Sometimes They Come Back is here to take a look at the horror genre and its love for remakes! We’ll be discussing both the original movie and its remake (sometimes multiple remakes) in detail before deciding who comes out on top! Are the originals always the best? Let’s find out!
On a post-Halloween comedown it was a bit of a challenge to pick a good set of movies to do for this month’s post, but with Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House (2018) being pretty much the only thing everyone I know is watching right now, it made sense to take a look at the two movies which were also inspired by Shirley Jackson’s book The Haunting of Hill House (1959) – The Haunting (1963) and The Haunting (1999). Not to be confused with The House on Haunted Hill (1959) and (1999) or The Legend of Hell House (1973), though they do all have similar plots of a group of people heading into old, scary houses when they should know better.
I’m going to put a mild spoiler warning for The Haunting of Hill House at the start of this post, simply because a lot of the events of the Netflix series do happen in both the movies, though the character set up and overall plot are actually very different. But you have been warned!
The Haunting (1963)
The Haunting (1963) was a movie I had never seen until I started prepping this article, but as it appears on a number of the top horror movie lists out there, I was excited to tick another classic horror off my list.
We open with a passage from The Haunting of Hill House book, which is also used almost exactly in the Netflix series to emphasise that this house is pretty evil. No one is really sure why, but it was evil the moment it was built, and it’s probably not a good idea to live in it.
“An evil old house, the kind some people call haunted, is like an undiscovered country waiting to be explored. Hill House had stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more. Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there… walked alone.” – The Haunting (1963)
Our narrator tells us the story of Hill House – built by Hugh Crain for his wife and small daughter, his wife was killed in a horse carriage accident before she even set foot inside. With a small child to care for, Hugh remarried, only for his second wife to also die after an unexplained fall down the stairs.
Hugh himself dies after he drowns while visiting England, and so his daughter Abigail is left alone in the house, where she never leaves her nursery bedroom, even into old age. As an old woman, she hires the help of a local girl from the village to be her companion, who fails to come to Abigail’s aid one night when she calls for her (because she’s getting her rocks off on the patio), and Abigail ends up dead.
The companion inherits the house form Abigail and becomes a loner, never leaving the house until one day she hangs herself from the impressive mental staircase in the library. Ownership of the house now passes to Mrs Sanderson, who we see our narrator (Dr John Markway) talking to.
Dr Markway wants to investigate whether the house is indeed haunted, and needs Mrs Sanderson’s permission to take a group of people there so he can conduct a proper study.
While Mrs Sanderson is wary about Dr Markway going to the house (“The dead are not quiet in Hill House”), she agrees and suggests that he take her nephew Luke along with him as he is to inherit the property eventually, so can make sure that nothing bad happens to it.
We then cut to Eleanor, our main character, who is trying to convince her sister to let her take the car so she can drive to Hill House, where she is expected. Eleanor now sleeps on her sister’s couch, after spending the last few years caring for their invalid mother. However, their mother has recently died, and Eleanor is racked with guilt over the whole thing and has nowhere else to go. Eleanor’s sister isn’t the nicest person in the world, and I can see why the prospect of heading to a haunted house with a group of people you’ve never met is a much more inviting prospect.
She eventually takes the car without her sister knowing, and heads off for what she calls the first vacation she’s had in forever. There’s a lot of internal monologuing from Eleanor, so if you didn’t pick up on her unhinged state and deeper dive into madness as the film progresses on your own, you’ve got her constantly talking about it to keep you up to speed.
When she arrives at Hill House, Mr Dudley, one half of the married couple who looks after Hill House, is reluctant to let her in the heavily chained gate, but after Eleanor screams at him, he decides to let her in. Probably looking forward to the house getting rid of her.
Mrs Dudley greets Eleanor at the door and shows her to her room. She makes a worryingly strong point of saying that no one will be around after dark if they need help, as they go back to their house and no one will come any closer than town. “No one will come any nearer than that. In the night. In the dark.”
This might be most people’s cue to leave but just then our second guest shows up – Theo the sassy, lesbian psychic is here to save the day. Their rooms are joined via a shared bathroom, and she and Eleanor quickly become friends.
As Eleanor and Theo head downstairs to try and find the Dr (and more importantly dinner), Eleanor feels that there’s something in the hall watching them, but before anything more can materialise, Dr Markway (call me John) pops out of the dining room and ushers them inside.
Apparently, Hugh Crain created the house, so all the angles are slightly off, giving the house a very disorientating feel, and meaning that doors frequently close of their own accord. When Luke shows up, the group is complete, though Dr Markway reveals there should have been six attendees, but three of them dropped out. He selected people who have had a brush with the supernatural already. Theo’s ESP makes her a good candidate for the study, and Eleanor had a brush with supernatural activity as a child when it rained stones on her house for three days straight. Dr Markway is hoping Theo and Eleanor will stimulate the house (gross) and allow him to prove that the supernatural does exist.
Dr Markway provides them all with forms which they are to fill out at the end of each day to track any supernatural occurrences, and then sends them all off to bed.
Nell locks herself in her bedroom after being a little unnerved by the house but is soon woken by Theo calling for her from the next room. Outside in the hallway, there is a lot of loud banging on the walls, which Eleanor believes is looking for the room she is in. Eventually, the handle on the door starts to jiggle, leading Eleanor to ask Theo if she locked the door. Whoops, she hasn’t, and to add to the creep factor we hear a woman’s maniacal laughter.
Just then Dr Markway and Luke show up, as they had been chasing what they thought was a dog in the garden after they heard it running through the house. Dr Markway doesn’t think that it’s an accident that the men were lured outside by a distraction while the women were harassed in the house, and suggests that something was trying to separate them.
Eleanor is so desperate not to go back to her shite life with her sister that’s she a little too keen to stay in Hill House, and even when the group find “HELP ELEANOR COME HOME” scrawled on one of the walls, she still can’t be persuaded to leave.
The next morning the group take a tour of the house so Dr Markway can fill them in on some of the history of the place. In the conservatory, there is a huge statue, which apparently was not listed on the house’s inventory, that Theo thinks represents Hugh Crain and all the women in his life who have met their end in Hill House. As any normal person does, Eleanor has a wee dance with Hugh after Theo makes fun of her for not being able to dance, and the door in the conservatory flies open of its own accord. Or because of weird angles. Who knows?
The tour ends in the library, which Nell cannot enter due to the rancid smell that only seems to affect her, and reminds her of her time looking after her ill mother. The rest of the group enter undeterred, and we discover that Abigail’s companion hung herself in this room, which also boasts a very wobbly, metal staircase.
Dr Markway leaves to find Eleanor, and finds her outside, almost toppling over the edge of a balcony. Dr Markway is worried the experiment is affecting Eleanor’s wellbeing, but rather than being worried about the long-term damage it will do to her mental state, he’s more worried she will invalidate his experiment if she’s hallucinating. He requests that Eleanor moves into Theo’s room so she can keep an eye on her deteriorating housemate.
The women immediately bond over brandy and pedicures, and Eleanor lies about a wonderful apartment she lives in back in the city in order to hide how pitiful her life actually is. Despite this, Eleanor says she never wants to leave Hill House – ever.
Meanwhile, the men of the group have discovered a cold spot outside one of the rooms on the upper floor – the nursery. This is the room that Abigail spent her entire life in, and what Dr Markway describes as the heart of the Hill House. Luke is keen to enter the room to see what’s going on, but Dr Markway wants to “keep the lid on the pressure cooker a little longer.”
Eleanor and Theo head back to their room, and in the middle of the night the sound disturbances start again. Eleanor hears speaking and laughing and asks Theo to hold her hand. As the noises intensify, Eleanor complains Theo is crushing her hand, but when Eleanor eventually screams, we find out she is asleep on the couch and Theo is a good few feet away, asleep on one of the beds. Eleanor asks the question we’re all wondering – “Whose hand was I holding?”
The following day, Eleanor and Dr Markway are discussing Eleanor’s mother. She reveals that on the night her mother died she heard her knocking, but for once ignored her, much like Abigail Crain’s companion. Dr Markway’s wife (Grace) also arrives, much to the chagrin of Eleanor, who fancies him and wasn’t aware he was married.
Grace informs Dr Markway that reporters have found out what he is up to, and she wants him to give up on the study, so people don’t think he’s weird. When he refuses, Grace decides to stay in the house as well, despite the fact she doesn’t remotely believe in ghosts. She decides to sleep in the nursery at Eleanor’s rather ill-timed suggestion because if she’s going to stay in a haunted house, she wants to stay where there is the most chance of ghostly activity. When they head upstairs, the locked nursery door is suddenly open, and the stubborn Grace heads inside.
Dr Markway decides they should take turns guarding the nursery in case anything spooky goes down, with Luke taking the first watch. However, when he nips downstairs for a drink, the door to the living room slams shut, trapping the original four housemates inside.
The sounds start throughout the house, culminating behind the living room door, which soon begins to bulge abnormally, as though something is trying it’s hardest to break through. The sounds then start above them, and Dr Markway runs upstairs to check on Grace; however, she is missing. Eleanor thinks the mysterious presence is looking for her – ransacking the house until it finds her and takes her. She heads off to have another wee dance with Hugh Craine’s statue, and when Theo tells her she thinks Eleanor needs to get out of there pronto, Eleanor runs off and hides.
She heads to the library, where the horrible smell is now gone and climbs the precarious staircase. When the rest of the group eventually find her, Dr Markway heads up the stairs after her to rescue her, but as he reaches the top Eleanor almost tips herself over the edge of the stairs. As Dr Markway saves her, Grace pops out of a trapdoor in the ceiling and quite rightfully scares the bejesus out of Eleanor.
The group decide it’s really time for Eleanor to leave, even though she’s desperate to stay, even going so far as begging them to ask if Mrs Dudley needs any help to look after the house. She is also super pissed that the house appears to have claimed Grace, as Eleanor believes she has stolen her rightful place in the house.
Luke offers to drive her home, but when he returns to get the key for the gate, Eleanor steals the car and drives off. As she’s making her escape, a force seems to take over the car, much to Eleanor’s delight. However, Grace suddenly runs across the front of the car, causing Eleanor to crash into the same tree that killed Hugh Craine’s wife years earlier.
Dr Markway confirms that Eleanor is dead, and Grace reappears looking very dishevelled for having only been missing for like an hour. She says she got lost and ended up in the attic, and whether a ghostly presence was actually involved in her disappearance, or she’s just got a terrible sense of direction, it’s clear that the appearance the house had taken her was enough to push Eleanor over the edge.
While Luke thinks Eleanor drove at the tree on purpose, Dr Markway thinks there was something in the car with her that may have taken control at the end. Theo remarks that at least Eleanor got what she wanted – to stay with the house forever.
The Haunting (1999)
Unlike the 1963 version, I have actually seen The Haunting (1999) many times. As this movie only got a 12 rating in the UK, it was the type of thing that was on BBC One on a Saturday evening quite a lot, and as I would take the chance to watch as much horror as I could get away with, it’s one I’ve seen more than once. Does that mean I like it? Well, we’ll see, but I’m not going to lie, it’s always fun to see Owen Wilson get his head knocked off by a giant lion’s head.
This version of the movie opens with Eleanor (Lili Taylor) dealing with the aftermath of her mother’s death. After caring for her for 11 years, Eleanor faces having to move in with her sister, after her delightful brother-in-law is intent on selling the mother’s apartment to get more money.
Eleanor finds a necklace hanging from her mother’s bed which she pops on and soon after receives a rather well-timed phone call where she is directed to an advert in the paper about a local sleep study taking place, where participants are paid $900 per week to take part. The prospect of the money, a little adventure, and some time away from her awful family are too tempting for Eleanor, and she signs up right away.
We’re then introduced to Dr Marrow (Liam Neeson), who is running the study, although it turns out he’s lying about his intentions. In actuality, he has lured a bunch of people who all have sleep disorders to a haunted house in the middle nowhere to study fear. While his superiors point out the study isn’t exactly ethical if the participants don’t know what’s actually going on, Dr Marrow believes it’s important to keep them in the dark in order to gauge their genuine reactions to scary stimulus.
As expected, Eleanor turns up first at Hill House, meets the creepy-ass Dudleys, and is shown to her bedroom – the Red Room. On the way, they pass a lot of statues which just look primed to come to life later on in the movie, and a painting of Hugh Crain, the previous owner of the house. Now… I’m not sure what they were going for with this portrait. They obviously wanted to make Hugh Crain look quite scary, but instead of giving off a Ghostbuster II (1989) scary painting vibe, he looks like some mixture between Dr Hyde and someone in bad Planet of the Apes makeup. We get a shot of a photo album later which is even more ridiculous, and I actually laughed out loud at that one.
Eleanor’s room is full of cherub carvings – an excessive amount some may say, but she doesn’t have much time to focus on them as Mrs Dudley stars rattling off her speech about how they’re pretty much screwed once it gets dark.
Our next guest Theo (Catherine Zeta-Jones) turns up in a poor imitation of the original character. Yes, she’s sassy, but she’s not psychic, and there’s a passing comment made about her previously having a girlfriend as a well as a boyfriend. But considering she has Owen Wilson drooling over her for most of the movie, any hints of her sexuality are pretty much erased. She actually really reminds of the character Zeta-Jones played in High Fidelity (2000), who isn’t very likeable either.
Eleanor and Theo decide to explore the house, and compared to the 1963 house it’s a fucking funhouse! They discover a door with lots of carvings on it, which is said to represent the gates of hell and the souls carved there being stuck purgatory. They also discover a spinning hall of mirrors, complete with creepy funfair-style music, and a pond in the middle of a corridor which you have to cross using stepping stones. You can tell where all the money in this movie went, because let me tell you now, it was not on the CGI ghosts.
The women literally run into Luke (Owen Wilson) and discover he is the last participant in the study. Dr Marrow also shows up with two assistants – Mary and Todd.
As the group settles in for their first night in the house (and Theo is on her third outfit of the movie), Dr Marrow sets out the conditions for the study. There is to be no phones or TV, and the participants are not allowed to go into town during the day, though Marrow does have a phone for emergencies. He also hands them a stack of tests, which he will continue to administer throughout the experiment, to see how they are being affected.
He also tells the group about who Hugh Crain was and how the house came to be. Apparently, Crain made his fortune in textiles and built this giant house which he wanted to fill with the laughter of children. He married his beautiful wife Renee, but all of their children were stillborn. When Renee died, Hugh became a recluse and never left his massive mansion. He kept building and adding to Hill House, and the townsfolk swore they could hear the sounds of children at night.
Mary (who is apparently the psychic of the group now Theo has been diluted) says she doesn’t believe the story and she doesn’t like the house. When she strikes the string on a musical instrument on a table, which we see tuning itself as Mary is monologuing, it snaps in her face, leaving her injured. Both her and Todd leave for town to seek medical help, and that is literally the last time anyone ever references them ever again.
While outside, Dr Marrow tells Luke that Renee actually killed herself and that Hugh Crain drove her to it, though he asks Luke not to “tell the women”, even though that’s exactly what Luke does the minute he reenters the house.
Through Dr Marrow speaking into his dictaphone, we find out that this whole story was all part of the experiment, knowing full well Luke would immediately run inside and share this gruesome detail with Theo and Eleanor. It’s not really clear if he’s made up this part of the story, or just embellished the truth to try and make the house seem scarier than it actually is. In fact, I don’t know how haunted Dr Marrow believes the house to actually be, as his whole experiment seems to be just dropping enough scary hints to make his participants hysterical. However, if this is the case, maybe he could have picked a house that wasn’t remotely creepy or owned by a monstrous man. You know, just in case it did turn out to be haunted after all.
That night Eleanor is woken by what she thinks in her sleep-drunk state is her mother banging on the wall with her cane, but is actually something far more sinister. When Theo screams, Eleanor runs through their shared bathroom to see what’s the matter. The banging continues, teamed with otherworldly sounding roaring noises, and the temperature drops so low Theo and Eleanor can see their breath. When the door handle starts to rattle, Eleanor darts forward and locks the door and whatever is on the other side of the door seems to make its way into Eleanor’s room instead.
Luke rushes to their aid, after apparently hearing Theo call for him, and finds nothing untoward in either room. The men suggest it could have been the pipes, and perhaps Theo and Eleanor got swept up in each other’s fear, but Eleanor isn’t convinced. As she goes back to sleep, a ghostly child seems to appear in the bed next to her (brace yourself if you think this effect is a bad one), but she is mostly unconcerned, even though the child says “Find us, Eleanor”. No thanks dude, you can stay hidden, please.
The next day, Eleanor is completing some of the tests Dr Marrow gave her. She tells Luke as he passes how much she likes the house, which is impressive considering the terrifying events of the night before. A strange breeze seems to blow through the room, rattling the huge number of chains that hang within the fireplace, as well as moving Eleanor’s hair – though that soon turns into some unseen force actually pulling at large sections of her hair. Just then a huge shape moves in the fireplace, and Eleanor finally reacts and makes a run for it.
The rest of the group come to investigate what Eleanor saw and find a creepy trap door full of ash. Dr Marrow and Luke are also almost taken out by a giant, swinging floo shaped like a lion’s head. While Marrow seems satisfied this is what Eleanor must have seen earlier, she insists it wasn’t – she knows what she saw.
Just when the group already think Eleanor is reaching peak unhinged, they find Hugh Crain’s portrait scrawled with the words “WELCOME HOME ELEANOR” in red paint (though Eleanor repeatedly says it’s blood… it’s some sort of red liquid anyway. Blood wouldn’t be very practical. Use a pen, Sideshow Bob!). Hugh’s face also seems to have morphed into some grotesque skull. The group are so concerned with blaming Eleanor for writing the words for attention that they miss the little red footprints that lead off along the corridor.
Dr Marrow and Eleanor have a conversation in the conservatory, which is really only there so we can see the giant metal staircase (which seems to go nowhere) and the giant stone man having a giant stone bath in a pond. Later that night, Eleanor is awoken and eventually finds the paint feet on the floor and follows them to a bookcase, where she quickly discovers a secret door. Once inside a ghostly child helps her find a log book of all the people who worked in Crain’s textile mill. It seems everyone who died were children.
She tries to show the book to Theo, but Theo suggests she get some sleep. Back in her own room Eleanor starts trying to talk to the ghosts in the house, and they respond by once again restyling her hair – this time into something Princess Leia would be proud of. As she jumps back in fear, she clocks a painting on a woman on the wall who is also sporting the same strange hairdo.
It’s another beautiful morning in Hill House, no one is remotely worried about those two research assistants, and Eleanor is looking for Dr Marrow. She instead finds all his paperwork on a table, and listening to his dictaphone discovers that he thinks she painted the wall herself, even if she doesn’t realise it. She finds Luke and Theo in the conservatory, where somehow Luke has figured out the exact (and I mean word-for-word) true nature of Dr Marrow’s experiment. Eleanor glaces up to the pointless staircases and see the apparition of a hanging woman, which the other members of the group are unable to see.
Eleanor is really the only person who knows there’s more going on in the house than Dr Marrow pretending it’s haunted and heads off to find some further evidence to convince everyone else. Back in Hugh’s study, she finds a photo album (with the aforementioned hilarious photos of Hugh Crain), but also a photo of Hugh with his second wife Carolyn, who is the space-haired woman from the portrait in Eleanor’s room. Luckily for Eleanor (because this movie is starting to drag on), Carolyn’s image comes to life and points Eleanor back towards the fireplace and the trapdoor from earlier. Eleanor starts rooting around in the ash, and comes across some bones, before a full skeleton clearly on some sort of springboard launches itself at her.
Eleanor makes a run for it and comes across a tiny door which is locked and seems to be emitting a bad smell. Eleanor tries her best to get through the door, and a giant fist forms through the door and knocks her backwards.
Once she finds the rest of the group, Eleanor drops a knowledge bomb on them, even if it is knowledge which I’m not sure how she gained. Did the ghost children or the ghost second wife impart this knowledge? Did the skeleton whisper it to her when he popped out? Who knows. However, it turns out Crain stole a lot of children from his textile mill and kept them in his house. His second wife found out what was going on and made a run for it, and now Crain wants Eleanor as a replacement because his ghost is still in the house.
The rest of the group think Eleanor is a bit unstable, especially Dr Marrow, which is understandable as he apparently twisted the truth to implant scary suggestion in their minds. If that’s true, it’s impressive that he managed to basically lie, but it turns out to be the truth anyway. It’s confusing. Dr Marrow says he’s pulling the plug on the study and they can all leave in the morning when the Dudleys turn up with the keys to the gate. I mean what do they have to worry about when Dr Marrow made it all up, right? Dr Marrow does have a sneaky look at the trapdoor to see if it’s full of bodies, but the door is jammed, so he’s none the wiser.
Nell heads off to bed, again, and for some reason is left alone… again. A weird, black, jellyfish-like ghost enters her room (bad effects again), and the glass arches in her room change shape to resemble eyes. Every single cherub face in Eleanor’s room now goes from looking angelic to looking fucking terrified, and if that’s not a sign for Eleanor to leg it, I don’t know what is.
As Eleanor runs through the house, an actual giant appears to be chasing her, as the ceiling above her starts to cave in with giant footprints. For some reason, Eleanor runs into the carnival mirror room, because that’s a safe place to be, and sees a pregnant reflection of herself, who also says “Welcome home, Eleanor”. In a series of bad decisions, Eleanor also allows herself to be lured to the top of the deathtrap staircase. Dr Marrow decides to follow her to the top, despite it looking as stable as something constructed with twigs and butter, and even though the stairs tumble to the ground, he makes it to the top unharmed. Though I don’t know why they look so relieved, because I think they might be stuck up there now, and Dr Marrow’s phone gets smashed in the process.
Eleanor insists that she needs to stay because the children need her. Again, not sure how she knows this when the most the ghosts have said to her is “Welcome home” or “Find us”.
Once again Eleanor is packed off to bed, though at least this time they decide to keep a watch on her. Dr Marrow hangs out in the conservatory and is almost drowned when the giant bath man comes to life, pulls him under the water, and starts spewing blood. However, as this is a 12-rated movie, he doesn’t die, just gets a bit wet and runs off.
Meanwhile, Eleanor’s bed (which no character from a Final Destination movie would lie in, because it already looks like a deathtrap) comes to life. Like some deformed spider, it pins her to the mattress and drags her bed across the room, as a giant Hugh Crain face sprouts out of the ceiling.
After smashing the bed apart, the group run outside and try to break through the gates in order to escape. In the middle of this Eleanor asks how Dr Marrow knew the house wanted her when he invited her to the study. But Dr Marrow says he never phoned her. DUN DUN DUN! Now, I don’t think at any point we’re told that it was Dr Marrow that phoned her at the start of the movie, so this shocking reveal wasn’t very shocking. Also, who did phone her?
Luke crashes the gate with Eleanor’s car, but a particularly spiky part of the gate falls on the car, trapping Luke and bursting the petrol line in the process. As Theo and Dr Marrow help Luke escape, Eleanor has disappeared.
Back in the house, they find the tiny door open, and Eleanor is inside, in what appears to be a complete replica of her dead mother’s bedroom. Is this to encourage her to stay in the house or some weird portal to her actual house. Again, I’m not sure.
Again with her amazing knowledge, Eleanor reveals Huge Crain’s second wife was her great-great-grandmother, and therefore (somehow) all the dead children from the mill are her family, and she needs to save them. Even as ghosts he’s still hurting the children, so Eleanor is keen to keep them safe.
Luke has had enough and defaces Hugh Crain’s portrait in his rage, which leads to a possessed rug chucking him into the fireplace, as the lion floo swings down and decapitates him, in the most bloodless decapitation I have ever seen.
More knowledge from Eleanor now as she reveals the reason Hugh Crain built such a huge and complex house was so he could play hide and seek, albeit murderous hide and seek, with the children. And he’s still playing with them now, so Eleanor suggests to the group that they need to hide.
Predictably all those giant stone creatures start to come to life and attack the group, and on her journey, Eleanor spots another portrait of Crain’s second wife and notices she is wearing the necklace she found at her mother’s earlier. This seems to give her a final push to stand up to Hugh, and she shouts at him to come out and confront her.
Hugh’s ghost bursts out of his painting and rushes towards Eleanor as she stands in front of the purgatory door from earlier. As he shoves Eleanor into the door, the demon figures drag him through into hell, and gently lower Eleanor to the ground. As all the children’s’ spirits float away to their happy place, Eleanor dies… for reasons. It doesn’t really explain it, but then I don’t know why I’m shocked. But it’s fine because her very happy looking spirit floats away with that bunch of children she just met and wasn’t even related to. Just what every woman wants.
As the sun rises outside, Theo and Dr Marrow wait for the Dudley’s to rock up, who don’t look remotely surprised that there are only two of them left, and we get the horror circus music from the mirror room playing over the credits.
The Haunting (1963) vs The Haunting (1999) – The Final Verdict
This is a challenging comparison section to do because while there are a lot of problems with The Haunting (1999), I didn’t flat-out hate it. It was a movie I enjoyed as a kid, so I hold a bit of a soft spot for it, even if it’s not the best-made movie. But let’s take a look at the movies side-by-side and see which one comes out on top.
First up, what I did like about the remake was the fact they give us a little (just a little) more context to what Eleanor is up to and her experience within the house. We see her doing some research and finding some (about 25%) of the information about the house onscreen. There seems a slightly logical reason for her to get sucked into the house’s madness, and her empathy for all the little ghost babies is what lead her to try and take Hugh Crain on. However, there really is no reason for her character to die. In the 1963 movie Eleanor almost wants to become part of the house and to stay there forever, so when she dies, it seems the house and her have both got what they wanted. However, Eleanor in the 1999 movie could have helped the children escape purgatory and not have died. It seemed a very tacked on addition to the ending because Eleanor died in the original movie.
While I did like a bit of backstory to try and explain Eleanor’s actions, I did not like the insinuation that Huge Crain was the true evil entity in the remake, and not the house itself. Hill House is a terrifying building which was evil from the moment it was built, and it is really the house itself which lures people into it and makes bad things happen. In the remake, the house itself only seems to be evil because of Hugh Crain’s influence, and once he is banished to hell, presumably the house will return to normal. A house with a conscious mind is far scarier than a dead guy, and I wish they had stuck with this angle in the remake. This is probably because they wanted to go full-on ghost movie with the remake, and use as many ‘impressive’ effects as possible, and the use of Hugh Crain and all those dead children allowed them to make full use of this.
The remake also butchers the character of Theo. She oozes big dick energy in the original movie and tries to be a good friend to Eleanor while rocking her awesome psychic powers. In the remake, she changes clothes quite a lot and flirts with Luke. I’m pretty disappointed that her gayness is 100 times more obvious in the 1963 version over the 1999 version, where they clearly only chuck in the comment about her having a girlfriend for the male gaze and Luke’s horny benefit.
Finally, I don’t know why they decided to add the layer of Dr Marrow lying about the true nature of the study in the remake, and basically having him lie about the house being haunted when it actually was haunted. It just seemed over the top and a silly addition, and it seems it was to add a second sort of villain, and also to make Eleanor’s interactions with the ghosts seem even more delusional. However, we as the audience knew the house was haunted pretty early on, so it was really only for the benefit of the other characters in the house. I enjoyed Dr Markway in the 1963 film believing in ghosts and intentionally heading to a haunted house to see if anything actually paranormal is actually going on. And I don’t think it takes away from Eleanor’s descent into madness, as we’re still not sure if everything she’s experiencing is real or part of her desperate need to have something interesting happen in her life.
Basically, the remake comes across as a massive Hollywood-type horror movie that’s not very scary, is chock-full of awful effects, and has very little resemblance to the original movie. It feels like it was made to cash in on the cult status of the 1963 movie and not because they really wanted to try something different. However, it’s a good movie to watch if you’re a wee 12-year-old who isn’t allowed to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) the whole way through yet.
I didn’t love the 1963 movie, which I feel makes me an awful horror fan as I know how many top horror movie lists it appears on. I found the character of Eleanor quite annoying (which I’m sure was part of the intention) and found it a challenge to relate to her, and didn’t really care about her as much as I felt I should have for a central character. That’s perhaps one thing that the remake did better, as I did feel sorry for Eleanor. Even the initial setup with her sister makes her seem more of a victim, where the 1963 version seems a bit shrill and bratty.
Though I did much prefer the subtle approach to the horror, such as the creeping dread when Eleanor asks if Theo has locked her door just as the handle starts to turn. However, the two scariest bits in the movie aren’t even ghosts – it’s Grace popping up when you least expect her.
This is definitely one of the hardest winners I’ve had to pick because neither movie really scared me, even as a kid.