Film My One Thing relates to a film that I’ve never forgotten – because it scared it me half to death, and the terror of that memory remains just as vivid as it did when I was the schoolgirl who crept out of bed to watch the late night TV films. Since then I’ve often thought about the nightmare tension of that film – all the melodramatic darkness that burrowed its way into my mind, and from which it has never re-emerged.
The Haunting, directed by Robert Wise in 1963 (since when it has obtained a certain cult status, with Martin Scorsese calling it one of the all-time scariest films that he has ever seen) is based on a novel by Shirley Jackson; herself the undoubted mistress of compelling psychological horror. And this is how her novel begins, with an atmosphere of implicit threat contained within these few short lines that is then more than fulfilled in Robert Wise’s visual adaptation –
“Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
Even today, that opening – the threat of the madness that haunts the house – still fills me with a sense of dread. I can almost relive the scene in which the vulnerable protagonist awakes from sleep to hear some monstrous banging sounds … like the beating of the giant heart of some animalistic, unseen ‘thing’ that is lurking outside in the corridor, trying to force its way on through the bulging bulk of the bedroom door.
There is also a cast iron staircase which swings and creaks as if alive, which seems on the verge of collapsing, just as the victim’s tortured mind is spiraling ever downwards into a private mental hell, while filled with the sense that she is cursed – her doom to be found within Hill House.
So – if there’s one scary film that I can recommend to you – the one film that I hope to watch again over this Christmas period, then it has to be The Haunting.
You can follow Essie on Twitter @essiefox. She's the writer of Victorian gothic novels. The Goddess and the Thief, her latest book, contains many ghostly elements. www.essiefox.com