Lady Summerisle (strange_complex) wrote,
Lady Summerisle

1. The Haunting (1963), dir. Robert Wise

I saw this round at ms_siobhan and planet_andy's house a couple of weeks ago. As ms_siobhan explained before we began, it is one of those ghost films where you never actually see anything supernatural, but the atmosphere is nonetheless creepy as hell. Shot in beautiful black and white and set almost entirely in an empty, isolated stately home, it is all about the psychological reactions of a small group of main characters. The set-up is that they have been invited there by a Dr. Markway, who wants to investigate the house's supposed paranormal history. Once they are settled in, of course, strange and frightening things begin to happen, bringing all the hidden tensions within and between the various personalities in the house to the fore.

This means, of course, that this film is very closely comparable to other similar movies such as House on Haunted Hill and The Legend of Hell House - though by no means diminished by the comparison. I'm afraid I found the main point-of-view character, Eleanor Lance slightly disappointing. She is the one most affected by the atmosphere in the house, and both her back-story of guilt after the recent death of her mother (for whom she has been a carer most of her life) and her psychological disintegration over the course of the film could have been very compelling. But for me she began the film already too neurotic and self-doubting for me to develop any real sympathy for her, or for her further journey into madness to carry much interest for me. Otherwise, though, the cocktail of characters was very well-judged, the individuals convincing and well-defined, and the interplay between them as they experienced greater and greater terror very compelling. As for the location and sets (the latter purpose-built for the film), they did a huge amount to underscore the atmosphere of the story, and were beautifully shot using all sorts of interesting angles and framing devices.

So far, so very competently-made haunted house story, but the one extra element which took us quite by surprise in a film from 1963 was the heavily-suggested homoerotic sexual tension between Eleanor Lance and another female character, the sassy and very modern Theodora (or Theo for short). This isn't exactly what you would call a positive representation, of course - how could it be in 1963? At one point, Eleanor roundly accuses Theo of being both jealous of her own growing attraction to (the male) Dr. Markway, and of being 'unnatural' and one of 'nature's mistakes'. But on the other hand, they also have scenes of close intimacy - holding hands, walking arm in arm and painting their toe-nails together - in which it is quite clear that Eleanor is just as drawn to Theo as Theo is to her. And in the end, it is Theo, the character depicted as being consciously aware of her own lesbian desires and knowingly acting on them, who survives the film, while the more repressed Eleanor is broken by the house to the extent that she dies and becomes one of its victims. So there is something a little more complex than a simple heteronormative morality tale going on here, and something which in turn opens the door to some more interesting readings of what exactly the unseen terrors within the house represent - uncontrolled female sexual desire, perhaps? Viewers must decide for themselves.

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Tags: films, films watched 2013, horror films, sexuality

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