One of the scariest, if not the scariest film of all time comes to haunt us on high definition.
Whist it can be argued whether or not Bob Wise’s The Haunting is actually the scariest movie ever made, one thing cannot be denied; it is a master class in the ‘less is more’ approach to film making. Using nothing more than light, shadow, camera angles, sound effects and performance he crafted a film that is an absolute terror to sit through, and one which modern cinema could do well to emulate. The story is very simple: four ghost hunters stay a few nights in a haunted house, trying to prove the existence of the supernatural. But the layers of complexity that are woven into it reveal a far more complex mix with ideas that include death, guilt, jealousy, lesbianism and, most interestingly of all, the existence of the supernatural.
Does what happens to them actually happen at all? Or is it just some phantom of a crumbling mind? But it is without any doubt a truly terrifying watch. In a film where very little actually happens, you remain riveted and on the edge of your seat. Wise paces the story very deliberately, relentlessly building upon the claustrophobia and tension. Modern ghost stories rely on jump scares, The Haunting needs no such pandering, telling so much with what you don’t see, but feel. And what you feel is terror!
For maximum effect, watch alone, at night. I dare you.
Cover your eyes
The disc presents a theatrically correct 2.35:1 1080p transfer using the AVC MPEG-4 codec and is Region free. The Haunting has always looked very good on the home format, previous DVD’s showing excellent detail, gradation and contrast, and this high definition entry tops them all. You can scarcely believe this is a fifty one year old film such is the pristine nature of the image. First up the detail that the picture exhibits is astonishing; everything is clear and precise and edges are held way, way back into the frame. Take a look at the weave in the clothing, the individual wool strands in the tweed jackets, or the patterns in the designer women’s wear. Skin has incredible texture, freeze frame Eleanor’s close up as she screams on the second night; see the pores, the strands of hair, her tears framed by her eye lashes, the saliva on her teeth! Look at the intricate nature of the wall coverings in the House, or the wood grain in the heavy doors. Every detail is there, top notch stuff.
The Haunting has always looked very good on the home format and this high definition entry tops them all.
Brightness and contrast are set to give tremendous blacks, this really gives depth and punch to the picture which, combined with the frame, is designed to push the picture way, way back. There is plenty of 'pop' on show, as well as shapes lurking in the shadows. Digitally there are no compression problems, banding or edge enhancement. The print is as clean as a whistle and grain is kept to a terrific light organic sheen. The only fly in the ointment in the opening montage of the history of the House, which is somewhat softer than the rest of the picture and pushes the contrast a little too far giving the occasional crushed black. But once into the film proper this is a blistering picture that modern films could do well to emulate.
Cover your ears
The English dts-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track may please fans for its authenticity to the original release, but it is very restrictive especially considering the sound design of the film which takes into account multiple dialogue overlaps, eerie noises and a terrific score; perhaps a 2.0 mono might have opened it up slightly? But what we do have is very impressive; cleaned up to remove all traces of hiss, pop and crackle, the track can be played at reference without problem or distortion. Speech is well defined and well audible, though early parts do have a tendency to crash in the higher end, sounds a bit like sibilance in the track, but it is very rare and confined to the early scenes. Otherwise it’s clean all the way. The tremendous knockings and bangs that keep our ghost hunters awake at night come through with suitable gusto. Bass itself is very limited with the afore mentioned sound effects and score taking the brunt of the action. You cannot expect miracles with a 1.0 mono track and you don’t get any, but what you do have imparts its information with excellence.
The track can be played at reference without problem or distortion.
Please no more
Audio Commentary – This is the same commentary that accompanied the previous DVD release; the contributors are director Robert Wise, screenwriter Nelson Gidding along with actors Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson and Russ Tamblyn – each were recorded separately and have been edited together. On the whole it’s pretty good for an amalgamation piece, with each one taking the reins for a time and telling their own take on the recording. Gidding, not surprisingly, talks about the adaptation from Shirley Jackson's original novel and his take on it, Wise delights us with the visual style as well as his own take on the story, music and on set antics, while Bloom, Harris and Tamblyn discuss the filming experience, Harris’ difficulty on set etc. and Johnson regales us with antidotal information and the acting profession at large.
The Haunting has a just claim for scariest film ever made; it is also a classic of the psychological horror genre. Director Robert Wise skilfully handles the source material, whilst screenwriter Nelson Gidding layers in ideas on insanity that meld so esoterically that the film becomes a maelstrom of terror. It never fails to chill, even now, over fifty years since its initial release and when compared to the modern horror and its penchant for jump scares and gore, shows just how good simple framing, dark shadows and a terrifying story, well told, can trump any amount of splatter. With outstanding cinematography, a wonderful score, excellent performances and a story that entices and terrorises, the Haunting towers above its peers both contemporary and modern. Highly recommended.
This Blu-ray is a definite upgrade over the previous home releases, especially considering the film is such a classic.
As a Blu-ray the Region free US disc from Warner showcases a stunning picture, that is bright, clean, highly detailed and belies its age; the sound is lossless but is limited by the very nature of a mono 1.0 track, otherwise it's clean, clear and doesn’t distort or sound shrill. The extras have all been seen before, but that doesn’t make them any less worthy. This Blu-ray is a definite upgrade over the previous home releases, especially considering the film is such a classic. Again highly recommended.
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