Friday, November 8, 2013

Dual/Duel Review: The Haunting (of Hill House)

Dual/Duel reviews are an online smackdown between two books, movies, games, podcasts, etc. etc. that I think are interesting to compare, contrast, and comment on. For a list of other dual/duel reviews, go here.

Just about every book made into a movie is better than that movie. The only exceptions that spring to mind are Jaws (the movie wisely drops the soap-opera-esque adultery subplot in the book) and Moby Dick (the movie doesn't bog down in cetacean biology or whaling techniques). Otherwise, you are better off reading the book. But what about The Haunting, the film version of Shirley Jackson's novel?

Growing up I saw The Haunting on television and it scared the pants off me. The movie was made by Robert Wise, director of The Sound of Music and West Side Story. It's a simple and effective chiller about a group of people who go to a house to investigate psychic disturbances there. The organizer of the group is Dr. Markway, who wants to write a paper about the phenomena. Luke Sanderson, who will inherit the house, comes to represent the family interest, though he seems more interested in having a good time. Dr. Markway invites several other people to come to the house. Only two accept. One is Eleanor, a fragile woman who has spent most of her life caring for her sick mother (now deceased). She wants to go since she has nothing in her life other than an annoying sister and brother-in-law who are completely unsupportive. She takes the car (which is half hers) and drives off to Hill House to meet the doctor. The story remains mostly from her perspective and we can tell she's already troubled before she even gets to the haunted house. Things go bump in the night and from bad to worse for her as the story goes on.

The movie is highly effective in that it does not rely on special effects other than mostly sound effects. In one great scene, Eleanor is in a bedroom with Theo, the other female in the group. A noise is out in the hall, coming closer, getting louder. It bashes on the door like a cannon ball, then gets quiet and whispery as whatever it is tries to get in. It's all worked out through sound effects and is a great scene that made me hide my eyes in fear. Even the third time watching it!

The movie stays very close to the plot of the book (though the doctor's name is Montague in the book--it doesn't seem like there's much reason for a change). The book goes much deeper into Eleanor's mind and shows how much the house gets under her skin. Presenting her perspective is much easier in a book than a movie, so naturally that's better. There's also more humor in the book which allows readers to have greater mood swings when the horrors happen. Getting that balance right (the humor and the horror) is pretty difficult and more humor might have sunk the movie. The book is better than the movie, but this particular pairing is very close. Both are highly recommended (though avoid the 1990's movie remake, which is truly terrible because of the dependance on visual effects in the place of psychological terror).

For some great commentary on the book, listen to A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast #71. Scott and Julie from the podcast are who inspired me to read the book, which I found at the local British library. Though they did say there's an edition with an introduction by Guillermo del Toro. I may search that out someday. The amazon link below is to that edition.

Winner: The Book

Loser: The Movie


  1. Thank you for the mention! :-)

    My mother, a die-hard Shirley Jackson fan, mentioned that the movie was excellent and just as good as the book ... so I was interested to get your take on it. I may have to listen to both of you and rent it soon! :-)

  2. I loaned my DVD of The Haunting to a co-worker many years ago and never got it back. Happily, I discovered it has been re-released on DVD and Bluray. Also, Amazon has it as an Instant/streaming title, so if your local DVD renters don't have it, Amazon does.

    I've borrowed a copy of Lincoln on DVD and just discovered Unholy Night is at the local library. 400 pages though...I might not listen to the podcast right away ;-)