Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Haunting (1963)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Haunting (1963, US/UK)

In Robert Wise's and MGM's effective, low-key haunted-house cult film, based upon Shirley Ann Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House, featured low-key suggestive horror; it was about paranormal (ESP and supernatural) research conducted in New England's 90 year-old Hill House mansion, with many disturbing scenes ("The dead are not quiet in Hill House"):

  • the spooky opening narration (pre- and post-title credits) about the haunted history of Hill House, in voice-over, by paranormal researcher Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson): "An evil old house, the kind some people call haunted, is like an undiscovered country waiting to be explored. Hill House had stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more. Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there walked alone. Scandal, murder, insanity, suicide. The history of Hill House was ideal. It had everything I wanted. It was built 90-odd, very odd, years ago by a man named Hugh Crain (Howard Lang), as a home for his wife and daughter in the most remote part of New England he could find. It was an evil house from the beginning, a house that was born bad. Hugh Crain's young wife (Pamela Buckley) died seconds before she was to set eyes on the house. She was killed when for no apparent reason, the horses bolted, crashing her carriage against a big tree. Mrs. Crain was carried, uh, lifeless is the word I think, into the home her husband had built for her. Hugh Crain was left an embittered man, with a small daughter Abigail (Janet Mansell), to bring up. Fortunately, for me that is, Hugh Crain did not leave Hill House. He married again. The second Mrs. Crain's (Frieda Knorr) death was even more interesting than her predecessors. I've been unable to find out how or why she fell, although I have my suspicions. Hugh Crain left Abigail with a nurse and went to England where he died in a drowning accident. Marvelous, I mean, the way the history of Hill House follows a classic path. For some reason, Abigail always kept that same nursery room in Hill House where she grew up - and grew old. In later years, she became a bed-ridden invalid (Amy Dalby). She took a girl from the village to live with her as a paid companion (Rosemary Dorken). It's with this young companion the evil reputation of Hill House really begins. The story goes that the old lady died calling for help in the nursery upstairs, while her companion fooled around with a farm-hand on the veranda. The companion inherited Hill House and occupied it for many years. The local people believe that, one way or another, she had murdered her benefactor. She lived a life of complete solitude in the empty house, though some say that the house was not empty and never has been since the night old Miss Abby died. They say that whatever there was and still is in the house, eventually drove the companion mad. We do know she hanged herself. After her death, the house passed legally into the hands of a distant relative in Boston, an old lady Mrs. Sanderson (Fay Compton), who I very much wanted to see"
Voice-Over Prologue: The Haunted History of Hill House
Mrs. Crain's Death
2nd Mrs. Crain's Death
Young Abigail Crain
Old Bedridden Abigail
Evil Companion
  • the frightening scenes of terror in the rented Victorian New England Hill House during a weekend research study conducted by Dr. Markway - with three participants: Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn), a skeptical and brash American - and a nephew of the house's owners, and the next in line to inherit the house; 32 year-old Eleanor "Nell" Lance (Julie Harris), an unstable, timid, insecure, unloved, psychically-gifted woman; and beautiful and bright Theodora "Theo" (Claire Bloom), a modern-day 'witch' with clairvoyance and ESP skills
  • the scenes of the discovery of the house's supernatural and alive nature, with loud poundings, high-pitched laughter, bangings, the many opening and closing doors, cold spots and drafts, a 'breathing' doorway (and turning doorknob), sounds of glass breaking, and other spooky noises
  • the scary scene when Eleanor "Nell" Lance had the mistaken belief that she was holding the hand of roommate Theodora "Theo" in the adjacent bed for comfort from mysterious and strange sounds surrounding their dark room (unintelligible mumblings of a man, and a little girl sobbing); she asked Theodora to stop squeezing her hand, and then realized their beds were separated and that Theo wasn't anywhere near her. She exclaimed: "God, oh God! Whose hand was I holding?" It became clear that the unseen and invisible presence had squeezed her hand and wanted to claim Eleanor - that the 'haunting' horror had selected her and that she had finally found a "home"
"Nell" Awakening in Fright
Looking Down at Hand
"God, oh God! Whose hand was I holding?"
  • in the climactic scary ending, Mrs. Grace Markway (Lois Maxwell), John's wife who had unexpected arrived to spend the night, inexplicably disappeared while sleeping in the much-feared, most-haunted room - the dreaded nursery; during a search for her, Eleanor ascended the rickety spiral iron staircase in the library (with a round tower). Dr. Markway followed her up to its top platform to rescue her, and when they both reached the platform at the top of the nearly-collapsed and swaying structure, Eleanor saw Grace's face peering down at her from a trap-door in the ceiling, and she fainted. Dr. Markway feared for Eleanor's safety and ordered her to leave Hill House immediately, although Eleanor was resistant
  • the ending-conclusion when Eleanor felt that the house was haunted, wanted to possess her, was speaking to her, and that she belonged to it; Dr. Markway forced her to drive away immediately; she sped away in a car in the driveway toward the gate. Taking an erratic course as the car became possessed, she saw Grace racing across her path. Struggling with the steering wheel, Eleanor crashed her car into an old oak tree - and instantly died in exactly the same spot that the first Mrs. Crain did; Dr. Markway declared that Hill House was definitely haunted. Eleanor's soul was claimed and now condemned (or invited) to join the other ghostly forces roaming the dark corridors of Hill House
  • Eleanor's voice-over ended the film, similar to the film's prologue: "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 of Hill House. And we who walk here...walk alone."

Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson)

Markway's Invitation of Guests

Hill House

Hill House's Winding, Spiral Staircase

Eleanor "Nell" Lance (Julie Harris)

Theodora "Theo" (Claire Bloom)

Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn)

(l to r): "Theo" and "Nell"

Eleanor Climbing Staircase

Grace's Sudden Appearance in Trap-Door

Eleanor's Jump-Scare Reaction to Grace's Face

Eleanor's Death: Crash into Tree


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