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"The Haunting" 1963, Robert Wise

Robert Wise’s 1963 Halloween horror film “The Haunting” is one of the more unique films made regarding anything spooky. This film was unique because of its plot, sound quality, character development, setting, and sexual orientation. The main character Theodora, who was played by Claire Bloom, had a controversial role where she is a lesbian, but it was not broadcasted and instead there were subtle hints put in place in some scenes. Her development from beginning to end was also unique because viewers had no idea she would end up wanting to stay in the house that once frightened her so much.

As the film got into full swing, viewers thought Theodora arrived at a haunted house, but at the end it was understood that the house was symbolic. It was confusing for viewers to differentiate between reality and what is going on because each character was able to hear the footsteps from ghosts, but only Theodora was hearing the voice. The house’s intention was to be a wakeup call for Theodora’s inner demons.

As to the most controversial issue, Theodora is a lesbian, and it was hinted when she was wearing an outfit with a tie and the other was when she was referring to Elanor as her companion while raising a glass to her lips in a seductive way. Elanor would say things to Theodora “What scares you, Theodora?” and Theodora would respond “Knowing what I want” which can be an indicator she is attracted to women. In 1963, the Gay and Lesbian community was slowly on the rise, but our society at the time felt unprepared for these changes. Because of this, Wise chose to cut a scene where he cut out a scene where Theodora had just broken up with her partner to make it less controversial.

There were several positive and negative outcomes of how the production turned out ranging from the budget and how the shots and sound effects were used. First, Wise had a disagreement with MGM in Los Angeles. As a result, he brought the film to MGM London who gave him a higher budget, which in this case, he chose to shoot the film in London. Following that decision, he proceeded to make this successful film. In his film, the narration, sound effects, camera angles and lighting were all matched up perfectly to set up the mood and tone. In addition, this film was shot in black and white which was likely deliberate to create a spooky or uneasy feeling to viewers where viewers may have a different feeling and takeaway if this was shot in color. Overall, the production team did a fantastic job with all of production which yielded the unconventional execution of tracking shots and that the best part of production was when the cinematographers were “imperfect” with the Panavision lenses. The lenses successfully illustrated the distortions and other special effects which makes this film look so unique.

This film was a classic because the camera work, character development, and content was all innovative for the time because the American film industry was in the process of transitioning to the New Wave era, which officially began four years later in 1967. Although this film had some controversial content, it still allowed the filmmaker to address, in a subtle way, the idea of a lesbian woman struggling during this time because of who she is.

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Michael Atkinson
Michael Atkinson
Oct 29, 2022

Love this movie. But why did you see Theodora -- who was definitely coded as gay -- as the main character? It was clearly Eleanora, whose sexuality seemed to be bottled up at best, and that repression was partly the cause for her neurotic need to seek sanctuary/identity with the house. Theodora, who was very comfortable with her sexuality, didn't.

Was it controversial in 1962? Not very -- and don't bother doing production research again, it's beside the point. Was it scary? Acting? (Harris was masterfully ill at ease.) Horror films are supposed to exploit our natural fear of loss of control -- did it do that?

Or was it really just a film about loneliness?

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