You know I’m a bit angry at THE HAUNTING that’s coming out this upcoming weekend. You see, I just got out of it, and it’s far better than I thought it would be.
Yeah, I know I’ve been praising the David Self script for quite some time now, but I was nearly positive that Jan De Bont was going to completely screw this film up.
Even when I heard that fantastic cast was attached. I knew De Bont would find a way to screw it up. And then when that fantastic Eugenio Zanetti, who designed heaven and hell in WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, got involved I still had no faith. When Gary Rydstrom signed on to handle the sound work, I began to have a little bit of faith. Then Tippett Studio was commissioned to make us believe a house could breathe. And lastly... When Jerry Goldsmith was announced, I began getting really curious.
But still... With all of those immensely talented people involved I knew Jan De Bont would screw it up. I mean... He makes nice enough looking pictures but you know... his characters just don’t LIVE on screen. And for a haunted house film. You have to begin with your characters... your actors. The flashy effects work is secondary.
And ya know what? That’s what Jan did. The Effects work is sooooo secondary that we pretty much have to wait till the third act till we get to see any of it. And believe me, Tippett’s work on this movie is wonderful. Hell, KNB’s crew did a gangbuster job on their practical effects work as well.
But where I thought De Bont would drop the ball.... instead, I feel that it was the unnamed player on this film that dropped the game winning touchdown pass.
I am speaking of Steven Spielberg. I’ve heard rumors about Steven’s involvement on THE HAUNTING, and after seeing the film, I can sense his fingerprints all over the last 10 minutes of this wondrous movie. You’ll recognize that fingerprint when you see it... We’ve seen it in the funeral scenes in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and SCHINDLER’S LIST. From HOOK to AMISTAD... Why do I pin this one on Steven?
Well, watch that last ten minutes and tell me you don’t think that’s Spielberg’s work. Who knows... Maybe it was just De Bont pulling a spielberg, but ...
Now... I don’t want you to think this is a bad movie. FAR FROM IT. This movie is immensely entertaining. Beyond that Lili Taylor is, as always, just a wonder to behold on screen, though she is better in A SLIPPING DOWN LIFE which hopefully you’ll see later this year!
I love Haunted House movies, and I’ve always wanted to see one produced to the nines and with all the stops pulled out. At the same time I love the restraint that Robert Wise used in creating DREAD and FEAR in his 1963 THE HAUNTING.
Well, this movie goes a long ways towards combining the two. For the first 4/5ths of the movie, there are very very very few visual effects. This is not to say there are no effects. Quite the contrary, but most of these are mind games via KNB effects and Zanetti’s house then most importantly the work of Gary Rydstrom.
Liam Neeson is by leaps and bounds far out acting his Jedi performance earlier this year... Of course he isn’t in a lightsaber battle, but I’ll pit his encounter with the fountain in this movie or his chair/window problems.
Catherine Zeta Jones can not act, or at least doesn’t seem to be able to... However... ahem... that being said, gosh... watching her walk about Hill House just made me drool at the scenery. Man.... whatta babe.
Owen Wilson is playing the exact same character that he played in ARMAGEDDON, and like in that film, I adore him in this film as well. He is, quite tolerable and enjoyable, comedy relief... And in this house... that is indeed needed.
Lili Taylor is allowed to shine as Eleanor. I find her fragile and quirky... a bit unhinged, yet... I felt the need to want to protect her. She brings out that sort of feeling out of me. And had she been given the character of Eleanor as written for Julie Harris in Wise’s Classic.... My god... Twould have been one of the screen’s great roles and performances.
Alas... We do not get that. I hate that we do not get to hear her internalized thoughts. In the script I didn’t miss them... but here... Everytime she verbalized what is normally an internal thought, I just cringed a bit. I wanted to hear her driving herself crazy with fear. Gone from this film is any ‘crush’ on the good Dr. Barely hinted at is the beach house.
I prefer this film to STAR WARS & THE MUMMY, but it suffers from some of the same problems that those two had, in the terms of it being a fun as hell popcorn movie.
This movie is not effects dependent. The movie is not created to move you from one set piece to the next. From one effects job to the next. The film does not begin with an explosion and get bigger.
Instead it follows the pattern of classic movies. It begins slowly. Getting us interested in the character. Then we’re taken into the house... a designing achievement of epic proportions. Once in the house, we’re treated with a slowly increasing experience of phenomenon. Be it creaking noise, to pounding hell. We see echoes of faces in cloth, shadows and breath upon clear glass. Subtle work.
And for the first 4/5ths of this movie it is as good as any cool scary movie you’ve ever seen. Then in that last 1/5th of the movie... They let loose the gorgon. The effects work was tremendous, but...
Hauntings are not happy stories. In fact they are inundated with profound sadness. That’s what makes them worth repeating. This isn’t fairy tale theater.
Now, I’m going to do something that I never ever do... and that’s discuss the ending of a movie. So please, if you wish to wait till after you’ve seen the movie... GO AWAY.... SCADADDLE, because I simply must discuss what could have been done and why their ending didn’t work for me.
Alright. You’re here so I feel no guilt about this. But the ‘semi- happy’ ending just about made me puke. Spielberg, (or De Bont... Whichever of you was responsible) listen to me. When dealing in stories of darkness... do not feel the necessity to bring lightness. Take a look at THE OMEN. Did they kill the anti-Christ? At the end of Robert Wise’s THE HAUNTING does Julie Harris’ death do anything other than highlight the tragedy and horror that lay within and around the haunting of Hill House?
Now I’m going to suggest a couple of different ideas for the end of this movie that... well, I just rattled together here.
Alright... Idea #1 and the lessor of the two I have come up with.
Luke has just escaped from Eleanor’s car. Theo notices that Eleanor has returned to the house. She, Luke and Marrow run to get her out. But the house won’t let them in. They scream and pound.... Trying to get in. But they are not getting anywhere.
Meanwhile inside Eleanor is screaming for Hugh Crane to face her. There in that gigantic chamber at the base of the stairs we see the ghost of Crane.... Huge... imposing... scary as hell. He picks up Eleanor... Tosses her about like a rag doll. The griffins and the lions and the other statues turn to watch. Following the action, but never moving from their perches. Crane is laughing... He’s happy, he has one last child to play with. We hear her screams of anguish.
Outside the door, Marrow, Theo and Luke hear hell within. Eleanor’s screams causing Theo and Luke to breakdown. Marrow is enraged. Throwing himself at the door. We hear his shoulder dislocate, we see him break his knuckles upon the door, the blood running down his arms... His face awash with anguish. And we hear Eleanor’s screams stop. There is no more noise from within.
The doors open. The three walk in and nothing is out of place. All is as it should be. They walk the house calling Eleanor’s name. They go into her room. She’s not there. But we see her... She is now amongst the cherubs... her face in bronze... forever a part of Hill House.
The three leave Hill House... broken. As they face the gates they see the sun rise, and somehow... if just a little. Hill House looks more foreboding than ever.
Now that’s one way I’d of done it. The other is to follow their plotline. Let the three back in the house after Eleanor. And Crane is after them. He’s playing his sick game of hide and seek. Everywhere they hide, he finds them. Finally they seek shelter behind the chains in the fireplace. That is when the gas jets ignite to roast them all alive.
The next morning we arrive at Hill House with MRS Dudley. She’s making her rounds. Dusting the house. Upon the door of Purgatory there are four new visages. Our characters. As MRS Dudley dusts them she frowns a bit... Maybe even a tear. She goes to turn.... Looks back at them and we hear her say....
Now, I don’t know. I like these two endings. BUT I DO NOT LIKE CURING HILL HOUSE.
That house was born bad and it will die bad. You can’t cure it. Everything in it is twisted and evil. The way you beat it... is never to go in.
I know I might be a little angry sounding about this movie, but I really do like it (with the exception of the last 10-15 minutes). To me, it reminded me most of INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE. I love the vast majority of the movie, but the whole.... crossing the great seal bit.... and the falling nazis.... Ugh.
Overall an excellent film with a flaw that just pisses me off. I’d rank it after Wise’s THE HAUNTING, but ahead of THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE. I prefer POLTERGEIST and Koepp’s A STIR OF ECHOES.
But man... I tell you... if this is the least of the Haunted films we have.... We are indeed blessed. And I have to say I am very much looking forward to future work from De Bont.
And what is it about evil, kids and supernatural that makes Jerry Goldsmith become super-great. God I love his score for this movie. Afterwards I went to 4 different stores to buy it.
Ya know, I might grip a bit here and there about this movie, but I will own this on DVD the day it is released. I'm going to see it at least once more this weekend. And after EYES WIDE SHUT, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, A STIR OF ECHOES, SOUTH PARK THE MOVIE and AUSTIN POWERS 2.... This movie is right there for me on the summer list. Now, I'm expecting to love RUN LOLA RUN this Friday (finally coming to town) but there have been a lot of films that I have just adored this summer. Over time... I think I'll end up vegging out to this one quite a lot. But I'll always scream at the ending they stuck this with. "It coulda been a contenda... It coulda been... the best" ARGH!