Shirley Jackson's The Haunting Of Hill House has been filmed once before, in 1963. Also called The Haunting, the film (directed by Robert Wise of West Side Story, The Sound Of Music, and I Want To Live! fame) is a superb exercise in how atmosphere, suggestion, and acting can produce more terror than any amount of special effects or cheap thrills. It's almost too easy to point out how absurd it is that The Haunting would resurface several decades later as a vehicle for state-of-the-art special effects and little else. Minus some of the original's more burdensome qualities, like psychological complexity and a plot that makes sense, The Haunting stars Lili Taylor, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Owen Wilson as insomniacs who take up residence in an abandoned mansion to partake unwittingly in psychologist Liam Neeson's fear research. There, the group, and Taylor in particular, is menaced by supernatural beasties and things that go bump (loudly, and in DTS sound) in the night. Aside from its overall plot and a couple of scenes stolen directly from Wise's film, director Jan de Bont (Twister and both Speed films) seems primarily inspired by the haunted mansion at Disney World: Everything looks eerie, impressive, amusing, and cliched without being the least bit scary, and the ride goes too slow. De Bont's impressive cast is given little to do other than act all spookity-spoo, a situation that reaches its nadir at the perfunctory climax, a scene stolen from The Devil's Advocate, for heaven's sake. That The Haunting is currently playing opposite another horror film, The Blair Witch Project, proves another point that's almost too obvious to mention, but worth repeating: You can buy the special effects, but if that's all you have to offer, it won't amount to much.
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