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Haunting (1999), The
There were two major haunted-house films released in 1999. One is a fun, campy and gory thrill ride: House on Haunted Hill. The other is Jan de Bont's The Haunting, a remake of the 1963 film of the same name that is so bad Steven Spielberg trashed his producer credit and any association he had with the production. The cast includes Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson and Lili Taylor, which should have been promising, but de Bont recently shooting Speed 2: Cruise Control may have been a bad omen. The production was apparently plagued with rewrites, reshoots and crew shifts, and The Haunting that reached theaters in 1999 is both embarrassingly bad and unexpectedly boring.
Taylor plays one of the most annoying characters in recent horror history: Eleanor "Nell" Vance, an insomniac fresh from a decade of caring for her elderly mother. Facing eviction from her apartment, Nell agrees to take part in a sleep study led by Dr. David Marrow (Neeson). She is not used to social interaction, frequently speaks in an extended whisper, and is so ea est I wanted to throw up. The study is really an exercise to determine the participants' response to psychological terror, but Nell and fellow guinea pigs Theodora (Zeta-Jones) and Luke (Wilson) do not know that. The study takes place at Hill House, a sprawling manor in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, complete with its own weird caretakers who refuse to stay after dark. Marrow unspools a phony story about tragedies that took place at the house and Luke spills the beans to the two women. When Marrow's assistant is injured at the house, Nell begins to realize there is an unfriendly presence at Hill House that will not let the group leave voluntarily.
This update of the Shirley Jackson source material and 1963 production is dismal. It is as if screenwriters David Self and Michael Tolkin were determined to make this story as uninteresting as possible. First, Nell is absolutely annoying throughout, wandering about the house and doing nonsensical things. The movie commits the cardinal sin of telling, rather than showing, so Nell expounds endlessly about the dark details of the house she uncovers. Those include stories of former owner Hugh Crain, a textile tycoon, his wife and their children, and the dark past that surrounds the manor. This is certainly a ghost story, but The Haunting never gives us an antagonist to fear; instead painting Crain as a silly, animated atrocity. Nell becomes obsessed with the souls of the children trapped at the house, an unexciting reveal, and becomes vulnerable to its traps. Marrow, Theo and Luke do their best to keep her in the land of the living.
If the rumored Spielberg/Tom Cruise pairing for this project had happened, we might have been treated to a solid suspense film. Instead, The Haunting arrives as bland a PG-13 horror film as you could ask for. The film shows brief, early promise as the cast explores the house, which includes some decent practical sets. Things get silly quickly, and the nonexistent suspense is frequently interrupted with silly CGI ghosts, moving statues and breaking glass. The screenplay is likely largely to blame, but the cast plays down to this lousy affair. Taylor's character is awful, and her performance is hardly better; Wilson sleepwalks through the role; Zeta-Jones is wooden overkill; and Neeson makes zero impression. By the time the ridiculous climax arrived, I had nary a conce for the safety of any character. I remember seeing this in theaters during the summer of 1999 and being disappointed. Twelve-year-old me was right, The Haunting is a lousy horror film with no scares to share.
The film makes its U.S. Blu-ray debut here and, if nothing else, the 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is impressive. Paramount continues to erase memories of its awful catalogue releases in the 2000s with filmic, highly detailed transfers that forego edge enhancement and noise reduction. This film looks great in motion, offers exceptional fine-object detail and texture, and benefits from nicely saturated colors and inky blacks. The transfer reveals details of several impressive set pieces, and the giant hallways and vaulted rooms offer exceptional detail and texture. Skin tones are natural, shadow detail is pleasing, and I noticed no obvious technical issues.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix does its best to drum up suspense, and the mix features frequent sound pans, spooky surround effects and LFE thump. Dialogue is clean and never crowded, and all elements are layered appropriately with Jerry Goldsmith's score. German, French, and Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital dubs are included, as are corresponding subtitle options.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release is packaged in a standard Blu-ray case that is wrapped in a slipcover with flap that opens to reveal artwork from the film. A digital copy code is included. Included is a new featurette, Filmmaker Focus: Jan de Bont on The Haunting (9:14/HD) is a short interview with the director that details the production but not its problems. You also get a vintage Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (27:12/SD), with cast and crew interviews and on-set footage, and two Trailers (3:39 total/HD).
Paramount gives 1999 remake The Haunting a kind Blu-ray debut with solid picture and sound and a couple of supplements. It is too bad this horror film squanders a talented cast on lousy CGI ghosts, a dull story, and suspenseless exposition. Skip It.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.