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Blu-ray Review: The Haunting (1999)

October 20, 2020

By John Corrado

Shirley Jackson’s classic 1959 horror novel The Haunting of Hill House has been adapted for the screen a few times over the years, starting with Robert Wise’s faithful 1963 film adaptation The Haunting. More recently, Jackson’s novel provided the inspiration for Mike Flanagan’s 2018 Netflix series of the same name, which was more of an homage than a faithful retelling of the book.

Nestled in between these two different versions was the 1999 film The Haunting, which Paramount is releasing for the first time on Blu-ray today, right in time for Halloween. A loose adaptation of Jackson’s book, this version updates the story and uses it as the basis for a fairly effective, big budget haunted house movie.

The film centres around Nell (Lili Taylor), Theo (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and Luke (Owen Wilson), three insomniacs who are selected by psychologist Dr. David Marrow (Liam Neeson) and brought to Hill House under the false pretences of being involved in a study on sleep. But Marrow is actually conducting a study on fear, and is using the unwitting participants as rats in a maze to study how people respond to being spooked.

While having them stay overnight in the ornate mansion, the three participants are fed a steady stream of ghost stories that Marrow believes are fake to get their heart rates up. But they soon find out that the ghosts of Hill House, which once belonged to a wealthy industrialist named Hugh Crane and has a dark history behind it that is known only to the old groundskeepers, Mr. and Mrs. Dudley (Bruce Dern and Marian Seldes), who refuse to stay there at night, are very real.

Directed by Jan de Bont, following up his ’90s hits Twister and Speed, and featuring a screenplay by David Self who takes some dramatic licenses with Jackson’s novel, The Haunting is a decent if mildly uneven thriller that is better than many people gave it credit for back in 1999. The film received mostly negative reviews upon its release, and was nominated for five Razzies including Worst Picture. But time has shown it to be something that, while not entirely living up to its potential, is still a fine entry into the haunted house subgenre.

While somewhat constrained by a PG-13 rating, de Bont smartly keeps the focus on his characters and focuses more on building a sense of atmosphere rather than delivering an all-out fright fest. The film boasts impressive production design by Eugenio Zanetti, and Hill House itself is a visual wonder, with captivating full-scale sets having been constructed for the shoot that allow for some solid, practically done set-pieces. The film has been newly remastered from a 4K film transfer for this release, under the supervision of de Bont, and I have to say that it looks splendid on Blu-ray.

Additionally, The Haunting boasts an appropriately eery musical score by composer Jerry Goldsmith, a legend in the horror genre. While some of the film’s CGI visual effects do look dated, The Haunting still holds up pretty well as an entertaining, character-driven haunted house movie, and fans of the film should be pleased by this release.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

Filmmaker Focus: Director Jan de Bont on The Haunting (9 minutes, 14 seconds): This new and surprisingly candid featurette finds the director reflecting on the production of the film, including building the full size set for Hill House and working with practical effects when possible. We also learn that Steven Spielberg was initially attached to the film, with de Bont initially set to direct Minority Report instead, but the two traded scripts on the set of Twister.

Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (27 minutes, 12 seconds): Zeta-Jones hosts this nearly half-hour piece, which was produced back when the film came out. The vintage featurette dives into the different characters and the production of the film, as well as some real life hauntings. It feels like a TV special, and is worth a watch.

Theatrical Teaser Trailer (1 minute, 16 seconds): The initial teaser for the film, which is mainly interesting to see how the studio was trying to sell it as a much more hardcore horror film.

Theatrical Trailer (2 minutes, 23 seconds): Again, the tone of this full trailer is much more extreme than the actual film, and it’s fascinating to see how the studio was trying to sell the finished product.

The Haunting is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 112 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: October 20th, 2020

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