With a reputation of being the scariest film ever made, a classic, a ghost story beyond compare, it’s difficult to begin watching this film without carrying all that history and credence. So, let me put the story straight.
This could possibly be one of the finest movies you will ever see, forget ghost story and creepy goings on. Forget the reputation and just enjoy the film for what it is as this film contains some of the finest cinematography which I’ve ever seen. It’s a beautiful film to watch with some stunning performances which carry the simple plot which in turn, creates an atmospheric ghost film which is pretty tough to beat. It’s as close to the Innocents (1961) than any other film in that this film shows very little, only offering connotations and insulations, allowing the viewers mind to feed their imagination to a point of terror. A difficult task by any standard.
Robert Wise directs the film, which is based around the simple plot, an experiment in a spooky old mansion, plagued with historic rumours of haunting. Four ghost hunters spend the night to try to dismiss the tales, or prove the reality of the supernatural once and for all.
But, let me mention some other things about this film, as it seems to have all been said before. We all know it’s a beautiful looking film, groundbreaking in it’s day and almost very seldom bettered in it’s field. What works for me, apart from the obvious is the evolution of Eleanor Vance’s (Julie Harris) character. From the first few frames, she is portrayed, fresh faced, youthful, and at ease. As the film and plot build, her character tumbles into a downward spiral of insanity, but this is a very subtle demise at first, although the depths she finds are legendary. Along her journey, she’s pushed by various forces which are mainly that of the other guests at the house, rather than anything supernatural. Her obsession and attraction for the experiment leader, Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson) is probably the main contender and reasoning behind her insanity, as her character clings to unexplained events to gain the support from the Dr hoping for attention at any cost. The writing on the wall, a cry for attention, and possibly building a sense of horror, igniting that spark in the other gusts minds that possibly there is something unusual here. At the same time, she plays on the emotions of Theodora (Claire Bloom) which results in some dramatic, electric sexual chemistry, purely suggestive.
The film really pushes itself once Dr Marway’s wife Grace (Lois Maxwell) arrives. She’s over zealous, and cocky, but by this point, the rest of the guest are in a state of confusion and totally sold on the idea of spooks in the mansion. Eleanor also hits rock bottom at this point as she realises there is little hope of a relationship, but looks for any possible way to gain attention.
This is a revolution in cinema really. There are only a few moments which offer the viewer and the characters a sight of a possible supernatural being, but at this point, the characters are mostly tanked up on whisky. It’s an interesting film, as this is possibly not actually a ghost film. It’s a tale of insanity, despair and need of comfort. Eleanor craves affection at any length.
Full credit to the cast, but also Rob Wise for directing this masterpiece with Davis Boulton the key element and master stroke as DP.