Friday, August 10, 2012
HILL HOUSE films
Hill House has caused a lot of trouble for a lot of people over the years. It rattles the soul and jars the nerves. Some people never leave Hill House...alive.
It started back with The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson. The story involves a scientist and three "research assistants" spending time in old Hill House looking into the things that go bump in the night there.
THE HAUNTING (1963) was a film based on Jackson's book. The film is rather well done. A simple, yet effective "Old, Dark House" tale directed by Robert Wise (The Sound Of Music, West Side Story, Run Silent Run Deep AND MORE!) and staring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom and Richard Johnson. The film was made before big special effects and gimics, so all the thrills take place in camera with the use of odd angles and zooms and the like. This makes it more enjoyable for me than some of it's other incarnations. It has that fantastic, black and white play-like set up where people interact and exchanges may mean more than their face value. And the scares - a la 1963 - are enough to make you cringe a little. Especially if you put yourself into their shoes. Little things, unseen in the shadows and heard through the walls, add to the atmosphere and the thrills.
Julie Harris is fantastic. She's our main character. We follow her out of her horrible life and into Hill House. We hear her thoughts. We know she's not 100%...balanced. And the poor thing... :)
THE HAUNTING a great, old haunted house film with some good twists and turns within it.
In 1971, Richard Matheson took a pass at the tale with Hell House. Evidently, it's close to the original book, but has more violence and situations of a sexual nature. It makes sense seeing as it was written in the 70s. I think this was more of the take of the film made shortly after Matheson's book was written.
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973) was the first HILL HOUSE film I saw. It was featured on CREATURE FEATURES and I remember it sending shivers through me a bit as a child. Bob Wilkins assured us that the film was going to be fun and it was. Creepy music and a fantastic old house made this a fave of mine for years.
John Hough was the Director on this film and he holds a little space in my heart for his film ESCAPE FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN. It's funny, he was a Disney guy for a long while, but also directed TWINS OF EVIL and DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY.
Roddy McDowall, Gayle Hunnicutt and Pamela Franklin star and they do a great job bringing the characters to life. The film sports more effects and more thrills. And, more sexual naughtiness as found in films of the 70s. Poor Pamela Franklin goes through quiet a series of mishaps. And the story is fleshed out differently with more mystery behind it in many ways. There's something wrong in Hill House - affectionately referred to as HELL HOUSE - and it involves ghosts for sure. And, more science and more psychics. The team is still the same, but more is made about their abilities and they bring WAY more equipment with them to check out the house.
After seeing THE HAUNTING, I'm not sure which I like more - the old, dark house feel or the "There DEFINITELY is a ghost here!" feel this 1973 version has. I think they are both good in their ways, but if you want more punch, this is the version for you.
THE HAUNTING (1999) is fine. It's just...fine. It's a classic example of "more is not necessarily better". You have some heavy hitters in this film. Liam Neeson, Catherine...ZETA-Jones, Owen Wilson and Lili "Nutty" Taylor all do their best with the inflated script and try their best to be scared by the effects, but it's just...too much of everything. Too much attention placed on scares, too many special effects and not enough haunted house simplicity. You move through the movie and are beaten about the face and neck with effect after effect and it's distracting. Of course, if you like your scares generated by a computer, you'll love this film. It managed to take everything I loved about HELL HOUSE and added exclamation points, bells, whistles and fire to them all.
All in all, I put my money on...well, the books first - I plan to pick them up. Books always give a lot more than films. But, see THE HAUNTING, then watch THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE. You'll be happy you did. It's a great double feature!
THE HAUNTING TRAILER
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE
And, if you've seen the Tarantino / Rodriguez film GRINDHOUSE, you've seen the fantastic parody of the HELL HOUSE trailer. I love it!