Cinematic Hell: The Haunting (1999)
Adapting and/or remaking a form of media is so difficult and one of the most unappreciated things an artist can do. Nowadays, anytime anybody hears about an upcoming remake of a film, TV show etc. we all groan, roll our eyes and do other things to indicate our disapproval. Remaking or reworking a form of art is actually not that new, it's been around for a long time. For instance, the Pacino version of Scarface is actually a remake and it's considered to be one of the best movies of all time. Today's subject is not only a remake of a 1963 horror classic, but also an adaptation of a novel by Shirley Jackson. This whole talk about remakes and adaptations is a main topic here because I do want to acknowledge how difficult this process actually is. A lot of people forget that novels and movies are two completely different things. What works in a book may not work in a movie and vice versa. When it comes to remakes (especially when you're remaking a classic movie) changes and alterations are both inevitable and essential. One way or another, things within the original work will change.
With all that being said, let's look at one of the worst remakes of all time... The Haunting (1999). This is a remake of a Robert Wise film made in 1963. While the 1963 film is more about psychological horror, the remake is straight out Horror with jump scares and everything. Before we talk the atrocity directed by Speed and Twister director Jan De Bont, we need to take a quick look at the classic. Enjoy the good feelings while they last... here's a quick look at The Haunting (1963).
The Haunting (1963)
I recently discovered this movie thanks to Nostalgia Critic's review of the terrible remake. The original Haunting is very atmospheric, claustrophobic and psychologically draining. But all these things help the film stand out in a very exceptional way. The story centers around Eleanor Lance's journey into either madness or genuine supernatural terror. That's the interesting part of this film, we the audience never really know if there are any ghosts at all. For all we know, Eleanor and her companions have just gone insane and they see or feel things that aren't really there. And really, that's where the original Haunting succeeds as a Horror film. The whole point of fear is what's unknown or unfamiliar to us. So by the time the film ends, we don't know if we should feel sorry for these insane people or if we should be terrified of these ghosts we never see.
There's honestly a lot to interpret and pick apart about the original film. The characters are very fleshed out (with the exception of Luke who's just there mostly), there's a potential lesbian connection between Eleanor and Theo (yes, a lesbian love connection in a 1963 film happened), the camera work is probably the most fantastic stuff I've seen in awhile and of course the story in general holds up very well. In short, I highly recommend this movie especially on Halloween in a dark living room. Score: 10/10.
The Haunting (1999)
Thirty six years later, we got a remake that might just be the stupidest horror film ever. Even when you try to separate the original film and try to make the remake a stand alone movie, it's still a huge pile of shit. Jan De Bont's version has little connection to the Robert Wise film and clearly the only hand it has to play here is the CGI which we will get to later. Aside from the title and the character names, not much of the original story and characters are kept in the remake. Like I said before, I know changes in a remake are important. But the changes have to make some sense and you do have to show some kind of respect for the original work. Both of these principles are violated in the worst way and Bont's version of Haunting comes off more desperately silly than scary.
Eleanor (Lili Taylor), Theo (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Luke (Owen Wilson) are invited to participate in a study of insomnia (but it turns out to be a fear study) conducted by Dr. Marrow (Liam Neeson). Spooky stuff starts to happen, Eleanor at first seems to be insane and then out of nowhere the story becomes a very simple Good Vs. Evil plot. Why is this plot synopsis so vague and short? Well because the movie itself doesn't give that much of plot or thought. To put it simply, Jan De Bont's version of The Haunting is a cartoon with a villain, a heroine and CGI ghosts that are anything but scary. The first really big problem is the 1999 version seems to be relying on the CGI and Special effects to make the movie interesting. Apparently, Jan De Bont thought he could make Twister again except this time as a horror film. However, the CGI here is probably one of the worst I've seen in awhile. Though I will say the CGI in Catwoman (2004) is still the worst I've ever seen. Anyway, the effects here are very cartoonish and laughable to the point where the film's genre completely changes unintentionally. This easily could've been an adaptation of Disney's Haunted Mansion and no one would've noticed.
The characters and their arcs are also non existent. While the original film had interesting characters and an interesting plot with a lot of twists, this film is pretty damn basic with both of those components. Luke is mainly just annoying "comic relief", Dr. Marrow is the doctor that knows everything (at least the film wants us to think that), Eleanor is a blank slate and Theo is just a bisexual stereotype. Another huge change is the relationship between Eleanor and Theo. While the original was subtle and didn't really disclose Theo's or Eleanor's sexuality, the remake straight out tells us Theo is bisexual and Eleanor is at the very least curious. Honestly, the whole bisexual thing is kept in mainly because of fan service and the for the longest time up until recently bisexuality was seen as "the in thing" especially in the late 90's and early 2000's. Clearly Jan De Bont doesn't care about the whole attraction Eleanor and Theo share because both characters/actresses have no connection whatsoever. The possible love subplot is barely touched upon and seems to be there as an after thought.
I won't spend too much time talking about the acting because really the cast suffers from a bad script and detached directing. Liam Neeson is on auto pilot, Jones seems to have come down with "Sharon Stone Disorder" where she basically sounds sexy all the time and Owen Wilson again is stock comic relief that you've seen a thousand times. Poor Lili Taylor is the only one giving a shit in this entire movie. She gives it her all but all that acting power is in the wrong role and in the wrong movie.
Jan De Bont's The Haunting is not scary or thoughtful. The 1963 film challenges you both on a horror level and a psychological level. The Remake on the other hand simplifies the plot and characters in exchange for visual effects that were dated then and especially dated now. As an adaptation, it's highly disrespectful. As a stand alone movie, it's a silly and bland horror film with no real merits or rewatch value. Forgettable at best and painful at worst, The Haunting remake is a huge cluster fuck from beginning to end. Just stick to the original and forget the 5 time Razzie nominated catastrophe. Score: 1/10.