THE HAUNTING

Susan Granger’s review of “THE HAUNTING” (DreamWorks)

Eugenio Zanetti is the star of this film, no question about it. He’s the production designer who created Hill House, a spectacular Gothic mansion that delivers one helluva performance as an ominous haunted house that captures the imaginations of its guests. Zanetti makes rooms collapse, even fold into themselves, and there’s a demonic bed whose canopy descends with tentacles like an octopus. Paintings, carvings, statues, even curtains come alive. And there’s the slow, ghostly breathing emanating from deep inside. The question is: why would Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Lili Taylor want to play second-fiddle to such an incredible creation that, in fact, makes them seem wooden? Looking terrified and screaming is really all that’s required in David Self’s inane script, based on Shirley Jackson’s scare-classic, “The Haunting of Hill House.” And the stylistic vision of director Jan DeBont (“Speed,” “Twister”) truly revolves around the special effects. As the story begins, Neeson, as a devious psychologist, brings three insomniacs to Hill House, outside Boston, for what he tells them is a sleep disorder study. In fact, he’s designed the experiment to observe the dynamics of fear, explaining: “You don’t tell the rats that they’re actually in a maze.” But his guests do know that, in the 1800s, a satanic textile manufacturer, Hugh Crain, erected this stately “Taj Mahal” for his beloved wife and their eight children, who are all buried nearby. What no one realizes is that Hill House has become Crain’s massive physical embodiment. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Haunting” is a spooky 4, playing tricks with your mind as you munch your popcorn. If you’re curious, director Robert Wise made a far more subtle, restrained version (1963), available on video.

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