Dir: Robert Wise
Roundly acclaimed as one of the scariest films ever made. And the acclimation is correct (my first time viewing). This has all of the elements of a genre defining film, able to stand up to the test of time given its reliance on character and tension as opposed to effects or cheap tricks.
Four folks shack up in a house to verify if it is haunted or not. One, played by Julie Harris, is very nearly insane, a condition being in a haunted house does little to improve. Only Russ Tamblyn's character is one dimensional, a fact adding greatly to the story. Wise has selected good material (Shirley Jackson wrote the novel), and so the movie succeeds both at telling an interesting story of the characters and at scaring us. A lesbian sub plot is surprisingly overt for 1963, but remains tangential to the story.
It is the horror itself that elevates the movie. Hill House haunts from behind doors, with sounds. No ghouls pop out from inside the cupboard, no hounds appear and rip human flesh apart. The terror is psychological and as a result the movie is able to stand up to the years. At times things were very reminiscent of the Blair Witch Project; confine your subjects in a small space and have things going on outside them, letting neither them nor the audience know what their nemesis is. The imagination is always more terrifying than special effects.
Lots of small touches really help the film. The House, we learn, was designed to include no right angles. So the set is always slightly out of kilter, aided by carefully shaded camera angles and quick edits. Statues are to be found everyone, so that the ghostly pupil-less eyes of marble busts always gaze on the scene. Wise has let atmosphere dictate the horror, always keeping the audience slightly off balance and letting the subsequent tension build.
Horror when done bad is just silly. When done right, it is terrific entertainment. The Haunting is the latter.