They say some houses are born bad, and so it might be with Hill House. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Shirley Jackson, ‘The Haunting of Hill House’

Dr. John Markway, (Richard Johnson) an anthropologist with an interest in psychic research, learns that Hill House, an old mansion in New England, has a reputation for evil and is supposedly filled with supernatural powers; and he decides to conduct an experiment there.

Assisting him are two women he has carefully selected: Eleanor Vance, (Julie Harris) a lonely, withdrawn woman who supposedly had a supernatural experience at the age of 10 and has devoted her life to caring for her invalid mother; and Theodora, (Claire Bloom) a bohemian of lesbian leanings and remarkable extrasensory perception.

Luke Sannerson, (Russ Tamblyn) a skeptic, who stands to inherit the house, accompanies them. Almost immediately, the quartet is subjected to thunderous poundings, hideous screeching, and other terrifying phenomena for which Markway can find no rational explanation. Eleanor feels that the house is calling to her; and she begins to treat it as a living object. At this point Dr. Markway's skeptical wife, Grace, (Lois Maxwell) arrives and, defying the ghost, tries to persuade her husband to give up his experiments.

Eleanor, who has fallen in love with Markway, now loses all touch with reality; and the other members of the group decide that for her own safety she must leave. As she drives away she feels a force tugging at the steering wheel, beckoning her not to go.
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In between winning Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for “West Side Story” and “The Sound of Music”, director Robert Wise made the scariest haunted house movie of all time in “The Haunting” - a strange thing, indeed, to be wedged between two beloved blockbuster musicals. He should have easily been nominated for another Academy Award for Best Director with this movie or the movie for Best Picture. However, horror films never made it that far to the Oscars. In fact, it wasn’t until “The Exorcist” became the only horror film to ever be nominated for Best Picture in Academy Award history - until 1991 when they finally awarded an Oscar to “The Silence of the Lambs”.

Robert Wise wasn’t new to challenging the norms and conventions of genre films. He was the editor of “Citizen Kane”, then followed up Jacques Tourneur’s excellent horror flick “The Cat People” with his own directorial debut “Curse of the Cat People”, and eventually directed one of the best science fiction movies of all time; “The Day The Earth Stood Still”. But “The Haunting” is arguably his best work. One can easily see how amazing the movie is, which is based on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House.

Wise doesn’t show the audience a thing and rightfully so, as he knows that not seeing whatever it is that is making those sounds is 90 percent of the scare. The other 10 percent is the sound. It’s what is hiding behind the door that is so scary. Most modern horror movies make the huge mistake of revealing the monster (or ghost or killer or what-have-you) way too early or at all and, thus, taking the scare out of it. It’s as if most modern filmmakers assume the audience has no imagination.

Alfred Hitchcock always seemed to know that what was right around the corner, but out of sight to the viewing audience, which was much scarier than a full-on shot of a drill going into someone’s forehead. Most directors now a days, I feel just got it all wrong. While a bloody and gory moment may be gross and impressive, it is by no means scary. It’s simply not working up the audience’s imaginations – and those imaginations can conjure up images and ideas eight million times scarier than any filmmaker can put up on the screen, I promise you that.

But a few filmmakers have succeeded where many others have failed. John Carpenter is one such director. His classic movie “Halloween” is a perfect example of a modern horror movie that has little or no blood at all. When Michael Myers is shot, stabbed or blinded with a wire hanger, there is no blood or gore, just the impending music of doom when he rises to come after you again, clearly the opposite of Rob Zombie’s remake of “Halloween”. Zombie made the unfortunate mistake of playing the music way too soon before the appearance of Michael Myers in every shot, which gave away his entrance. You knew immediately that he was approaching before he even made it to the scene, which took away any and all suspense.

There are two types of movies, in my opinion: those that are called horror and those that are called ‘slasher’. Horror movies (“The Haunting”, “Psycho”, “The Birds”) are pure horror. It’s what is in the imagination that moves you. ‘Slasher’ movies (“Saw”, “Hostel”, “Friday the 13th) are pure gore. Movies such as these, while they are good movies for what they are in their own right, they will never be considered a horror classic. Maybe cult classics, but never pure horror.