Lili Taylor and Catherine Zeta-Jones in the House What Lives in a House Like This?

As Jan De Bont remakes The Haunting, the director and his high-profile cast talk about working in scary buildings

A Shivers feature by Alan Jones

selected from Shivers #67

It was only a matter of time before the Hollywood remake machine got around to The Haunting. For many people, director Robert Wise’s 1963 adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House is one of the scariest, eeriest and most highly regarded Horror films of all time. The reason why it has such a reputation is because Wise cleverly left everything up to the imagination. Icy caresses out of nowhere brushing the heroine’s cheek, unseen demons bending doors and strange dogs chasing the cast through the haunted mansion were enough to send contemporary audiences rushing for the exit doors in panic. Wise brilliantly returned to the psychological Horror genre he helped create in the Forties with The Haunting, and the supernatural saga was all the better for it.

But that’s precisely the reason why Jan de Bont, the director of the new big budget version of Jackson’s classic poltergeist tale for Dreamworks SKG, felt the story cried out for a modern update. The director of Twister and both Speed movies said, “They couldn’t do the story proper justice back then. There are more well-integrated special effects in my version than in the original. The book is far more disturbing than the Wise account of it because what Jackson came up with was how the house in question really came alive.

"My film is different because I’m able to show what the house is all about with the new technology available. In the Wise version you were told what was happening. Here you’ll be able to see it as well. A lot of it is still going to be left to the imagination, but in a far scarier way.”

The basic story of de Bont’s The Haunting, adapted by David Self, remains the same. A quartet of people are brought together to scientifically document reports of the spirits rumoured to reside in Hill House, a New England mansion steeped in a history of strange paranormal occurrences. Soon the group is at each other’s terrified throats and surviving until dawn no longer seems like a certainty – at least not with one’s sanity intact.

Now it’s the turn of Liam Neeson, Lili Taylor, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Owen Wilson to play the group of assorted telepaths, parapsychologists and sceptic investigators. Zeta-Jones went straight from filming Entrapment with Sean Connery to entrapment in a haunted house.The beautiful Welsh actress said, “I’m a bit scared of this type of film in truth. I can’t say I enjoy them. I did like Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen and that’s the genre The Haunting is in more than the knife-chasing one.”

She continued, “Many things scare me in real life. I hate being on helicopters, I have a phobia about rats – thank heavens I’ve never had to work with them – and the thought of being stalked is too frightening to contemplate. But while we were making the movie I wasn’t really scared at all. It was only looking back at rushes on the video monitor when I got a real sense of how scary it’s going to be. I’ve got far too vivid an imagination!”

Read the full interview feature in Shivers #67

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