Hello and welcome to Remaketober. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “What the hell is Remaketober?” “Oh god, this guy again.” “Doesn’t he ever shut up?” Well, to answer your question (your non-hurtful question that is) Remaketober is a proud Elessar tradition dating all the way back to last year when I first thought of it. Basically what I do is, every week of October I watch a horror film that has a remake followed closely by it’s remake(s). I then write an article where I compare and contrast them. And we’re kicking off Remaketober 2014 with a big one: The Haunting.
The original Haunting one of those classic horror films that I don’t know how many people, outside of film buffs, have actually seen. Oh that it’s a classic is not up for debate, and its influence can be felt in everything from the works of Stephen King to Hausu to even Videodrome. I just don’t know how many people have actually bothered to track it down.
Rewatching it for the first time in years, I was struck by how much is done with how little. It’s a film of subtly and atmosphere, vague hints and unanswered questions. It was directed by Robert Wise (who also directed such classics as The Sound of Music, West Side Story, The Sand Pebbles, The Andromeda Strain…I’ll stop) and even apart from being a master filmmaker, he never seems to want to state anything outright.
Take, for example, the character of Theo. Throughout the entire film, there are vague hints that she might be gay and/or infatuated with Eleanor but nothing is ever stated outright, and Eleanor’s gradually changing reactions to her help give us an insight into her mental state. And on that note, the decision to have Eleanor give constant voice over is really an excellent look into her gradually fraying psyche, as her descriptions of and reactions to events get farther from what the audience sees. It’s an interesting juxtaposition and it helps keep the tension high the entire time.
It’s all anchored by some great performances, particularly from Claire Bloom as Theo and Julie Harris as Eleanor. Harris plays her character like someone who has been out of the world so long that she doesn’t know much about social cues anymore (an early scene where she brings back up a subject after it had been dropped stands out to me). Combined with a great script and a bleak and ambiguous ending, it really stands out as one of the more masterful horror films of it’s age, and an undeniable classic.
Which is always a hard place to start when remaking a film.
The 1999 version of The Haunting is bad in ways that are completely and utterly unsurprising. All you need to know about it is that it’s a remake of a subtle and thoughtful horror film directed by the guy who’s best movie is probably still Speed (and who’s worst is literally anything else he’s directed) and you can probably imagine everything wrong with it. Crappy script? Check. Mediocre direction? Oh yeah. A complete and utter abandonment of subtly? What do you think? It’s probably the worst movie Liam Neeson was in in 1999, and that’s…saying something.
About the only thing that you couldn’t predict from that description is the films over-reliance on some hilariously dated CGI. Admittedly the movie can’t help its age, but this movie came out the same year as Phantom Menace, and the CGI has trouble reaching even those mediocre heights. Combined with some poor direction and bad monster design, I doubt the CGI ever looked anything more than subpar.
I will say one thing in this movie’s favor; Lili Taylor is really committed to her performance. She’s pretty alone in that; Liam Neeson is as checked out as he’s ever been, Owen Wilson is mostly just irritating and Catherine Zeta-Jones is, in this film, incapable of portraying any emotion other than ‘Sultry bisexual’ (seriously, her attempts at look devastated in the film’s finale are hilarious). But Lili Taylor is really giving it her all. I suspect she’s a fan of the original and was looking forward to this. It’s just a shame the script hands her terrible dialogue and a boring backstory.
On that note, the decision to remove the ambiguity of whether the supernatural stuff is real or not was a bad one, because without the movie is left to flounder around without much purpose. The new mystery behind Eleanor’s backstory is depressingly easy to figure out and boring when you get it. Without anything resembling tension or real stakes, the movie just meanders along until it gets to it’s incredibly dull climax and ending. There’s a scene, at about the 2/3rds mark, where a line from the original film is repeated, stripped of it’s context and thus made nonsensical, and it sort of sums up the entire film for me: a boring, lazy, cliched horror film, trying to survive on goodwill from the original.
That’s it for week 1 of Remaketober. Next week, we go a little more recent with The Woman in Black.