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The Haunting

The Haunting film poster
Directed by Jan de Bont
Produced by Donna Roth
Colin Wilson
Steven Spielberg (uncredited)
Written by Novel:
Shirley Jackson
David Self
Michael Tolkin
Starring Lili Taylor
Liam Neeson
Catherine Zeta-Jones
Owen Wilson
and Bruce Dern
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography Karl Walter Lindenlaub
Editing by Michael Kahn
Distributed by DreamWorks
Release date(s) July 23, 1999
Running time 113 minutes
Language English
Budget $80,000,000
Gross revenue $177,311,151

The Haunting is a 1999 remake of the 1963 horror film of the same name. Both films are based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, published in 1959. The Haunting was directed by Jan de Bont; the main actors are Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson and Lili Taylor. It was released in the United States on July 20, 1999.



Eleanor “Nell” Vance (Lili Taylor), a shy and rather plain-looking woman, has cared for her demanding invalid mother for eleven years. Soon after her mother dies, her sister (Virginia Madsen) evicts her. Nell then receives a telephone call, telling her about an advertisement for an insomnia study directed by Dr. David Marrow (Neeson) at Hill House—a secluded manor in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. Nell arrives first and meets Mr. Dudley (Bruce Dern) and Mrs. Dudley (Marian Seldes), a strange pair of caretakers who do not stay on the property after dark. Soon afterward, two other participants of the study arrive, extroverted Luke Sanderson (Wilson), and attractive, bisexual Theo (Zeta-Jones), along with Dr. Marrow and his two research assistants.

Unknown to the participants, Dr. Marrow’s true purpose is to study the psychological response to fear. Each night, the caretakers chain the gate outside Hill House, preventing anyone from getting in or out until morning, when the caretakers open the lock. There are not any working telephones inside Hill House (although Dr. Marrow initially has a cellphone) and the nearest town is several miles away. The house was chosen because of its isolation.

During their first night at the mansion, Dr. Marrow relates the story of Hill House. The house was built by Hugh Crain—a 19th century textile tycoon. Crain built the house for his wife, hoping to populate it with a large family of children; however, all of Crain’s children died during birth. Crain’s wife died before the house was finished, and Crain became a recluse. After he tells the story, his female assistant’s face is slashed by a snapped piano wire. The freak accident causes Marrow’s research assistants to leave the house, leaving the doctor alone with the study participants for the duration of the study. From this scene onward, the story diverges increasingly from the original novel and the movie of 1963.

The first night, Theo and Nell begin to experience strange phenomena within the house, including odd noises and an inexplicably cold air temperature in one room. Dr. Marrow placates Theo with explanations about the old house’s plumbing, but Nell (who seems to like the house otherwise) remains unconvinced. Her experiences intensify. Eventually, she sees apparitions, but the others suspect that she's inventing stories for attention or that she is mentally ill. Nell is confronted by the others after the main hallway is vandalized with the words "Welcome Home, Eleanor", and becomes distraught, determining to prove that the house is haunted by the souls of people victimized by Crain's cruelty. She learns that Crain became wealthy by exploiting kidnapped children for slave labor and murdering them when they were of no more use to him. He then burned the bodies in the house's fireplace to hide any evidence. She also learns that Crain had a second wife named Carolyn, of whom Nell is descended.

When Dr. Marrow reveals the dual nature of his study, Theo and Luke believe the pressures of being confined to the house are causing Nell to suffer a nervous breakdown. Dr. Marrow finally decides they must leave. Terrifying phenomena occur throughout the house—a statue in a nearby fountain comes to life and attempts to drown the doctor, and Nell is pinned to her bed by the spirit of the angry Hugh Crain. After freeing Nell, the four attempt to flee, but are trapped on the property. During that time, Nell asks Dr. Marrow how he knew the house wanted her (referring to the telephone call she received earlier). He does not know about any call and says the first time he spoke to Nell was at the house. When Luke tries to crash the gate with Nell's Gremlin, he fails and is trapped in the car. The car is leaking gasoline and Dr. Marrow and Theo free Luke from the car. While they are helping Luke, Nell goes back into the house, knowing that she cannot leave the children to be hurt by Crain. Luke, Theo, and Dr. Marrow go in search of Nell. Once they find her, she reveals her relation to Carolyn and how she must stay and help the children "pass-on". The other three try to run but Hugh Crain's evil spirit seals up the house, trapping them inside.

Theo, Luke and Dr. Marrow try to break the barred windows to get out, but Crain's spirit blocks the windows with furniture, and Marrow cuts his hand badly. While Nell and Theo tend to Marrow, Luke, frustrated, destroys a portrait of Hugh Crain with a candlestick. Crain's spirit drags Luke to the fireplace where he is decapitated by a lion-headed flue.

Nell tells Dr. Marrow and Theo they have to hide. Nell believes that she must avenge the souls of Crain's victims and invokes Crain's spirit to manifest and is able to lead him towards a huge iron door with the inscription "All Ye Who Stand Before These Doors Shall Be Judged" engraved on it. An avenging wind howls throughout the room and avenging spirits pull Crain's spirit into it. Nell is thrown into the door with him, inflicting fatal trauma on her body, but the spirits gently release her to lie on the ground, where her spirit rises up to heaven with the spirits of Crain's victims. After witnessing Nell's death, Theo and Dr. Marrow wait by the gate outside till the Dudleys come in the morning.

The Dudleys approach as the sun rises, and do not seem at all perplexed to find the car smashed into the front gate. Mr. Dudley asks Dr. Marrow if he found what he wanted to know, but the traumatized psychiatrist does not give an answer, neither does Theo. When the gate opens, the two silently walk out and down the road, leaving Hill House behind them.


Differences with the novel

  • The original novel is less bloody and much more subtle than the 1999 film. The male characters are not injured. The "ghostly" elements are experienced mainly by Eleanor and can all be considered imaginary, delusional, or contrived by human agency as well as being true ghostly events. Eleanor develops a strange affection for the house and is implied, eventually, as having pre-existing psychological troubles (or perhaps some sort of psychic ability): the doctor admits that he made a mistake by having her in the house, and dismisses her from the study. Eleanor dies (either by suicide or by ghostly intervention) by her car crashing into a tree just outside the House. (In the 1999 film, she dies when she is dragged into the iron doors along with Hugh Crain's malevolent spirit, and her soul later rises to heaven.)
  • Dr. Montague of the novel is re-named Dr. Marrow.
  • In the novel, Luke Sanderson survives his stay at Hill House.

Differences with the 1963 film version

  • The 1963 film is more faithful to the novel. It is less bloody and much more subtle than than the 1999 film. The male characters are not injured. The "ghostly" elements are experienced mainly by Eleanor and can all be considered imaginary, delusional, or contrived by human agency. Eleanor develops a strange affection for the house and is implied, eventually, as having pre-existing psychological troubles: the doctor admits that he made a mistake by having her in the house, and dismisses her from the study. As she drives away, her car crashes and she is killed.
  • For the 1963 version, Hugh Crain's first wife, Renee, died when her carriage crashed into a tree. However, in the remake, she hanged herself. It was also mentioned that the Crains had a daughter named Abigail. The remake mentions that the Crains never had children of their own as they all died in childbirth.
  • Eleanor is revealed to be a descendant of the Crains. (In the 1963 film, Luke is the relative).
  • Eleanor never develops romantic feelings for neither Luke nor Dr. Marrow, nor is Marrow married.
  • In the 1963 film, Theo's lesbianism is merely implied. There are also additional guests, Marrow's assistants, who leave after one of them is injured by Hugh Crain's spirit.


This film was originally to have been a collaboration between Steven Spielberg (mainly, as director) and Stephen King (as screenwriter), but the two had creative differences. King instead wrote the teleplay for Rose Red, a television miniseries that shares many elements with Jackson's source novel, The Haunting of Hill House, and the character of the real-life edifice Winchester Mystery House, in San Jose, California.

Harlaxton Manor, in England, was used as the exterior of the house, while many of the interior sets were built inside the dome-shaped hangar that once housed The Spruce Goose, near the permanently docked RMS Queen Mary steamship, in Long Beach, California.

Argentine production designer Eugenio Zanetti (Restoration - 1995 and What Dreams May Come - 1998) oversaw the set designs.


The film was a financial success, earning $91.2 million domestically and $177.3 million worldwide, with a budget of $80 million.[1] It was almost universally deprecated by critics who said that the screenplay was a mess and that the film was riddled with horror movie cliches and overdone CGI effects. Roger Ebert was one of few critics to give the film a positive review, praising the production design in particular.[2] He said that despite the thinly written characters, the film succeeded as a genuine thriller and was worth watching. As a result of the negative reviews, it was nominated for five Razzie Awards.[3]

In popular culture

The film was spoofed in Scary Movie 2.


  • The creaks and moans heard throughout the house were pre-recorded and played during filming in order to get a more natural expression of fear by the actors.
  • The house used in the film is located in Grantham, England and is owned by the University of Evansville (Indiana). It is used by students that study abroad. It is now called Harlaxton College.
  • The title of the movie was changed from "The Haunting of Hill House" (another film, House on Haunted Hill was to be released later that year).
  • Liam Neeson is afraid of heights so his fear when he was dangling off the flight of steps whilst trying to save Nell, required no acting.
  • Writer Michael Tolkin, as script fixer, did an uncredited re-write on the script.
  • The outside of Hill House, as well as some interiors were filmed in Harlaxton Manor, in England.
  • Liam Neeson nicknamed Catherine Zeta-Jones "The Welsh Gazelle", because they repeated a running take time after time, and he couldn't keep up with her.
  • Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel was hired originally to photograph the movie and even completed some of the filming, but left due to creative differences.
  • The project was originally with Dimension films, with Wes Craven hired to direct.
  • The enormous fireplace in Hill House was designed after the one in the movie Citizen Kane (1941). Catherine Zeta-Jones's character comments early in the film that the house's design is like "Charles Foster Kane meets the Munsters".
  • The official Spanish title for the film is "La Maldición, which translates as "The Curse".
  • This was the first film for uncredited executive producer Samuel Z. Arkoff in almost 15 years. It also gave him a chance to work with his daughter, Donna Roth, who was one of the producers.
  • At the time of its release, it was rumored that Steven Spielberg either directed some scenes or participated in post production because he did not like the results he saw. This was however never confirmed.


  1. ^ The Haunting at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ Roger Ebert. The Haunting, Chicago Sun-Times, July 1, 1999
  3. ^ Razzie Awards: 2000, Internet Movie Database

External links

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