The Haunting

When a horror movie isn't scary, that's kind of sad. The trailer for The Haunting contains the tag line "Some houses are born bad." In this case, some movies are born bad too. The Haunting is both a retelling of Shirley Jackson's book The Haunting of Hill House and 1963's The Haunting. In the retelling, Dr. David Marrow (Liam Neeson, Star Wars Episode 1) lures three people into what they think is a study on insomnia. In actuality, it is a study on group dynamics and fear (with a name like Marrow, you have to study fear). The three patients are Nell (Lili Taylor from The Imposters), Theo (Catherine Zeta-Jones from Entrapment), and Luke (Owen Wilson from Armageddon). Nell is recovering from the death of her mother. She had been taking care of her bed-ridden mother for over a decade, letting the rest of her life slip by. Theo is the vampy bisexual, and Luke is the smart mouth.

The Haunting starts promising. Marrow informs the three that the house belonged to a reclusive rich man named Hugh Crain, who built it for his wife. The couple really wanted children, but every child that his wife bore him died. As the study goes on, strange things begin to happen in the house. Nell begins to hear voices that seem to beckon her. Theo and Luke begin to suspect that Marrow is not telling everything about what he is doing to them. As the story builds, we watch as Nell begins to discover more about the house, and her connection to it. As the story unfolds, it is hard to believe that Nell or anyone else can make the same deductions she did. She spouts off conclusions that only make sense because the script calls for it. A large part of the movie is the special effects. They are spectacular, but again cause no suspense. Instead, they distract the viewer. By the end of the movie, there is no trace of horror present. Instead, the final confrontation is comes off more as funny. So I guess the movie could be called a comedy.

The main character in The Haunting is Hill House. The exteriors are from Harlaxton Manor (part of Harlaxton College in England), built in the mid-nineteenth century. The interiors were part of a set constructed in Long Beach, Ca, where the Spruce Goose used to be located. Production designer Eugenio Zanetti made a huge, awe inspiring set that in the movie was compared to Citizen Kane's Xanadu, the great unfinished mansion of Kane. The mansion is huge, opulent, with large vaulted ceilings, intricate woodcarvings, and menacing stone monsters throughout. Hill House is much more interesting than any of the living characters in the movie. Taylor has garnered much critical acclaim in independent films over the years, and this is not a good way to break into the mainstream. Zeta-Jones has managed to star in two bad movies in one summer, and Wilson's role is limited to witty one-liners used to lighten the tone. David Self's script leaves much to be desired. Director Jan de Bont (Twister and Speed) succeeds again where he is best, lots of frenetic action shots. This manages to save the film, though not by much. Watching Hill House come to life is an amazing process. If only we could have ditched the living inhabitants and wandered around alone.

Haro Rates It: Okay
1 hour, 57 minutes, Rated PG-13 for some horror.

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