1963 Original: A scientist doing research on the paranormal invites two women to a haunted mansion. One of the participants soon starts losing her mind. Or perhaps there really are ghosts toying with those at Hill House?
1999 Remake: When a group of people are gathered together at Hill House for a secret study on fear disguised as a sleep study, they get more than they bargained for. Ghostly things begin happening and the dark history of the house is revealed.
Amelia: “An evil old house, the kind some people call haunted, is like an undiscovered country waiting to be explored. Hill House had stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more. Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there… walked alone.”
So begins the original Haunting film. A steady, mysterious voice-over that reveals Hill House at the same time that it casts doubts. The dark history of the house is then shown to us before we even meet the main characters. There’s no doubt that something creepy is happening at Hill House.
Billy: This absolutely blew me away. I watched the remake first a couple of years ago, and even read the book at Amelia’s suggestion, but what I didn’t expect when we actually sat down to watch the original film was how pure and brilliant it would be. I should have, of course. It was a 60s film, a time in film when they actually knew how to do horror right. Black and white is the ideal medium for these stories. Those camera angles are off-kilter and unsettling, everything is shot in just the right way to evoke feeling. A shot of textured wallpaper is all the movie needs, along with sound, to make you fearful.
Amelia: Then there’s the opening of the remake:
“You already owe two months worth of rent.”
Chilling. The Haunting from 1999 goes by the same name as the 1963 film, but it’s far from the same quality. The connection to the first movie, or even the novel, only goes so far as this house being named Hill House. The group in this movie are at the haunted house for the purposes of a shady secret study on fear reaction and not to study the paranormal. Why? Why bother to hide the supernatural in this movie? Not that it is hidden. When the supernatural shit does happen, it’s shown so blatantly that having it be this “big secret” is puzzling. The original movie casts doubt that it’s ghosts because they were studying whether or not ghosts existed. But this movie casts doubt… because movie (to pull a quote from YouTuber I Hate Everything).
Billy: When Liam Neeson tells everyone about his cellular telephone you know you’re in for a good time. The acting is as wooden as you’d hope it to be, and the movie just visually throws everything it can at you in a barrage of CGI. It leaves nothing to the imagination. It’s not the curse of a malevolent house that was built bad, it’s the literal ghost of an old man here to torture the souls of children and lop off Owen Wilson’s head! Come at him with a proton pack and he’s done for! You could honestly get Scooby-Doo in here to handle this spook!
Amelia: The 1963 Haunting is one of the most beautiful movies you’ll ever see. The black and white is stunning. I swear to god it’s the most perfectly lit, perfectly shot movie you’ll ever see. Every single detail is thought through and planned and it’s just right. Little things like Luke appraising the value of the stuff in the house for resale when he inherits it or Nell talking about sleeping on her left side to wear out her heart faster. Seemingly little things that fill in the movie and give you a more complete picture of the characters. Because the story really is a character piece. Not that that means the other areas are lacking. The design of Hill House is perfect too. It’s very closed in, dark, and twisting. It’s described as being built on unnatural angles. Those angles distort light and sound and will firmly shut doors that are left open. Ghosts are never expressly to blame for anything that happens and these unanswered hows and whys shape the atmosphere and leave you feeling spooked long after it ends.
Compare all that to the remake. The 1999 version is shown pretty quickly to be a steaming pile of trash, slopped around with so little care onto the screen you might as well be feeding it to pigs! The story is nonsensical as it attempts to make it about family and child abuse/pedofilic behaviour. All that thought and care in the original is out the window, and not just in the narrative but with simple shit like continuity. There’s a scene where Nell is filling out tests. The tests are done in green marker but she’s holding a pencil. If you care that little about your movie that you don’t notice shit like that, how ‘bout you just don’t make that movie? The house has changed too. It’s big, airy, and well-lit. Every square inch is taken up with gaudy nonsense, like, what the fuck is with the mirrored carousel room? There are a few clever ideas throughout, like having the house be alive and turning framework into eyes, but they’re not consistent with the story that’s being told. And without story, you’ve got nothing.
Flashy special effects does not a good movie make.
Billy: I got very honest with how I feel mental instability is handled in movies when we watched The Forest. Now I can take the time to say I think The Haunting is a movie that did it right. It destabilizes the character in a social setting, making Nell both build and sever her connections with people throughout the film and we see and feel it all from her perspective. Is she crazy? Well… I don’t want to use that word. I definitely feel she may be mentally ill. Moreso in the original, since the remake has the whole gang fighting literal ghosts the whole time. There may not even be ghosts in the original. It could all be Nell. I like that.
Amelia: Ten big, spooky houses out of ten for the original
Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is in my top three favourite books of all time and since the first movie adaption is pretty much word for word with the novel, that’s already high marks. Then add on amazing cinematography, great performances, and an atmosphere that’s both beautiful and terrifying and it makes 1963’s The Haunting a perfect scary movie!
Four big, spooky houses out of ten for the remake
After everything I just bitched about in the remake, I know I’m being generous with a rating of four. This movie is, objectively, a total mess. It should probably be more around a two than a four but my nostalgia of watching this as a kid plays a lot into my rating. I think this was the first full length scary movie that I was allowed to watch. It came on the movie channels when I was nine, my mom let me stay up late to watch it with her, and ghosts have been an obsession of mine ever since. I have to thank it for that.
Billy: Nine big, spooky houses out of ten for the original
So it’s obvious that we prefer the original, right? I hope so. There are only a handful of movies out there that I’d consider perfect, but honestly this one comes awfully close.
Four big, spooky houses out of ten for the remake
The remake? You know, it isn’t half bad if you watch it from a so-bad-its-good sort of perspective. It’s like The Wicker Man in that regard. I had fun and didn’t go into it expecting to be scared. It’s definitely not a good movie, but it’s one you can have fun with.