Nowadays most horror films are horrible, if not laughable. The Scary Movie folks had the right idea mocking what the genre has become. But it doesn’t have to be that way. One of the most chilling horror films ever, TheHaunting (1963), shows no blood, no gore and no monsters outside the human imagination.
Directed by Robert Wise (whose distinguished career included The Day the Earth Stood Still and West SideStory), The Haunting’s black-and-white cinematography was an asset, not just for the dark shadows but for giving freer range to the imagination. Based on a novel by Shirley Jackson, The Haunting unfolds in an eerie Gothic mansion in a remote corner of New England where an anthropologist is investigating psychic phenomena with a quarreling, emotionally-at-odds cast of associates.
Wise introduces fear through deft use of sound, askew camera angles, abrupt camera motion and edgy editing. The architecture itself is spooky and things glimpsed from the corner of the eye are unsettling. Ignore the execrable 1999 remake starring Catherine Zeta-Jones. The original Haunting is a classic of creative filmmaking and psychological unease.