Dr. John Markway: "Look, I know the supernatural is something that isn't supposed to happen, but it does happen."
The original movie was released in 1963. It was produced and directed by Robert Wise, and the script was written by Nelson Gidding, based on the novel "The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson. Cinematography was by Davis Boulton, and the very subtle special effects were provided by Tom Howard. The film starred Julie Harris as frightfully nervous Eleanor Lance, Claire Bloom as hip lesbian Theodora, Richard Johnson as parapsychologist Dr. John Markway, and Russ Tamblyn as skeptical rich kid Luke Sanderson.
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?"
Basic plot: Dr. Markway invites a small group of people to Hill House, a notorious haunted house, in an attempt to prove the existence of ghosts. Hill House is not the sort of haunted house that brings headless spirits, levitating candelabra, or ladies in white -- it's a malevolent, thinking house. It manifests itself as cold spots, unpleasant smells, and doors that are hinged just barely off-center. In the daylight, it seems almost sane, but in the night, in the dark, it conspires to separate people, slams invisible cannonballs down the hallways, and giggles, moans, screams, weeps. Whatever walks there may walk alone, but it doesn't want to be alone -- it wants company in its madness, and it ruthlessly exploits every weakness to get what it wants.
The writing on the wall: "HELP ELEANOR COME HOME ELEANOR"
Where the 1999 remake had overblown special effects and gruesome decapitations, the original had almost no special visual effects and only one death. What the original had in spades was mood, creepiness, and genuine fear. One of my college drinking buddies, whose taste in horror movies seemed to begin and end with slasher flicks, scoffed when I put this in the VCR, but he had nightmares about it for almost a week afterwards. Do not be misled by the black-and-white film and low-key attitude -- "The Haunting" is one of the scariest horror films ever made. The remake should be avoided at all costs; the original is an absolute must-see.
Eleanor: "God God, whose hand was I holding?"
Art imitates life: The house where most of the movie was filmed was rumored to be haunted by the ghost of a young woman who had thrown herself off a balcony one Friday. Robert Wise made a filming decision: "We did not film on Fridays."
Dr. Markway: "It was an evil house from the beginning -- a house that was born bad."