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The Haunting

The Haunting(1963)

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teaser The Haunting (1963)


"Scandal, murder, insanity, suicide. The history of Hill House was ideal." Thus begins Oscar®-winning director Robert Wise's spectacularly spooky and stylish film adaptation of Shirley Jackson's bestselling 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House, one of the quintessential ghost stories of modern literature.

Hill House is a sprawling and remote New England mansion with a long and sinister history with whisperings of ghostly inhabitants. Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) is an anthropologist who is fascinated by the occult and wants to do a scientific study of the paranormal activity within Hill House. To assist him with the experiment, Markway invites the emotionally fragile Eleanor (Julie Harris) and the worldly Theodora (Claire Bloom), two very different women who have both demonstrated a sensitivity to the supernatural. Joined by the young heir apparent to Hill House Luke (Russ Tamblyn) -- the only skeptic in the group -- Dr. Markway, Eleanor and Theo come together to watch and listen for things that go bump in the night. As each moment spent in the eerie house becomes more terrifying than the last, it soon becomes clear that the spirits of the past have their sights set on claiming Eleanor as one of their own.


Director: Robert Wise

Writer: Nelson Gidding

Producer: Robert Wise

Based on the book The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Cinematography: Davis Boulton

Art Direction: Elliot Scott

Set Decorator: John Jarvis

Editing: Ernest Walter

Music: Humphrey Searle

Special Effects: Tom Howard

Cast: Julie Harris (Eleanor Lance), Claire Bloom (Theodora), Richard Johnson (Dr. John Markway), Russ Tamblyn (Luke Sanderson), Lois Maxwell (Grace), Fay Compton (Mrs. Sanderson)

B and W - 112 min.

Why THE HAUNTING is Essential

The Haunting is widely considered to be one of the most frightening horror films ever made and the quintessential haunted house film.

The Haunting features a particularly distinguished cast including Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, and Russ Tamblyn. The accomplished actors added a touch of class and helped the stylish horror film be taken seriously within a genre that was often dismissed.

The timeless haunted house story based on Shirley Jackson's chilling 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House influenced countless modern storytellers and filmmakers, including famed horror author Stephen King and director Martin Scorsese.

The bone-chilling horror that director Robert Wise achieved with The Haunting was a superior exercise in the power of suggestion. The scares that come from The Haunting are subtle and psychological, proving that the biggest fears often come from the mind's imagination.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser The Haunting (1963)

The Haunting was remade in 1999 under the same title. Directed by Jan de Bont, it starred Liam Neeson in the Richard Johnson role, Catherine Zeta-Jones in the Claire Bloom role, Lili Taylor in the Julie Harris role and Owen Wilson in the Russ Tamblyn role.

In 2010 the English film magazine Cinema Retro hosted a screening of The Haunting inside the haunted house itself -the Eddington Park Hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon- as part of their Movie Magic Tour of British film locations. Actor Richard Johnson, who played Dr. Markway, was a special guest at the screening.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser The Haunting (1963)

In 1990, as reported by Entertainment Weekly, director Robert Wise legally blocked media mogul Ted Turner from colorizing The Haunting for broadcast television.

The tagline for the movie poster of The Haunting was "You may not believe in ghosts but you cannot deny terror!"

The magnificent English manor house that was used as the main location for The Haunting is now a high-end luxury hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon called the Ettington Park Hotel.

Famed horror author Stephen King wrote the introduction for a 2003 hardcover edition of Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House. He also writes at length about his love of the novel in his 1981 book Danse Macabre.

Lois Maxwell, the actress who plays Dr. Markway's wife Grace who pays an ill-timed visit to Hill House, is well known to movie going audiences as the original Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond film series. She played the notable character in the first 14 Bond films from 1962-1985.

The Haunting was the last film that director Robert Wise ever made in black and white. Wise loved black and white and believed it was more effective for certain stories, even in the modern age.

Famous Quotes from THE HAUNTING

"An evil old house, the kind some people call haunted, is like an undiscovered country waiting to be explored."

--Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) (VO)

"Scandal, murder, insanity, suicide. The history of Hill House was ideal. It was an evil house from the beginning. A house that was born bad."

-- Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) (VO)

"The dead are not quiet in Hill House."

--Mrs. Sanderson (Fay Compton), to Dr. Markway when he is trying to convince her to rent Hill House to him for his studies

"Only one way to argue with a woman, Doc. Don't."

--Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn), to Dr. Markway

"Hill House has stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more. Within, walls continue upright, bricks meet, floors are firm, and doors are sensibly shut. Silence lies steadily against the wood and stone off Hill House. And we who walk here walk alone."

--Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris) (VO)

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser The Haunting (1963)

The Haunting all began with the publication of Shirley Jackson's chilling bestselling novel The Haunting of Hill House in 1959. A finalist for the National Book Award, Jackson's novel was an instant hit and went on to become one of the most highly regarded ghost stories in modern literature.

Director Robert Wise, who had already built up an impressive list of film credits including Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), I Want to Live! (1958) and Oscar®-winning Best Picture West Side Story (1961) for which he also won the Academy Award for Best Director, first heard about The Haunting of Hill House when he read a review of the novel in Time magazine. He was so intrigued with the description of the book that he decided to read it while he was in the midst of making his acclaimed 1962 Robert Mitchum/Shirley MacLaine drama Two for the Seesaw.

One day as Wise was reading the book in his office, he was so engrossed in a particularly chilling passage that when a colleague entered, he was so startled that he jumped out of his chair. It was then that he knew Jackson's book would make a wonderful film. If it had that effect on him, he thought, just think what a powerful effect it could have on movie audiences!

Wise asked screenwriter Nelson Gidding to collaborate with him on adapting Jackson's novel into a screenplay. Wise and Gidding had worked together on the hard-hitting drama I Want to Live! that resulted in an Oscar® win for star Susan Hayward and nominations for both Gidding and Wise.

As Gidding worked on the screenplay, he began to examine the story of Hill House more thoroughly. As he explained in the foreword he wrote to Sergio Leeman's 1995 book Robert Wise on His Films, "The Haunting is a genuine ghost story. The house is honestly haunted. No cop-outs. Bob [Robert Wise] didn't waffle or blink. He never does. I blinked. Halfway through the script, I began to think that Jackson's novel wasn't a ghost story at all. We had missed the point of the book. It's about a mental institution, a private sanitarium, where the heroine, Eleanor, is confined. What could be more obvious?"

"The doors in the house mysteriously open and close," Gidding continued, "as they would appear to a sensitive, disturbed person, like Eleanor, in a locked facility. Dr. Markway, the professor conducting an experiment in the supernatural, is, of course, the medical doctor in charge of the institution. Eleanor's lesbian friend, Theo, is a fellow patient. Mrs. Markway, who appears disastrously at the end, is the head nurse; the cavalier Luke, a male nurse. The terrifying noises that Eleanor hears in her head are the result of medication. The thunderous bangings and explosions emphasize the violence of the shock treatment that Eleanor is undergoing. The cold spot and freezing sensation that Eleanor feels on occasion are the aftereffects of shock treatment."

Gidding was becoming convinced that he and Wise had misinterpreted the book and needed to rewrite the story from the angle of Eleanor being mentally ill. Wise decided to settle the matter by going straight to the source. Wise and Gidding traveled to Bennington, Vermont to pay Shirley Jackson a visit at her home.

In Vermont, Gidding and Wise had lunch with Jackson to discuss the book. Gidding took the opportunity to offer his theory on the story in detail and ask her if indeed Hill House was meant to be a sanitarium rather than a haunted house. "Shirley Jackson said, no, that wasn't at all what she meant," said Gidding, "but it was a damn good idea. Much relieved, we continued with our no-holds-barred, honest-to-God ghost story."

On the same visit, Robert Wise also asked Jackson if there had ever been any alternate or rejected titles for the novel since he and Gidding were trying to decide what to call the film adaptation. She answered that there had only been one other title she had seriously considered for The Haunting of Hill House, and that had been simply The Haunting. Wise liked the shortened version and decided to use it.

United Artists had been the studio that originally purchased the rights to The Haunting of Hill House for Wise to direct, but, according to him, UA "got a little cold on it and put it in turnaround." His agent reminded him that when he had settled an earlier contract with MGM in 1957, they had made him promise to deliver one more picture at some point in the future. Wise therefore decided to see if MGM would be interested in making The Haunting with him acting as both producer and director.

MGM did like The Haunting, but they were unwilling to give Wise the budget he requested to do a proper job of bringing Shirley Jackson's acclaimed novel to life. They wanted him to make the film for $1 million, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't find a way to make that budget work.

However, when Wise discovered that there was an MGM Studios in England outside of London in Borehamwood, he decided to offer them the project. When they agreed to give him a sufficient budget, Wise decided to shoot the film at the Borehamwood studios, though he would keep the American story set in New England.

The casting for The Haunting was extremely important. There were very few characters in the story, but each made a significant contribution to the drama. Wise thought that the brilliant versatile Oscar®-nominated actress Julie Harris (The Member of the Wedding [1952], East of Eden [1955]) would be perfect for the key role of the emotionally unstable Eleanor.

Claire Bloom, whose previous credits included Look Back in Anger (1959) and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), was cast as the confident and worldly Theodora.

For the role of Dr. John Markway, the anthropologist who brings the group together at Hill House, Wise cast distinguished British actor Richard Johnson, who had previously starred with Frank Sinatra in the 1959 drama Never So Few.

Rounding out the main cast was young Russ Tamblyn as the story's lone skeptic and heir to Hill House, Luke Sanderson. Tamblyn had already made a splash with his acrobatic dancing skills in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and had even been nominated for an Academy Award for his work in Peyton Place (1957). He and Wise had also recently worked together on West Side Story in which Tamblyn had played the Jets' gang leader Riff.

Tamblyn initially turned the role down, however. He admitted years later that he saw the character of Luke as "jerky" and was unable at the time to appreciate the big picture of the wonderful story that Wise would be telling. After some gentle pressure from MGM, the studio at which Tamblyn was under contract at the time, he was convinced to take on the project.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser The Haunting (1963)

Production began on The Haunting in 1963 with the cast and crew assembled in England. Director Robert Wise used an actual centuries-old manor house near Stratford-upon-Avon for the exteriors of the imposing haunted mansion where most of the story takes place. It was an important location for the film since the house is essentially a character unto itself. The heavy ornate interiors were built on the MGM Studios Borehamwood lot.

Robert Wise made a calculated decision from the beginning to shoot The Haunting in black and white. Wise loved the depth and rich atmospheric quality of black and white and felt it would be perfect to enhance the moody psychological quality of the story.

Overall, the small cast worked very well together throughout production. Julie Harris at times, however, often felt "isolated and unhappy" much like her complicated character Eleanor. She felt like an outsider to the group of other actors.

The other cast members enjoyed working with the remarkably talented Harris, but they believed her sense of isolation was self-imposed. Co-star Claire Bloom said in a contemporary interview that Harris "wouldn't" talk to her, and Russ Tamblyn found Harris "aloof." Bloom, Tamblyn and Richard Johnson would spend time together during breaks from shooting and have dinner together often, but Harris rarely joined them. Claire Bloom said later that she eventually realized that this was simply Harris's way of approaching the part to make her performance more effective, and she didn't take Harris's standoffishness personally.

Robert Wise took a subtle approach to the lesbianism hinted at in The Haunting of Hill House. He felt that the sexual tension between the women characters Theo and Eleanor added an interesting layer to the psychological drama. "It's obvious in the story and what we put on the screen that Claire Bloom's character is a lesbian," said Wise as quoted in Sergio Leeman's 1995 book Robert Wise on His Films. "We originally had a scene at the beginning with Claire in the bedroom of her apartment, and she's angry and yelling out the window at somebody. Then she goes and writes with lipstick on the mirror, 'I hate you.' I guess we caught a glimpse of the person in the car, showing it was a woman. Anyway, we established that this was a love affair with another woman. We thought that labeled it too heavily and hurt the scene, so we dropped it. It was better to let it develop when Julie Harris turns to her in the scene out on the terrace and refers to her as being unnatural."

Every member of the cast enjoyed working with Robert Wise, who had a long-standing reputation as a strong director with great instincts and no ego. Julie Harris remembered him as a "calm gentleman" who never got ruffled by anything, and Claire Bloom found working with him "marvelous."

Every creative choice that Robert Wise made in the making of The Haunting was to contribute to the film's spooky atmosphere of psychological horror. Wise had many cinematic tricks up his sleeve gleaned from his years working as an editor and director. He had learned a great deal under the tutelage of famed low budget horror producer Val Lewton at RKO while directing films for him including The Curse of the Cat People (1944) and The Body Snatcher (1945). Working under the confines of limited budgets, Lewton had adopted a "less is more" philosophy in which scares were generated through creative suggestion rather than by showing anything explicitly. "If you make the screen dark enough," Lewton once told the Los Angeles Times, "the mind's eye will read anything into it you want!"

Embracing Lewton's philosophy, Wise set about creating a frightening atmosphere in The Haunting with great subtlety through the use of interesting camera angles, sharp black and white photography, and visually striking sets. Wise also used the creative flourish of shooting some of the film's exteriors with infrared film, a trick that heightened the contrast of black and white and created a sinister feeling around the house and its surroundings. His use of special effects was sparse and simple, operating on the principal that scares didn't come from blood and gore, but rather the mind's imagination.

The simple yet highly effective techniques that Wise used is nowhere more apparent than in the effect in which a door in the house appears to buckle and bend by itself. "The door was all laminated wood, layers of wood on top of others," explained Wise. "All I had was a strong prop man on the other side who would push it and move it. That's all it was and it scared the hell out of everybody."

Another trick that Wise used was a bit of image distortion. "I shot the film in Panavision and, at that time, there wasn't any wide-angle lens in anamorphic," Wise added. "The widest was maybe a 40mm. I wanted to make those hallways look long and dark and dank. I called the president of Panavision, Bob Gottschalk, and asked, 'Don't you have any wider-angle lens? I really want to get an almost unreal feeling about this house.' He said, 'We have developed a 30mm, but it's not ready for use yet. It's got a lot of distortion in it.' I said, 'That's exactly what I need for certain places - I want the house to look almost alive.' He didn't want to let me have it. I kept insisting and he finally relented on the proviso that I understood that it was not a finished lens and had distortions in it. I had to sign a document saying that I was willing to accept the extra amount of distortion and would never go back to Panavision and complain about it. I used it most effectively in just certain shots."

With the majority of the film's action taking place inside the house, Robert Wise also took the time to build suspense slowly and deliberately by paying careful attention to each scene. By keeping the small cast together in the various rooms of the house, Wise emphasized the claustrophobic nature of the story, which helped to increase dramatic tension.

For some of the scenes in which characters are tormented by loud ghostly sounds coming from the house, Wise had the sounds on playback so that the actors could react to them authentically. It was a technique that they found very useful and effective for creating just the right mood of terror.

One of the film's central props, the spiral staircase, provided some unique challenges. "It was scary when you were up on that thing and it was rocking around," said Wise. "The one shot we did on it that fascinates people the most is when the camera is at the bottom and goes up. We designed the banister of the stairway to be so wide and thick that it would fit a small rig with wheels on it--a little, light dolly that would hold a hand-held camera. We had our camera on that and we had a control wire underneath, all the way down. We simply took the camera up to the top on this rig, started it, rolled it down, and then reversed the film. It was all done on that balustrade."

The Haunting opened in September 1963 and promptly proceeded to scare the pants off of movie going audiences who dared to set foot in theaters. The sophisticated film set a new high standard for the horror genre and quickly became known as the quintessential haunted house/ghost story film.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser The Haunting (1963)

Long before The Legend of Hell House (1973) or Ghost Story (1981) or Poltergeist (1982), Robert Wise directed a creepy little tale about the supernatural called The Haunting (1963), which was based on the Shirley Jackson novel, The Haunting of Hill House. In the film, Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson), a professor of anthropology with a deep interest in the occult, decides to investigate an infamous mansion with a long history of unexplained psychic phenomena. Joining him in his experiment are Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn) who stands to inherit the house from his family, and two volunteers, Eleanor Vance (Julie Harris) and Theodora (Claire Bloom) who possess unusual extrasensory sensitivities.

Though set in New England, The Haunting was actually filmed in England with the interior scenes being shot at the MGM studio in Borehamwood. "The exterior was a several-hundred-years-old manor house out in the country, about ten miles from Stratford-on-Avon," Robert Wise recalled in the book, Robert Wise on His Films by Sergio Leemann. "It was a pretty horrifying-looking thing under certain kinds of lights and I accentuated that by shooting some of the exteriors with infra-red film. I shot the film in Panavision and, at that time, there wasn't any wide-angle lens in anamorphic....I wanted to make those hallways look long and dark and dank."

Wise admitted that he was attracted to the project because the book made the hair curl on the back of his neck and because it was an opportunity to return to his roots. He started his career working for RKO producer Val Lewton, who specialized in B-movie thrillers. Curse of the Cat People was his first Lewton film and The Body Snatcher was his most accomplished film for the studio. You can see Lewton's influence on Wise in The Haunting by the way he emphasizes the set design and camera angles to create an eerie atmosphere.

As for some of the more frightening sequences in The Haunting, Wise recalls that, "the spiral staircase in the library was such an effective prop in the picture. It was scary when you were up on that thing and it was rocking around. The one shot we did on it that fascinates people the most is when the camera is at the bottom and goes up. We designed the banister of the stairway to be so wide and thick that it would fit a small rig with wheels on it - a little, light dolly that would hold a hand-held camera. We had our camera on that and we had a control wire underneath, all the way down. We simply took the camera up to the top on this rig, started it, rolled it down, and then reversed the film. It was all done on that balustrade. Another simple effect was the door that buckles. The door was all laminated wood, layers of wood on top of others. All I had was a strong prop man on the other side who would push it and move it. That's all it was and it scared the hell out of everybody."

Director/Producer: Robert Wise
Screenplay: Nelson Giddings
Cinematography: Davis Boulton
Producer Designer: Elliot Scott
Editor: Ernest Walter
Music: Humphrey Searle
Special Effects: Tom Howard
Cast: Julie Harris (Eleanor Vance), Richard Johnson (Dr. John Markway), Claire Bloom (Theodora), Russ Tamblyn (Luke Sanderson), Lois Maxwell (Grace Markway), Fay Compton (Mrs. Sanderson), Valentine Dyall (Mr. Dudley), Diane Clare (Carrie Fredericks).
BW-112m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Jeff Stafford

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teaser The Haunting (1963)

"Everybody who has ever brooded over the way life speeds - and who hasn't? - will get goose-pimples from the sequence here in a wonderfully scary movie called The Haunting, as convincing and chilling as The Turn of the Screw...The women, brilliantly acted by Julie Harris and Claire Bloom, find they can't sleep nights, in that house. Audiences will find they can't sleep afterward either."--Life magazine

"90-year-old New England haunted house is setting for chosen group being introduced to the supernatural, with hair-raising results. Don't see this one alone!" -- Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide

"...believe me, before this antique chiller drags to an extoplasmic end, you'll agree that it does have just about everything in the old-fashioned blood-chilling line except a line of reasoning that makes a degree of sense. It is great as long as Julie Harris and Claire Bloom are huddling in a room in that luridly off-kilter mansion, hugging each other in the dark and listening to horrible noises...this film simply makes more goose pimples than sense, which is rather surprising and disappointing for a picture with two such actresses, who are very good all the way through it, and produced and directed by the able Robert Wise." -- The New York Times

"In Shirley Jackson's bestselling ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House, the specter is a sneaky spook that evidently intends to get between the sheets. In this movie version, directed by Robert Wise, the specter is slightly censored -what's left is just the usual commercial spirit. Whenever it appears, the violins on the sound track start to didder, doors open and shut by themselves, people stare about in terror and squeak: 'The house, it's alive!' The picture, it's dead." -- Time magazine

"The artful cinematic strokes of director Robert Wise and staff are not quite enough to override the major shortcomings of Nelson Gidding's screenplay from the Shirley Jackson novel [The Haunting of Hill House]...The acting is effective all around. The picture excels in the purely cinematic departments. Davis Boulton has employed his camera with extraordinary dexterity in fashioning a visual excitement that keeps the picture alive with images of impending shock. As photographed by Boulton, the house itself is a monstrous personality, most decidedly the star of the film. The pity is that all this production savvy has been squandered on a screen yarn that cannot support such artistic bulk." -- Variety


Robert Wise was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Director for his work on The Haunting.

In 2009 filmmaker Martin Scorsese made a list of his top 11 favorite horror films of all time exclusively for The Daily Best, and The Haunting was number 1. He called it "absolutely terrifying."

In 2010 The Guardian ranked The Haunting number 13 on its list of the best horror films of all time. "From a potentially creaky, clich-filled premise...director Robert Wise leads us on a brilliantly unsettling journey," wrote Stuart Heritage. "A perfect example of the power of implied threat, The Haunting is essentially the story of Julie Harris's lonely middle-aged woman being slowly devoured by her groaning, undulating surroundings."

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

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