black-and-white horror film from 1963 and amplify it so relentlessly that the sight of the flying cow in Twister would not be all that amiss…  the film’s spooky tricks are orchestrated by top-notch behind-the-scenes talent, who augment Mr. De Bont’s tireless efforts to keep things moving.”

 

The Haunting (1999) Accolades

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Golden Raspberry Awards Worst Picture Donna Roth, Colin Wilson and Susan Arthur Nominated
Worst Director Jan de Bont Nominated
Worst Actress Catherine Zeta-Jones (also for Entrapment) Nominated
Worst Screenplay David Self Nominated
Worst Screen Couple Lili Taylor and Catherine Zeta-Jones Nominated
Stinkers Bad Movie Awards Worst Picture (Dishonourable Mentions) The Haunting Won
Worst Sense of Direction Jan de Bont Nominated
Worst Screenplay for a Film Grossing Over $100M Worldwide Using Hollywood Math David Self Nominated
Worst Remake The Haunting Won
The Remake, Sequel, or Prequel Nobody Was Clamoring For Nominated
Least “Special” Special Effects Nominated

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The Haunting (1999) Movie Info

This horror tale focuses on visitors to the secluded mansion of Hill House who have been called to the isolated location by Dr. David Marrow (Liam Neeson) as part of a study on insomnia. However, Marrow is really investigating fear, and he plans to scare the subjects, including the introverted Nell (Lili Taylor) and the seductive Theo (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Unfortunately for Marrow and everyone staying at Hill House, the manor is actually haunted by an evil spirit out to torment its guests.

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