The Haunting is a 1999 horror film.
10 out of 10 stars. This is a terrifying film with a clever and engaging plot. The CGI is awesome.
The film begins with Eleanor Vance, a devoted young woman who cared for her ill mother for 11 years. As part of her mother’s will, the home she’s lived in for 11 years now reverts to her older selfish sister and her worthless husband, leaving Nell homeless. Then she receives a phone call from Dr. David Morrow saying there’s an ad in the paper for a sleep study that would provide her with a temporary home as long as the study lasts. (We find out later that Dr. Morrow never made that call.)
The other two participants in this sleep study are Theo, a rich girl, and Luke, an athlete. Both suffer from insomnia. Along with Nell, Theo, Luke, and Dr. Morrow, are his two grad students who, over the course of the following week, are supposed to feign seeing ghosts and other supernatural disturbances in order to scare Nell, Theo, and Luke. The real purpose of the sleep study is to study fear and Dr. Morrow and his grad students will be subjecting the participants to events that will scare them.
The house is Hill House, built by the legendary textile tycoon Hugh Crane 130 years ago. Crane’s children were all stillborn and his wife Renee eventually killed herself. Crane then became a recluse, but he continued to building, making the mansion bigger for kids he didn’t have. So the mansion is quite large, filled with eerie rooms and huge sculptures. In many of the rooms are children carved into the woodwork, giving it an even more eerie feel.
The first night in HIll House, one of Marrow’s grad students starts to act frightened to scare the others with mass hysteria. A piano wire snaps, hitting her in the eye, and the other grad student rushes her to the hospital, leaving Dr. Morrow with the three test subjects. After this event, the gates mysteriously are chained and locked at night per the caretaker’s wishes. (This is the one plot hole and it’s a pretty big one.)
Later that evening, the children who are carved into the wall seem to come alive and speak to Nell. She falls asleep and wakes to a knocking noise followed by Theo yelling. Nell runs to Theo’s room as the room’s temperature drops and some entity tries to break through the door. Luke knocks on the opposite door and they let him in. He opens the door with the knocking and no one is there. Luke blames it on the plumbing and shows the women the sounds it makes when water moves through the pipes. But that doesn’t explain the shaking in the room or the drop in temperature. Morrow joins them and tries to suggest the women scared each other. Then they all go back to their rooms.
Morrow has everyone do mazes and other paper quizzes (silly). Luke tells Nell that Crane probably ran a sweat shop with kid labor and wasn’t the kind man everyone thought he was. (He’s right.) While Nell is sitting alone, Hugh Crane’s face appears in the fireplace. She screams and gets the others who investigate the fireplace. Luke and Morrow are almost killed by a giant metal flu that swings back and forth in the fireplace. Then the four of them find WELCOME HOME ELEANOR written in red paint across the wall. Everyone accuses each other of doing it. But barefoot prints in red paint lead down the hallway.
That night more red footprints appear in a trail leading from Nell’s bedroom so she follows them all the way to a secret study hidden behind a bookcase. Children appear in the mirror telling her to read the ledger, so she does. What she finds is that Crane employed a large number of adolescents (10, 11, 12 year olds) to work in his mills and they died. When she takes the ledger to Theo, Theo brushes it off and tells her to sleep. Instead, Nell tells the kids’ statues that she’s listening. When she sits down and brushes her hair an invisible hand coils her hair just like Renee Crane’s hair.
Nell finds Marrow’s tape recorder in which he states she’s scaring everyone. Then she sees Renee’s body hanging in the conservatory. She goes to Crane’s study looking for photos of Renee Crane and discovers he remarried a second wife, Caroline, who coiled her hair on the side and is wearing the same necklace Nell wears (from her dead mother). Caroline tells her to search the fireplace so she does. There are the bones of children there. The children whisper for her to free them. She runs to the door they point to and a giant hand comes out and pushes her away. Nell runs to the others, tells them everything, and Morrow confesses this is really a study on fear. Nell tells him it’s real. Crane took kids from the mills and locked them in his house. Caroline found out and tried stopping him.
Theo takes Nell to her room, tucks her in, and leaves. Hugh Crane comes into Nell’s room, only he’s a giant, and he terrorizes her. She runs from her room and he follows her. The children lead her to the conservatory where Renee died. The others find her there and assume she’s had some kind of emotional breakdown. They tuck Nell into bed then Morrow goes back to the conservatory where a giant statue of Hugh crane tries to drown him. Meanwhile the chandelier above Nell’s bed morphs into a metal contraption that pins her to her bed. She screams and the others come. They see the giant Hugh Crane trying to kill Nell and help free her. The four of them run to the gate which is chain-locked closed each night. Luke tries to crash the gate with Nell’s car and is almost killed. The children call to Nell and she runs back to the house.
What Nell figures out is that Caroline was her great great grandmother. She fled her evil husband and started over again in the city with her daughter. That’s what the children were trying to tell her. They attempt to leave and Hugh Crane’s ghost drags Luke into the fireplace with the massively large flu. It swings and decapitates Luke. Then all of the bones of the dead children come flying out of the fireplace. Crane attacks Theo next, but Nell fights him off and tells Theo and Morrow to run, so they do.
The children lead Nell to the doors of judgment where Nell provokes Crane to come and confront her. The guardians of the door nail Crane to the doors and free the souls of the children. And Nell dies and joins them..
When the caretakers unchain the gates in the morning, only Morrow and Theo are alive.
10 out of 10 stars. Terrifying.