31 Days of Guilty Pleasures – ‘The Haunting’

Jason McDonald

A few years ago I did a daily countdown to Halloween that featured some of my favorite scares from 31 different horror movies. This year I’m bringing back the feature, but this time we’re taking a look at some of my favorite guilty pleasures.

There’s no rhyme or reason to how these movies are being listed, so the placement on the countdown doesn’t denote any sort of ranking. Also, my definition of guilty pleasure is a movie that ranges from either being not very good to outright bad, but there’s something about it that still makes it endearing to watch.

Today Netflix is releasing Mike Flanagan’s new series “The Haunting of Hill House.”  Early reviews have been extremely positive for the series, so I decided it would be appropriate to talk about my paranormal secret shame: I kind of like the 1999 version of “The Haunting.”

So this story has a long history.  “The Haunting of Hill House” was originally a novel released in 1959.  I’ve never read it, but the book is regarded as being a genuinely great piece of work.  So it’s no surprise that a few years later in 1963 the book was adapted into a feature film called “The Haunting.”  This movie was widely praised as well and people like Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg have counted it among some of their favorite movies.

Fast forward thirty-six years later to 1999 and the book is getting another adaptation.  At first Wes Craven was attached to direct, but that fell through and he wound up directing “Scream” instead. I think we can all agree that worked out for the best.  Eventually the project found its way to director Jan de Bont. Now, before you say ‘who the hell is that?’ Let me stop you right there.  This is the man who directed back-to-back cinematic classics in the form of “Speed” and “Twister.”  Yes, he is that legendary director.  Unfortunately he also went on to direct “Speed 2” before taking on “The Haunting.” Why would a guy who had done primarily action films decide to do a horror movie?  Well, horror wasn’t a foreign concept to de Bont. He had actually been a cinematographer on such horror films as “Cujo” and “Flatliners.” So perhaps he felt a bit of nostalgia for the genre.

Despite having a solid cast featuring Liam Neeson, Owen Wilson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Lili Taylor the film decided to go from being a supernatural/psychological horror story to being more of a visual spectacle.  The film features a surprising amount of CGI effects that have, unfortunately, aged poorly.  Just look at the movie’s finale. It’s 90% CGI and now it looks like a horrible cartoon with some equally bad acting.

I don’t know what it was about this movie, but it seemed to bring the worst out of actress Lili Taylor.  All you have to do is look at movies like “The Conjuring” and you’ll see that she’s a great actress, but there’s something about her performance in this movie that goes from troubled woman to hilariously over the top at the drop of a hat.

Any moment where this movie could be potentially creepy it instead devolves into hilarity.

Speaking of hilarity, easily one of the best scenes in this movie is the death of Owen Wilson’s character Luke.  I don’t recall what the deal with Luke was, but in the movie Owen Wilson appears to be playing a 10 year old boy trapped inside of a man’s body.  He just acts so weirdly immature and then this amazing chain of events leads to his spectacular death.

While “The Haunting” is poorly written and acted I think it’s actually a really impressive movie to look at.  Ignoring the CGI bits there’s just so many visually cool set pieces featured in the film.  There’s the mirror room scene in the second clip above that looks stunning and then the giant fireplace where Owen Wilson dies looks incredible.  There’s just so much eye candy in the movie that I wish it were a real place that I could go and visit.  Look at this staircase scene and just take in everything that is happening in it.  A staircase suspended by wires inside of a giant greenhouse looking room with a manmade pond inside of it that, in other scenes, has a giant tormented statue in it.  There’s just so much visual creativity going on in this movie that you can practically see the money being thrown at the set designers.

After you finish watching Mike Flanagan’s “The Haunting of Hill House” I highly recommend you seek this one out just so you can have that experience of witnessing two wildly different takes on a ghost story. Even after all this time it’s a visual journey worth taking once.


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