The Haunting
(By Gerry Wang)

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(Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lily Taylor, Owen Wilson; directed by Jan De Bont)
by Gerry Wang

house.jpg (57871 bytes)    I never thought THE HAUNTING would amount to anything. I didn't think Jan De Bont could direct flies to a decaying piece of shit. I hated TWISTER w/ every fiber of my being. It exemplified the evils of modern day movie-making technology. W/ all this special effects power we now have, it's easy to lose track of what's really important to a movie-- script, characters, and plot. TWISTER was a gigantic stinkbomb of a special f/x film. SPEED 2, De Bont's follow-up, was equally foul, though now the aggravating special effects were stunts and explosions rather than digital ones. SPEED 2 was a stinkbomb as well.

    So when I saw De Bont's name attached to THE HAUNTING, I knew, OK Gerry, go watch the special effects. Might as well. I'd rather get poked in the eye w/ a white-hot iron than watch RUNAWAY BRIDE or NOTTING HILL or MYSTERY MEN. I knew there couldn't possibly be a way THE HAUNTING could scare me. I also thought it would merely devolve into a sorry spectacle of a movie that "coulda been." It "coulda been" better. It "coulda been" scarier. It "coulda been" more than it was.

    And yes, this was entirely true, but it wasn't due to lack of effort. And it wasn't because of Jan De Bont's ineptitude. THE HAUNTING was a movie that had a tremendous amount of potential. It "coulda been" great. But what killed it was ultimately a convoluted script and a piece of shit ending that seemed totally incongruous to the story. But the first half of the movie, maybe a tad more than half, was surprisingly good. This movie had a lot of positives. It's only in the latter 20% or so that THE HAUNTING degenerates into tiresome drivel.

    Strangely enough, De Bont's directing whisked the story along nice and smoothly. We got time to learn more about our characters. Instead of paper cutouts, we get characters that actually have more depth. OK, maybe just one character had depth, Lily Taylor's character Eleanor. She's the main protagonist, and she's the one whose perspective we see the majority of the time. Eleanor is the one who is timid, meek, and bullied all the time. She also seems a little mentally unstable, and we guess it's because she's never been out in the world. She's lived her whole life trapped inside. Inside her own apartment caring after her insane mother, and inside her own self, never expressing her individuality. We can't help but sympathize for Eleanor, and we want her to be alright, because deep down, she's a tremendously caring and loving person.

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catherine_zeta_jones5.jpg (40581 bytes)    Then we have the other characters who are just there for either male hormone fuel or comic relief, Catherine Zeta-Jones' character Theo and Owen Wilson's character Dink Smallwood, respectively. I forgot Owen Wilson's character's name. Sorry. I'll call him Dink Smallwood for now. Anyways, these characters are mainly one-dimensional, but yet we care for their well-being simply because they're good people. They're the ones who watch each other's back and support one another through the scares. Somehow, while the women were freaking out, and so was I, seeing Dink Smallwood actually gave me a sense of relief. Like I knew he was looking out for me and that things would be OK.

    Theo genuinely cared for Eleanor welfare. She stayed w/ her during her fits and combed her hair, and soothed her nerves. Throwing in the hint that Theo was a bisexual just totally pissed me off. Because we didn't want that fact obscuring the affection Theo has for her new "little sister/companion." Nevertheless, Theo had compassion, and that's all the needed to feel.

liam_neeson6.jpg (70919 bytes)     Now Liam Neeson's character........ he ain't no Qui-Gon. Half the time I was wondering what the hell his Dr. Booger character's purpose was. I also forgot the character's real name. Sorry. Dr. Booger gathered up these people to perform tests on fear. He specifically mentioned physiological aspects, but all the tests we ever see him do are just spoken into a stupid recorder. Didn't seem to experiment-ish. He also said something about how people w/ insomnia make better fear-study subjects. Blah blah. Dr. Booger should have been written w/ more malice. We needed a human entity to hate.

    Besides likeable characters, THE HAUNTING's other positive was the house. Wow, the house, Hill House, was awesome. To me, it was one of the best set design achievements ever. Hats off to De Bont and his production design crew. I think it was Eugenio Zanetti that designed Hill House. Bravo. They were able to make a house literally come alive. Hill House just exuded menace. It was humongous, and the architecture and interiors were totally beautiful, yet there was always a sense of foreboding. Wow, the inside of the house was so damn astonishing. Look at the huge fireplace that looks like a gateway to Hell. Look at the bedrooms w/ the cherub faces everywhere. The double staircases that lead to a portrait of the ugly monster Hugh Crain, who haunts Hill House and murders children. Spooky. I swear when it was nighttime, I was shittin bricks wishing daylight would come. Sometimes it did, sometimes the night just lingered, and lingered, and lingered.

    I think it was a combination of the production design and sound that ultimately was able to scare me quite a few times. I've already mentioned the wondrous house that lives and breathes, yet the sounds of the house were equally creepy. We can't see the sounds. We can't feel it, smell it, or taste it. All we can hear are the moans in our ears. The pounding on the doors. The thunderous footsteps. The wind whistling. Hill House could breath. We hear it. Damn I wanted to get out of there. Hill House totally creeped me out. It wasn't the, "Look, there's a hairy monster!" scary. It was the, "Oh fuck someone, something's stalking me. But I can't see it! I can hear it getting closer!" kinda scare. Those work the best.

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    There were some genuine frights in THE HAUNTING. I jumped out of my chair on one occasion. But as aforementioned, the ending made the whole movie sink like a turd. That's where the frights stopped being scary. Damn I wish THE HAUNTING had been consistently scary. I need a good terrorizing. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was a complete letdown. I just rented THE OMEN, and I wasn't scared because I've seen the same crap on X-FILES a million times. Movies just ain't scary anymore. Perhaps it's because I've grown more cynical......... who knows.

    All I know is I felt short-changed by that lame-ass ending. I felt the end should have been on a darker tone. Something w/ more grave resonance. I wanted the whole gang to be forever trapped in Hill House, becoming part of the engravings on the wall for eternity. I wanted Hugh Crain to forever remain the ghost that haunts Hill House. I wanted the wails of dead children to continue forever. That's what would have been the most scary thing about THE HAUNTING. But no, we get a syrupy "and they all lived happily ever after" ending. Goddamn it. Scare me!!!!

    And there was also this weird backstory about Eleanor and her connection to Hugh Crain, which drives her to do all the crazy shit that she did. Strange mumbo jumbo that I thought a script revision coulda fixed. While I felt this plot twist made Eleanor an even richer character, it shoulda been explained more clearly. But instead they heaped it all on us at the end and eventually wore me out. Hugh Crain's massive ghost never materializes until the final 2 minutes or so. I also felt we shoulda been able to finally see the Ghost of Hill House a little earlier on.

    Sigh. This coulda been............the best haunted house movie ever. It coulda been...........

Babe-o-meter: 3- Lovely (Catherine Zeta-Jones once again single-handedly garners a 3 rating. What stopped her from getting the 4 was her ugly wardrobe.)