Cinema: Spectercle

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The Haunting. A young woman in a filmy nightie sits bolt upright in bed. Bump. Bump. BUMP. BUMP. The noise comes from the corridor outside her room. Huge feet run past, run back, stop at the bedroom door. Silence. Something is listening. The young woman stares in alarm. Then softly a big body rubs against the door and at the crack beneath it snuffles a gigantic spectral snout. The young woman clutches her throat and—BANG! BANG! BANG!

BANG! The door is three inches thick and made of solid oak, but it shudders as if cannonballs were bounding off the other side. The young woman screams. No need. The door holds, the banging stops. Huge footsteps die into the distance. Silence. The young woman falls back on the bed and sobs with relief. "It's gone! It's gone!" Her eyes close weakly. When she opens them she sees that slowly, ever so slowly, the big brass knob on the d-d-d-door is t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-turning . . .

The young woman is Julie Harris, and the thing that is trying to get into her bedroom is the specter of Hill House. In Shirley Jackson's bestselling ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House, the specter is a sneaky spook that evidently intends to get between the sheets. In this movie version, directed by Robert Wise, the specter is slightly censored—what's left is just the usual commercial spirit. Whenever it appears, the violins on the sound track start to didder, doors open and shut by themselves, people stare about in terror and squeak: "The house, it's alive!" The picture, it's dead.