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The Haunting (1999)
Director: Jan De Bont

review by Peter Schilling

Every time Hollywood remakes an acknowledged movie classic we tend to get the same old predictable reactions: tabloid hacks at advertising-dependent papers ignore its tired, derivative nature and praise its spectacle, while the genre literate (whatever the genre) critics trounce it simply for daring to revisit faded black and white glories - that were, if we are brutally honest, sometimes overrated to start with. The truth of any remake's quality as entertainment or further contribution to subgenre formats is, like many things, somewhere in between those polarised views. My opinion: what's so wrong about updating 'dated' old movies, anyway?
   Jan De Bont was - probably - the wrong choice to direct this new version of Robert Wise's 1963 chiller, though. Making such big action films as Twister and Speed hardly prepared him for generating the sort of modest spookiness clearly required of any haunted house movie. At least the main casting is in keeping with the demands of the material (Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lili Taylor), David Self's script transfers Shirley Jackson's novel, The Haunting Of Hill House to the screen, without much skill (again!), and the moribund result owes as much to John Hough's 1973 shocker, The Legend Of Hell House (adapted by Richard Matheson from his own book), as anything else. The house in The Haunting is clearly intended to be the antagonist in this story and, as film drama, this boasts ornately sculptured sets and oppressively baroque art direction that's to die for, better to support the excellent sound effects and some very fine 3D animation.
   The evil presence in the house, when revealed, manifests itself as a monstrous creature of dust and shadows - malevolent as anything described by Poe, or even Lovecraft - with a postmodern nod-and-a-wink to the likes of Dennis Wheatley and Ramsey Campbell. However, despite all these creditable elements, more than anything else, The Haunting still feels like a rejected Poltergeist sequel.
previously published in VideoVista #26
The Haunting
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