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Dr David Marrow (Liam Neeson) establishes an experiment on insomniacs in a huge, labyrinth-like deserted old mansion, Hill House, in order to study fear and how primal responses no longer fit the needs of modern life. The sleep disorder study is a ruse, but that has to be his secret, to make the experiment 'neutral'. Hill House is 9 kms from the nearest township. Nell is the first to arrive, invited by a phone call just after her mother died, whom Nell had nursed for years. Next is Theo (Catherine Zeta Jones), a glamour-puss of the world, followed by Luke (Owen Wilson), a cynical young man. Dr Marrow loses control of the experiment when the house begins to morph into ghosts of its past, as if trying to tell the story of its owner, the mysterious Hugh Crain (Charles Gunning).

"A great idea, this, incredibly badly executed. I am talking about the script and the direction, both of which are either sloppy or the editor has mangled the work and he had final cut. Great talents have come together to waste much money and time - theirs and ours. Two characters disappear in the first five minutes, without due reason; there's an accident and they head for town, and they're supposed to call when they find a doctor, but never do. And never reappear and are never mentioned again. The remaining characters are puppets going through silly motions, apparently for the sake of working the digital effects that make the house a suppliant ghost with gargoyles that come to tenuous life. Many of these are children, who are supposed to be sweet things held against their will; while the SFX is seamless and wondrous, the creatures are not that appealing, never mind sweet. Scenes after scene is set up without a continuous thought behind them. The story is thinner than Ally McBeal and the characters are as three dimensional as an advertising tag line. Which is what this film may have been: a tv commercial, possibly for plant food, since all the vegetation on and around the mansion is dead. Maybe the 'after' shot had it looking green. . . and then somebody said, 'let's not waste all this CGI work, let's whip up movie.' The other big problem with this film is its marketing angle, which is dislocating; 'Some houses are born bad' is the tag, implying the inert house having an evil seed in it. But the story has a different angle: Hill House is not the evil thing, it is manipulated by the ghost of Hugh Crain . . . and there is more but we needn't bother."
Andrew L. Urban

"The first opera that I ever saw as a child was a terrifying experience. I don't remember what the opera was, but I do remember that what scared me half to death was a statue which unexpectedly moved. There are statues that move in Jan de Bont's The Haunting, but I fear they did not scare me at all. If you're looking for a gripping horror flick that will make you hold your breath and revel in anticipating being scared this isn't it. It's hard to connect to this film, a Hollywood big budget, big star horror tale, that looks impressive, but ends up a pretty silly, hollow affair. The script is trite and predictable, with inanities like 'Are you alright?' being repeated ad nauseum, and the film is way too long. But, visually the effects are marvellous, with inventive morphing and imaginative production design that engages. So too does the cast, who certainly make the most of a ridiculous situation. Lily Taylor is convincingly vulnerable as the victim turned volunteer, Liam Neeson does the best he can, and Catherine Zeta Jones is a knockout, with a wardrobe to die for, when engaging in sleep therapy. The setting is straight out of the Addams Family extravagant architecture of gothic proportions, adorned with ornate, impressive decor. Massive fireplace, winding corridors, carnival-like maze, sweeping staircases and bookcases with secret doors all visually wonderful. Jerry Goldsmith's music is filled with minor keys, discords and intervals that jar, but somehow even that doesn't make the heart flutter nor quicken the pulse rate. It's all pretty frantic and contrived; a big disappointment, albeit an obviously expensive one."
Louise Keller

"Yet another Hollywood movie that yearns to be a Disneyworld ride, a wholly non narrative spectacle. Basically there's no characters, events, or plot. It's just four lost actors wandering round this incredible Addams Family mansion, like something out of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical: halls the size of basketball stadiums, mirrors, chandeliers, billowing red velvet curtains, ghostly whispers and rumbles in the night. In its corny Gothic excess, and director Jan de Bont's love of swooping the camera round for no obvious reason, The Haunting slightly recalls Dario Argento's romantic, bloody Italian horror films. However, there's little violence here, and even less gore. The main attraction is the digital effects: the entire house is supposed to be 'alive,' so any element of the decor - the bedposts, oil paintings, or tacky cherubs carved on the massive double doors - can suddenly change form, lunge out and attack. Unfortunately, since the ghosts haunting Hill House rarely injure or kill anyone, all this sound and fury seems laughable rather than scary. It's almost a big-budget Scooby-Doo episode: the computerised imagery blurs the line between live action and animation, while the random assortment of stars are similarly reduced to cartoons of themselves. Owen Wilson has little to do, Lili Taylor and Liam Neeson are pointlessly earnest, while Catherine Zeta-Jones as a feisty bisexual vamp is the most embarrassing thing since Uma Thurman in The Avengers. Her lewd winks and incredibly bad, tinny one-liners make her early scenes completely unwatchable, but luckily the script forgets about these traits after the first half hour. As you'll have gathered, The Haunting is a disaster, but it's also quite a singular experience. Maybe if it were an IMAX film...or in 3D..."
Jake Wilson

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CAST: Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson, Lili Taylor, Bruce Dern, Marian Seldes, Charles Gunning

PRODUCERS: Susan Arnold, Donna Arkoff Roth, Colin Wilson

DIRECTOR: Jan de Bont

SCRIPT: David Self

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Karl Waletr Lindenlaub ASC

EDITOR: Michael Kahn ACE

MUSIC: Jerry Goldsmith



RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 23, 1999

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