Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963) “No one will come any further than town, in the dark… in the night”

WELCOME TO JO GABRIEL & THE LAST DRIVE IN’S –500th POST!

 CapturFiles 2

“Ghosts are the outward sign of an inward fear”-Ambrose Bierce

“Everything is worse…if you think something is looking at you.”
― Shirley Jackson

doors open

From- Cinematic Hauntings edited by Gary J. and Susan Svehla chapter The Haunting by Bryan Senn

“Adult in concept and wide in scope. The Haunting is designed not only to appeal to those who approach the supernatural from an intellectual level, but also to the legions of movie patrons who delight in a genuine ghost story.”-The Haunting press book

Halloween is around the corner, I hear the rusty gates creaking, rattling of skeletons, the flapping wings of jolly bats, smell the candy corn and Hershey’s kisses and the owls are hooting, the spooks are spooking, and I sense the chill of night seeping through the curtains as the best holiday of the year is upon us!

What better way to honor such a ghoulishly ghostly and creepy eve than to explore one of the all time great movies, ghost story not withstanding in honor of my 500th post… yes long winded me has finally reached a milestone.

Robert Wise The Haunting-cast

How do you begin to write about a film that continues to share the spot of favorite movie in my world alongside Rosemary’s Baby? What can I say that hasn’t already been said about Robert Wise’s masterwork that is The Haunting 1963. How do you even give suitable tribute to a timeless masterpiece that defies genre and deserves to be upheld as un-remakable.

Incidentally I was reading Pam Keesey’s terrific essay The Haunting and the Power of Suggestion: Why Robert Wise’s Film Continues to ‘Deliver the Goods’ to Modern Audiences. Keesey points to a comment that Stephen King makes, while admiring Wise’s film he remarks, “Something is scratching at the ornate, paneled door… Something horrible… but it is a door Wise elects never to open.” Once again Pam Keesey cites Wise’s influence as written about in Edmund G. Bansak’s wonderful Fearing the Dark: The Val Lewton Career, one of my favorite books in my library. Wise finally found a film that could pay homage to his mentor Val Lewton.

haunting1

“Lewton trademarks–the reverence for the underdog, the focus upon humanist concerns, the alliance between danger and darkness, the depiction of fate as an unstoppable force, and, of course the preoccupation with things unseen.”-Bansak

Sorry, Stephen King, but we don’t always need to see the monster– Val Lewton understood that well, and managed to create some of the most compelling moments of terror for us, just by suggesting, and triggering our own innate fears of the unknown. This is one of the most essential working mechanisms of Wise’s The Haunting that has withstood the perils of time.

haunting

Robert Wise worked as an editor among Val Lewton’s magic team of artists. He learned the secret to any good work of fantasy/horror/suspense/noir is to suggest BUT not reveal what is the heart of the narrative on the screen itself but allow our own subconscious fears and anxieties to do its work. Much credit has to be given to Nelson Gidding’s   (I Want to Live! 1958, The Andromeda Strain 1971) remarkable screenplay.

Robert Wise, while working on West Side Story, picked up a copy of Shirley Jackson’s ghost story. In an interview in Midnight Marquee #37 Wise recalled, “I was reading one of the scary passages–hackles were going up and down my neck–when Nelson Gidding (screenwriter)… burst through the door to ask me a question, I literally jumped about three feet out of my chair. I said, ‘If it can do that to me sitting and reading, it ought to be something I want to make a picture out of.”

Wise wasn’t sure he’d get to direct the film, noted in Bright Lights #11–“I called nervously to see if it might be available…{…}because usually by the time a book comes out in New York, the big movie companies have scouts back there, story departments, and they grab it up and it’s gone. I found out this one hadn’t been picked up.”

According to Bryan Senn in an interview in 1995, “I persuaded United Artists to buy the book rights for me and finance a screenplay. And I got Nelson Gidding, who did I Want to Live! (1958) for me to do the screenplay. When we got it done however United Artists got a little cold on it and didn’t want to proceed with it. So I talked to my agent about it. I had left a contract with MGM a few years before; I got out of the contract early but I had to promise to give them another film.

THE HAUNTING, Claire Bloom, Russ Tamblyn, Julie Harris, Richard Johnson, 1963.
THE HAUNTING, Claire Bloom, Russ Tamblyn, Julie Harris, Richard Johnson, 1963.

The studio wasn’t keen on a supernatural horror thriller, nor of the idea of not using big named stars for the picture.Wise wanted to use classically trained actors like both British Shakespearean actors Richard Johnson and Claire Bloom and American actress Julie Harris.Wise also wanted to work with Russ Tamblyn again whom he worked with in 1961 on West Side Story. Tamblyn was reluctant to do the part after reading the script but threat of suspension from the studio urged him to take the role. Years later he recounts it being one of his favorite roles.

Luck will out and Wise needing to go over to England for a command performance of West Side Story, was able to use MGM’s little studio outside London called Boreham Wood Studios which gave him a bigger budget to work with.

And I can say without any doubts, that I’m with Robert Wise- when I was little, watching The Haunting even during the day, sun shining outside, my heart would pound and I would feel a restless shudder as I sat quietly watching what I consider to still be one of the scariest films of all time. And though I’ve seen it again and again, I still feel said hackles up the back of my neck. The shivers of fear and dread, and a true sense of terror that grips you every single time!

The confluence of artistry, Robert Wise’s sensibility that he synthesized from working with Val Lewton, Jackson’s incredible ghost story, Gidding’s compelling script, the collective of ensemble performances by all the great actors involved, the effective score by Humphrey Searle, and idiosyncratic and visually disorienting cinematography by Davis Boulton (Stage Fright 1950, I Thank A Fool 1962) The sense of place and the incredible performances that inhabited that uncanny space.

Photo of Richard Johnson, Claire Bloom, Russ Tamblyn, and Julie Harris in the movie The Haunting, 1963. Photo/Art by:anon
Photo of Richard Johnson, Claire Bloom, Russ Tamblyn, and Julie Harris in the movie The Haunting, 1963. Photo/Art by:anon

All these elements went in to create one masterfully crafted visual narrative, psychological maneuver, tale of terror and one memorable landscape of uncanny dread and paranoia.

The Haunting

Richard Johnson as Dr Markway

The house itself was set in England and not the story’s old money New England territory. While there are numerous tales of haunting in England, Jackson’s story was set in New England and Wise wanted to stay close to the novel’s reality. It wasn’t hard to find the right house in England however, the more daunting task was getting the roads closed off so Julie Harris could drive her car on the wrong side of the road for the scene where she travels to Hill House. Robert Wise explained in Fantastic Films, that “We wanted a house that basically had an evil look about it” He finally found the perfect house in Warwickshire, a 200 year old manor house called Ettington Park, Wise felt that its, “facing of mottled stone with gothic windows and turrets” was exactly what they needed.

The house possessed an “unexpected, even frightening, authenticity” According to Russ Tamblyn, “It was definitely a strange place, especially the grounds. The house itself, had a history… oh, children who had been murdered, and a twelve year old who had committed suicide, some other woman who had fell out of a window.” Not to mention the little cemetery out in the back which was supposedly haunted. People had seen ghosts there.

Dr. John Markway: [voice-over narration] “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.”

The film is powerful in the way it brings us into it’s mystifying grasp. We hear the velvet tones of Richard Johnson narrating us, greeting us if you will to join the haunting. His voice-over the visual montage of past events that reveals to us the menacing house. The inception of it’s evil roots, a domineering man Hugh Crain had built Hill House for his wife and daughter, “in the most remote part of New England he could find.” In a freak or strange accident the wife had “died seconds before she was to set eyes on the house.” Her carriage crashed against a tree, her lifeless arm hanging out of the carriage in close up. Crain’s second wife floats down the dark Victorian style hall (Wise was the editor on The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), the figure of the wife moving swiftly through the darkness reminds us of that film-This impression is also confirmed in More Things Than are Dreamt of edited by Alain Silver & James Ursini ) then tumbles down a flight of stairs breaking her neck.

“The audience is thrown into the point of view of the second Mrs. Crain as she stumbles down the stairs and blurred, twisted shots approximate the last things she saw in life. Finally a grim but striking deep focus wide angle captures her sprawled at the foot of the main stairs, eyes wide in fright and her corpse in the lower foreground of the frame and behind her shadowy killer, the house itself.”–source More Things Than Are Dreamt Of -edited by Silver & Ursini

second mrs crain

After Crain dies in England, his only daughter Abigail “grew up and grew old” In Hill House, eventually hiring a village girl to be a paid companion, “it’s with this young companion the evil reputation of Hill House really begins” When the companion took a farmhand out onto the veranda while her mistress banged on the wall with her cane and died calling for help. The companion inherited Hill House only to be driven to suicide by the unseen menacing atmosphere of the place. She walked up to the top of the spiral staircase in the library and hung herself. “they say that whatever there was–and still is–in the house eventually drove the companion mad.”

For Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) Hill House is a chance to prove himself. Eleanor has been chosen to be part of the research team because of the shower of stones that had fallen on her house when she was a little girl. Possibly possessing the powers of psychokinesis, the ability to materialize her inner demons, anger and nightmares. Pointedly when Eleanor says, “Suppose the haunting is all in my mind?”

Haunting-Eleanor foreground

From Silver & Ursini’s edited chapter Modern Classics- in More Things Than Are Dreamt Of- “The harp, the knockings, the writing on the wall-all these have a visual and aural presence in film which contradicts any inclination of the viewer to believe that Eleanor is doing this herself; and yet the word on Markway’s questionnaire which Luke doesn’t understand ‘psychokinesis’, makes it possible that she is. Even the interruption of her most flirtatious moment with Markway permits two readings. The house, her possessive, predestined lover, strikes at the harp strings out of jealousy and the need to control her. Or, like Henry James’ repressed governess in Edmund Wilson’s reading, Eleanor does it herself out of fear of sex. Both are possible.”

Having read an interesting essay that touches on Robert Wise’s 1963 ghost story from Hidden Horror the chapter on Carnival of Souls by Prof. Shelly Jarenski- She makes a few interesting comparisons to Carnival of Souls 1962 Such as the prelude… “… And we who walk here… walk alone.” in my malleable childhood mind, both the prelude and the coda stayed with me like a creepy lullaby or maudlin soliloquy. Jarenski asserts “The film’s core themes are encapsulated in that line uttered by the misfit heroine Eleanor Lance.” I would totally agree with her assessment. The Haunting not just merely being a ghost story, is a story about an alienated loner, a ‘misfit heroine’ who is in dire search for relief or release, possibly from this world. We too are witnesses to a lonely disillusioned woman (I loathe to use the word: spinster) most likely a virgin who is longing to make a connection.

halls

Jarenski writes, “Words like ‘we’ or ‘walking’ does create an “ominous ambiguity.“ That Eleanor will either join the collection of lost souls in Hill House or be doomed to walk alone for all eternity in ‘isolation and despair.’

Asserting that Carnival of Souls can be understood as a corollary to the more ceremonious and celebrated The Haunting because “It portrays what being part of the community of the dead, while simultaneously feeling utterly alone, looks like.”

In More Things Than are Dreamt Of- Silver and Ursini point out the idea that The Haunting is much more than just a ghost story. As Shirley Jackson wrote in her novel, “During the whole underside of her life, ever since her first memory Eleanor had been waiting for something…”

Theodora affectionately known as Theo has been recruited to help in the research because of her extremely honed powers of ESP. This becomes established before Dr. Markway introduces everyone around the breakfast table. While Mrs. Dudley regurgitates her soliloquy of fear & gloom, Theodora takes mental inventory of Eleanor’s psychic bag, and when Eleanor asks how she knew what she was thinking, Theo cheekily replies “You wear your thoughts on your sleeve.”

The Haunting (1963) could be said to be the penultimate example of ‘nothing up that proverbial sleeve’, and ‘it’s what you don’t see’ cinematography. The visual narrative is what makes it timelessly heart-pounding to watch and what gives it an artistic atmosphere of misdirection, anxiety, hysteria, dread, romanticism, and well, yes, that “haunting’ feeling.

CapturFiles_26

CapturFiles_67

CapturFiles_68

Nell and Theo

Memorable scenes of veiled terror lurking in the corners, or beyond the massive wooden door frames. The allusion to the various cold spots underscored by trilling piano keys. Stark frames that capture a portion of the house, as if itself a live entity. Dr. Markway refers to the house being ‘born bad’. The manifestation of the angry and tyrannical Hugh Crane who built an evil house. There are so many moments of The Haunting that have stayed with me for years. And I must admit that I usually watch it several times a year, like one makes pot roast because the craving strikes you at that moment. “It’s time to watch The Haunting again,” is heard in our house. I can never forget the moment when Julie Harris as Nell awakens from a frightening moment where we hear a child’s muffled laughter swiftly turning to a menacing scream. She tells Theo that she’s breaking her hand, she’s holding it so tight. The camera only focuses on Nell and her outstretched arm in the darkness, swallowed up in her ornate room, like a fly in a spider’s web. When she can no longer bare Theo’s tight grip, she screams “Stop it!” and turns the light on, only to find in horror that she’s been holding a ghostly hand. “Who’s hand was I holding?” Theo is shown across the room, still lying in bed unaware that Nell had been going through any nightmarish ordeal.

CapturFiles_74

CapturFiles_75

CapturFiles_76

CapturFiles_77

CapturFiles_78

In other moments, the visual perspective seems to warp all we see, pulling us into the dis-ease of Hill House.From the moment Eleanor pulls up to Hill House, the point of view is skewed so that we are watching Eleanor who is also being watched by the house. It’s a startling moment as she realizes, “It’s staring at me.”

And of course there’s the eerie and otherworldly invisible assault on the two women as something unseen pounds on the doors with a ‘cannonball’ Disembodied laughter, scratching, growling and Baroque style brass doorknobs with Medusa’s face that turn ever so slowly, as if something trying to gain entry into the room.

CapturFiles_48

CapturFiles_49

CapturFiles_55

CapturFiles_51

CapturFiles_50

CapturFiles_54

CapturFiles_60

CapturFiles_59

CapturFiles_61

CapturFiles_63

CapturFiles_53

CapturFiles_52

CapturFiles_64
Eleanor ‘Nell’s’ name has been scripted on the wall in ‘something like chalk’

 

CapturFiles_65
And then the ghostly message written on the ostentatious wallpaper in ‘something like chalk’ outside the dining room-“Help Eleanor -Come Home!”

Hill House’s expression of love, the seduction by way of written message in ‘something like chalk’ both frightens Eleanor yet stimulates her because someone or something was finally paying attention to her. as Alain Silver and James Ursini point out the house’s dark secrets, “represent the intimacy which Eleanor has never had with any other being…”

There’s also emphasis of a powerfully imposing use of matrix work utilizing the inherent designs of the interiors itself, textiles and wallpaper and wood carvings to create diabolical faces watching back at us. The stone and bronze cherubs and gargoyles that inhabit Hill House, the myriad of mirrors and long winding hallways mixed with the turbulent sky outside the towering Hill House.

CapturFiles_16

Matrix

The iconic scene where the door seems to expand as if breathing was actually two technical people who used 2×4’s to push into the middle to create the effect. It’s that simple and yet, is one of the most lasting scenes in film history.

Based on the book by Shirley Jackson The Haunting of Hill House, which is a hell of a read, but as a rarity, the film invokes the uncanny of the story even better than the novel.

hhh4

“SCREAM…no one will hear you! RUN…and the silent foosteps will follow, for in Hill House the dead are restless!”

I’ve had any number of people over the years say to me, ‘You know, Mr. Wise, you made the scariest picture I’ve ever seen and you never showed anything. How’d you do it?” And it goes back to Val Lewton, by the powers of suggestions” Robert Wise in Fearing the Dark: The Val Lewton Career

Robert Wise made The Haunting in 1963 as a way of paying homage to his mentor, Val Lewton, who had died 12 years earlier.

The always poised Richard Johnson plays the very earnest Dr. John Markway a researcher in the paranormal who wants to use Hill House an imposing Gothic New England house as the main epicenter for his studies in the supernatural. Based on the legend of all the ghostly going’s on surrounding said place, Markway gets Mrs, Sanderson (Fay Compton) to agree to lease the house to him for one year. Though she is the voice of caution- Mrs. Sanderson: “The dead are not quiet in Hill House.”

CapturFiles_7

CapturFiles_6
The great Fay Compton as the crusty waspy Mrs. Sanderson-warning Markway that the dead are not restful at Hill House.

CapturFiles_9

Markway initially amasses a collection of names of potential participants in his experiment as we see he chalks their names on his blackboard. Eventually the names drop off and there are only two women who arrive to help him uncover the truth behind the legend of Hill House… is it truly haunted?

Theodora: “Haven’t you noticed how nothing in this house seems to move until you look away and then you just… catch something out of the corner of your eye?”

CapturFiles_37 It wants you Nell... the house is calling you
Theo sensing a presence says-“It wants you Nell… the house is calling you.”

Mrs. Sanderson sends along her cocky nephew out of the Midwest, Luke (Russ Tamblyn) to accompany Dr. Markway since one day Luke hopes to inherit Hill House. The exterior of Hill House is an actual Hotel called the Ettington Park Hall Hotel in Stratford Upon Avon in England. The interior sets were brilliantly designed by John Jarvis.

Spiral Stairs

We meet Eleanor ‘Nell’ Lance (Julie Harris) in her sister’s living room which doubles as her bedroom. The very hypersensitive Nell is being tortured by her sister, brother-in-law and their precocious brat of a child who insists on playing a child’s record march consisting of inane flutes and snare rattles, causing a pervasive tenor of chaos, madness and dysfunction. Like nails on a blackboard, the little tune serves not only to cause psychic aural conflict and irritate Nell, but it also pulls us into her sense of being trapped in a claustrophobic world where she must break free. Nell steals the family car and hits the road with all her belongings in a box, driving out of Boston out into the light of the New England air toward something, anything even the unknown which would be better than the captivity she’s been experiencing. She is one of the people Dr. Markway has invited to participate in exploring Hill House.

More Things Than Are Dreamt Of edited by Alain Silver & James Ursini- The Haunting of Hill House is a third-person novel with a lot of interior monologues and other first person aspects…{…}Eleanor is neither a para-psychologist nor a believer, but a disheartened spinster yearning for escape and adventure; or as Jackson puts it, ‘During the whole underside of her life, ever since her first memory, Eleanor had been waiting for something…’

Eleanor is the first person to see the ‘vile’ house. Silver & Ursini frame it by Jackson’s occult vision, that Hill House is the cause of Eleanor’s ‘deliverance and destruction’. How Eleanor’s religious discourse  becomes an ironic fate that turns inward on itself for in the end, “journeys end in lovers meeting” Eleanor’s volatile relationship with Hill House is absolutely one of love/hate.

 

Upon her arrival she is confronted by two of the locals who harbor a maniacal animosity toward city people. The Dudleys played by Rosalie Crutchley and Valentine Dyall ( Who was perfectly sinister as Jethrow Keane in Horror Hotel 1960, yet another favorite classic horror film of mine.)

Rosalie Crutchley attributes the films power to Robert Wise’s skillful direction and David Boulton’s sinister cinematography that transformed the benign Ettington Park into the malevolent manor of Hill House. “It was a strange house” the actress told Bryan Senn. Crutchley continues, “which looked threatening from the outside but which wasn’t actually at all. But it was brilliantly shot you see, so that it looked very, very threatening.”

CapturFiles_13

CapturFiles_15
Mr. Dudley: “You’ll be sorry I ever opened the gate.”
CapturFiles_18 Get away from here get away at once. It's my chance I've been given a lasat chance. I could turn my car around and go away from here and no one would blame me. Anyone has a right to run away. But you are running away Eleanor. and there
“Get away from here get away at once. It’s my chance I’ve been given a last chance. I could turn my car around and go away from here and no one would blame me. Anyone has a right to run away. But you are running away Eleanor. and there’s no where else to go”

CapturFiles_19 no where else to go

Mrs. Dudley takes care of the interior of Hill House as no one else in the village dare come near the place, setting out the meals but being very clear about leaving before it get’s dark. The sardonic grin on her face as she divulges to Nell and Theo her little creepy intoned soliloquy… “No one will come any further than town…”

No one will hear you scream… Mrs. Dudley’s expression is somewhat a combination of that intense little fellow, the prairie dog from the viral youtube video where he turns around and stares, and Lewis Caroll’s Chesire Cat.

CapturFiles_25

CapturFiles_32

Anyhoo… Markway leads the other three on a journey of discovery of the unknown. He chose Eleanor ‘Nell’ because of her poltergeist experience that occurred when rocks pelted her family home for a week. Eleanor suffered from a tremendous guilt complex shortly after losing her chronically ill mother whom she cared for passed away and this puts Nell on the edge of breakdown. Theodora is known quite well for her powers of ESP. Luke Sanderson is the skeptical playboy of the foursome…

CapturFiles_33

CapturFiles_43

CapturFiles_70
Markway is filled with glee as they have stumbled onto the proverbial ‘cold spot’
CapturFiles_72 There's got to be a draft
Luke-“There’s got to be a draft!”
CapturFiles_43 Look I know the supernatural is something that isn't supposed to happen-but it does happen... and if it happens to you your liable to have that shut door in your mind ripped right off it's hinges!
Dr. Markway tells Luke-“Look I know the supernatural is something that isn’t supposed to happen-but it does happen… and if it happens to you your liable to have that shut door in your mind ripped right off it’s hinges!”

CapturFiles_42

The ‘Adventurous All’ get together, trading small conversations and observations, while Hill House begins to reveal it’s cold heart. Or is the house truly a bad place? Built by a man who used odd angles, and macabre embellishments, he created one ‘distortion as a whole” as Nell comments. Hugh Crane, a man who was a religious zealot, entrapped his daughter in the foul house until her death as an old maid. She grew up and grew old in the house, where a series of mysterious accidents, suicides and deaths ensued… Hill House is the epitome of “Dark spaces’ or “Bad spaces’.

CapturFiles_97

CapturFiles_38

Dark places

CapturFiles_46

CapturFiles_1b

giphy copy

CapturFiles_1a

CapturFiles_2

CapturFiles_2a

CapturFiles_3

CapturFiles_4

CapturFiles_5
The nurse too busy out on the veranda with the farm hand to hear Abigail pound on the door with her cane, eventually hangs herself after inheriting Hill House

Eleanor Lance: “Can’t you feel it? It’s alive… watching.” 

CapturFiles_35

Hill House does begin to show particular attention toward the vulnerable, fragile and bedeviled Nell. But…

That begs a larger question. Can a house be born bad, or has Nell’s neurotic fixations and need to belong cause her to unravel the mysteries of the place much quicker? Is it just her longing and alienation that has created a certain madness or is it both a ghost story and a story of abject loneliness and psychosis? Much like a Lewton story, there is the feeling of intense loneliness, imbalance in the environment that is either mental or perceived to be reality, and an ambiguity that links these elements to the supernatural world.

CapturFiles_66

There are definitely themes of repressed sexuality exhibited by the presence of the very stylish Mary Quant sporting Theo (Claire Bloom), who it is heavily suggested is a sophisticated Greenwhich Village Sapphic who toys with the uptight Nell. When asked what frightens Theo she glumly replies-“Of knowing what I want.”

The Haunting (1963)

Something that begins to cause friction between the ensemble because Nell has fallen into the well of deep delusion and longing, for Dr. Markway not realizing that he is not just only interested in her as a test subject but he is already married.

the-haunting markway to the rescue

CapturFiles_79
Theodora dressed like a black widow spins her web of jealousy yet revealing the truth about Markway and Nell’s unrequited love.
CapturFiles_80 You're making a fool of yourself over him. I'd rather be innocent than like you. Meaning what? Now who's being stupid and innocent You know perfectly well what I mean. Is this another of your crazy hallucinations. I'm not crazy crazy as
Theo-“You’re making a fool of yourself over him.” Nell-“I’d rather be innocent than like you.” Theo-“Meaning what?” Nell-“Now who’s being stupid and innocent You know perfectly well what I mean.” Theo- “Is this another of your crazy hallucinations.” Nell- “I’m not crazy”
CapturFiles_81 crazy as a loon You really expect me to believe you're sane and the rest of the world is mad. Well why not-The world is filled with inconsistencies, unnatural things, natures mistakes they're called-you for instance
Theo-“Crazy as a loon You really expect me to believe you’re sane and the rest of the world is mad.” Nell-“Well why not-The world is filled with inconsistencies, unnatural things, natures mistakes they’re called-you for instance!”
Theo feels a chill
Nell tells Theodora that “she’s the monster of Hill House.”
CapturFiles_69
Markway sees that Nell is unraveling and threatens to send her packing.

Poor Nell is a tragic Gothic figure, whose famous inner monologues might slightly touch the third rail of hysterical camp, yet somehow manages to become a restrained performance of inner turmoil and madness that perfectly co-exists parallel to the odd and uncanny manifestations escalating in Hill House. With a rainstorm of inner monologues to guide us through the treacherous darkness.

CapturFiles_84
Mrs Markway shows up unexpectedly and asks to sleep in the most rotten heart of the house… Nell obliges by telling her about the nursery… which until now had been sealed.

 CapturFiles_87 the nursery opens

CapturFiles_101 Now I know where I'm going-I'm disappearing inch by inch into this house
“Now I know where I’m going–I’m disappearing inch by inch into this house.”

CapturFiles_88

CapturFiles_89

CapturFiles_90

CapturFiles_91

In Scarlet Street Magazine, Julie Harris stated that she would have played the character of Nell differently. “Well, I would’ve been odder looking as Eleanor,” Harris said. “I think she was too ordinary. I just wanted to be — odder.” That’s okay Julie Harris, who we sadly lost on August 24th of last year, no one could have done a better job of bringing Eleanor Lance to life than you did… Your Eleanor Lance will eternally remain the central tragic figure of the play, as Pam Keesey calls her the ‘persecuted innocent.’

By the end of the film, Luke who is the cynic of the bunch, tells us…” It ought to be burned down… and the ground sowed with salt.”

CapturFiles_93

CapturFiles_95

CapturFiles_99

CapturFiles_100

CapturFiles_102

CapturFiles_103
The poor bedeviled Nell dances with the statue of Hugh Crane.. believing that both he and she have killed Grace Markway..
Mrs Markway at the trap door
Grace Markway ( Lois Maxwell) Doesn’t go untouched by the dark forces that lay behind the stone and silent standing wood… well maybe not so silent!

CapturFiles_104

 CapturFiles_105

tumblr_m9swwgb1GG1qav174o1_500

🎃Happy Halloween gang… and thanks for making all 500 posts a whirling experience!-Your ever lovin’ MonsterGirl

Horror Hotel / City of the Dead (1960): A Devilish Lovecraftian Nightmare Shrouded in Smoldering Shadows and Fog

TerrorbannerBS

” The basis of fairy tale is in reality. The basis of reality is fairy tales.”-Professor Alan Driscoll

 HORROR HOTEL (1960) or The City of the Dead

CapturFiles

“Religion. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.” – Ambrose Bierce

“Religious superstition consists in the belief that the sacrifices, often of human lives, made to the imaginary being are essential, and that men may and should be brought to that state of mind by all methods, not excluding violence.”- Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy

Horror Hotel poster
“300 years old! Human blood keeps them alive forever”

“Horror Hotel, next to the graveyard”

Remake of City of the Dead due 2013
Remake of City of the Dead due out some time in 2013?

Horror Hotel (US) or The City of the Dead (British) (1960) is directed by John Llewellyn Moxey who eventually emigrated to America and became in my opinion one of THE best directors of fantasy, horror and suspense films made for television. (The House That Would Not Die 1970, The Night Stalker 1972, A Taste of Evil 1971, Home For the Holidays 1972, The Strange and Deadly Occurrence 1974, Where Have All The People Gone 1974, Conspiracy of Terror 1975 once again about a secret cult of devil worshipers this time in the suburbs of California, Nightmare in Badham County 1976, Killjoy 1981 and Desire, The Vampire 1982 not to mention contributing to numerous outstanding television series, and other films too many to list here.)

kolchak
Darren McGavin as Kolchak The Night Stalker produced by Dan Curtis and directed by the great John Llewellyn Moxey

With a screenplay by George Baxt (The Shadow of the Cat 1961, Strangler’s Web 1965, Vampire Circus 1972 (uncredited) and his really awful mess, Horror of Snape Island 1972) he was also the scenarist on Sidney Hayer’s Circus of Horrors (1959) Baxt went on to do another witchcraft themed film co-scripted with prolific writers Richard Matheson’s (The Legend of Hell House 1973, Trilogy of Terror 1975) and Charles Beaumont’s (The Intruder 1962 , Roger Corman’s Masque of the Red Death 1965) The other screenplay was based on Fritz Leiber’s 1943 novel Conjure Wife , which turned into yet another film directed by Sidney Hayer, and was an equally moody and unnerving piece in the trope of black magic themed films entitled Night of the Eagle or it’s alternative title best known as Burn Witch Burn (1961)

Night of the Eagles title

Burn Witch Burn

night of the eagle stone eagle

Night of the Eagle I do Believe

Horror Hotel or City of the Dead is also a story co-scripted by Milton Subotsky an American émigré who relocated to England and eventually took over as the head founder of Amicus the only true rival to Hammer Studios Gothic series of films at the time. Horror Hotel was their first film made by the company then called Vulcan Productions. Subotsky was also the uncredited producer on the film. Released in the states with the title Horror Hotel the film used the inane catch phrase “Just Ring For Doom Service” which is unfortunate as it downplays the truly profound artistic quality of the film’s visual narrative. The film also marks the first appearance of Christopher Lee in the Satanic Cinema genre. Then Lee appeared in The Alfred Hitchcock Hours quite interesting occult themed sequence rather than Hitch’s usual mystery methodology, an episode entitled, The Sign of Satan (released May 8, 1964 from Season 2 episode 27) where Christopher Lee plays the mysterious foreign actor Karl Jorla in a episode that also dealt with devil worship.

Alfred Hitchcock Hour The-Sign-Of-Satan with Christopher Lee as Karl-Jorla

Horror Hotel was filmed on a sound stage in England, with an all British cast, yet the plot was set in an obscure village in America’s provincial Massachusetts for it’s historical relationship to the Salem Witch Trials and the mystique of the witchcraft frenzy that was so pervasive during the Puritanical 17th Century.

CapturFiles
1692 in Salem Village, 185 people were accused of witchcraft, 156 were formally charged, 47 were pressured into confessions and 19 victims were ultimately executed by hanging. It remains a shameful phenomena in colonial American history. More women than men were accused and executed. Illustration by Douglas Grundy / Three Lions / Getty Images

Horror+Hotel the coven

With a haunting bit of cinematography by Desmond Dickinson (Olivier’s Hamlet 1948, Horrors of the Black Museum 1959, the noir classic The Frightened City 1961, A Study in Terror 1965, one of my guilty pleasures which is Beast in the Cellar 1970, Who Slew Auntie Roo 1972 with my one of my favs Shelley Winters and Beware My Brethren 1972) and art direction by John Blezard and Original music by Douglas Gamley.

CapturFiles_116

The cast includes Christopher Lee as Professor of Demonology Alan Driscoll, Dennis Lotis as Richard Barlow and Venetia Stevenson as avid student Nan Barlow. Interestingly enough, it’s quite shocking that the script actually kills off the supposed heroine Nan within the first 30 minutes of the film, much like Janet Leigh’s character Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho 1960.

Patricia Jessel as Elizabeth Selwyn

CapturFiles_34

Patricia Jessel is the imposing Elizabeth Selwyn/Mrs.Newlis an obvious anagram for the 300 year old witch much like name switcheroo used by Sidney Blackmer’s Roman Castevet in Rosemary’s Baby 1968. Tom Naylor plays Bill Maitland Nan’s prowess boyfriend. Betta St. John is Patricia Russell the granddaughter of the blind Reverend Russell played by Norman Macowan. Ann Beach has an impish sort of Patty Duke like quality to her as the poor mute Lottie a slave under Mrs. Newlis’ iron grip and Valentine Dyall (love him as Dudley the caretaker ‘all you city people’ in Robert Wise’s The Haunting ’62) plays Reverend Jethrow Keane also resurrected from those by gone days of witch burnings.

scrabble-is-everywhere-movies-books-other-media.w654-1

scrabble-is-everywhere-movies-books-other-media.w654
Rosemary Woodhouse figures out through a little game of scrabble the true identity of her kindly old neighbors

Bill Maitland brandishing the cross

I’m not sure why this absolute gem has been so overlooked, when it’s still such a genuinely frightening and effectively creepy contribution to the classic horror genre. It’s moody and saturated with an unearthly fog that blankets the town and exudes an impending sense of doom and dread. The film is almost impressionistic with it’s tonality of the macabre which permeates the landscape with the undead specters walking amidst the fog soaked night, and we as spectators know of the looming arcane rites of the ritualistic blood sacrifices held by ambiguous figures in monkish robes.

CapturFiles_5 copy

The camera work is startling at times, and surprisingly cerebral for a low budget film, as in the opening sequence when they are executing Elizabeth Selwyn, the camera closes in tightly on several grotesquely puritanical, pious and unrelentingly exaggerated expressions of hostility and hypocrisy as the villagers call out with their blood lust to burn the witch, their fever for punishment, lacks any godliness, as they are framed more hideous than Elizabeth Selwyn who is tied to a stake and set on fire. Only a quick glance at a little girl’s face read in panic as Selwyn evokes the power of Satan and a darkness washes over the villagers like a paint stroke of black light. The use of shadow is almost reminiscent of Jacques Tourneur’s thoughtful psychological terror plays of the 40s, (Cat People 1942, I Walked With A Zombie 1943, noir classic Out of the Past 1947 and Curse of the Demon 1957) While not in the same league as the master of shadow and light the great Val Lewton or Tourneur, there are some elements with the added sphere of paranoia that creates an atmosphere filled with uncanny dread and unknowable spaces and devilish premeditation, that evokes some of the same type of moodiness.

zombie
Jacques Tourneur’s beautifully visually impressionistic masterpiece of Val Lewton’s
I Walked With A Zombie1 943
Night of the Demon
Jacques Tourneur’s Curse of the Demon 1957 starring Dana Andrews
CapturFiles_7
The mysterious Reverend Jethrow Keane lurking in the ghostly mist in Horror Hotel aka City of the Dead

Again, not being hindered by the restraints of a small budget, the film appears as a beautifully eerie Lovecraftian fable, filled with an entire village inhabited by listless cult followers dedicated to the worship of Satan. They haunt the streets swathed in ritual robes shrouded in shadows and fog, wandering through swirling mists, and an ominous sweep of fog that obscures these undead spirits of the night, soulless, dressed in robes or outdated clothing. The entire village is vexed by black magic reigned over by the resurrected witch Elizabeth Selwyn who was burned at the stake more than 300 years before in 1692. While it’s obvious that the degenerating, decomposing village of Whitewood is a sparsely designed set on a humble sound stage, John Llewellyn Moxey manages to infuse this little city of the dead with a very disquieting ambiance. Dickinson lights the inhabitants of Whitewood and the hazy mysterious village itself using very enigmatic black and white compositions.

SYNOPSIS:

CapturFiles_1

CapturFiles_1a

CapturFiles_2

CapturFiles_4

CapturFiles_6

CapturFiles_9

CapturFiles_11

CapturFiles_14 "Wwwitch!!!!"

CapturFiles_12
“WITCH!!!!!!!!!”

The film opens as the fog shrouded village of Whitewood is at first an empty frame consumed within a smokey cloud of air except for a giant iron fire pit blazing to the left of screen. Like specters emerging through the deathly fog, several villagers move closer into focus until they are upon us in mid screen. They are thirsty for the blood of the declared witch Elizabeth Selwyn who has brought about the death of Abigail Adams. They decree that she should be put to death as a witch, and so they converge on her little cottage, dragging her out and tying her to a large wooden stake. As she faces her accusers it seems as if she is emitting a hissing sound like a serpent. A pilgrim woman slowly grinds out the words, “Wiittcch!!!! as Elizabeth Selwyn contemptuously spits on her.

CapturFiles_13

CapturFiles_13

CapturFiles_15

CapturFiles_20

CapturFiles_21

CapturFiles_22

CapturFiles_23

CapturFiles_25

CapturFiles_26

CapturFiles_27

CapturFiles_29

CapturFiles_29a

CapturFiles_30

CapturFiles_35

CapturFiles_37

CapturFiles_38a

CapturFiles_42

CapturFiles_29

CapturFiles_43

CapturFiles_45

CapturFiles_46

CapturFiles_47

CapturFiles_50

CapturFiles_51

CapturFiles_54

CapturFiles_55

CapturFiles_57

CapturFiles_58
‘Help her Lucifer, Help Her’

CapturFiles_59

CapturFiles_60

CapturFiles_63

CapturFiles_64

CapturFiles_65

CapturFiles_68

CapturFiles_44c

CapturFiles_45a

CapturFiles_69

CapturFiles_70

CapturFiles_71

CapturFiles_72
The camera closes in on a villagers face, a grotesque caricature.

The elders and the crowd of villagers scream out for her death. To burn the witch. The pyre is set on fire, but as she becomes engulfed in the purifying flames, she declares her devotion to Satan. Meanwhile Jethrow Keane secretly still an acolyte of Elizabeth pretends to deny that he has consorted with the witch, privately begging “Help her Lucifer, Help Her.” As the fevered villagers watch Elizabeth burn, she cackles and laughs her unspoken vow to come back and wreak revenge on the descendants of Whitewood. She has made a pact with the devil for eternal life in exchange for providing him with human sacrifices, which she manages to procure by luring unsuspecting visitors to her rustic Raven’s Inn.

CapturFiles_73

CapturFiles_75

CapturFiles_78

CapturFiles_80

CapturFiles_84

CapturFiles_85

It’s modern day… the village is now left in desolation and gripped in an eerie pal that hangs over everything with it’s deathly fog. Now 1960 Professor of Demonology Alan Driscoll is relating the story of Elizabeth Selwyn, demonstratively narrating to his class the lurid story, ending with the same chant the villagers had been shouting,  “Burn Witch Burn, Burn Witch Burn…” An intense look occupies his deep and darkly riveting eyes. While most of the class is bored and distracted, Nan who is consumed with the legend of witchcraft and Elizabeth Selwyn’s legacy, stays after class to continue talking to Professor Driscoll, much to the dismay of her hunky boyfriend Bill.

CapturFiles_86

CapturFiles_90

CapturFiles_92

CapturFiles_93

CapturFiles_94

CapturFiles_97

CapturFiles_100

CapturFiles_102

CapturFiles_115

Nan looking for some good material for her thesis asks Driscoll for some guidance. He informs Nan in a very grim manner that the myth of human sacrifice isn’t just a story, that it still exists, and that it is said that Elizabeth Selwyn still walks the murky streets of Whitewood. So Professor Driscoll sends Nan Barlow to Whitewood, Massachusetts to conduct her research about the local prevailing myth that witchcraft is alive and well and still being practiced by a coven in the decaying old New England village. Nan goes willingly to uncover the truth behind the rumors of sightings of Elizabeth Selwyn believed to have come back from the dead.

Professor Driscoll is not just an avid academic of the occult, he is also an ancestor of Whitewood and a practicing Warlock in cahoots with Elizabeth Selwyn now having taken the name of Mrs.Newlis who has in fact been resurrected from the grave and now runs the claustrophobic and infernal Raven’s Inn, equip with trap door that leads to the subterranean primitive altar where blood sacrifices are held, and shadowy figures come to dance cheek to cheek to smokey jazz music by the flickering light of the fireplace at the Raven’s Inn.

CapturFiles_118

CapturFiles_119 Richard the scientist in his lab

CapturFiles_120

CapturFiles_124

Of course Nan’s brother a scientist, is not thrilled with Nan going on a witch hunt, but thinks that she should be allowed to pursue her academic dream. However boyfriend Bill is not happy at all by the news that his girlfriend is about to take a road trip to some small village out of the way chasing ridiculous nonsensical theories.

Nan gets in the car and begins to drive. Passing by a gas station she asks if she’s headed in the right direction, and of course the attendant gives a worried look when she tells him that her destination is the town of Whitewood.

CapturFiles_125

CapturFiles_127

CapturFiles_130

CapturFiles_132

CapturFiles_133

Continue reading “Horror Hotel / City of the Dead (1960): A Devilish Lovecraftian Nightmare Shrouded in Smoldering Shadows and Fog”