THE F*CKING BLACK SHEEP: The Haunting (1999)

Last Updated on July 23, 2021

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

Directed by Jan de Bont

“And that’s what I love about this. It feels and acts big.”

I can be a bit of a hypocrite. But at least I realize that fact. I know that makes me a bit of an ass, but you know what, the Black Sheep just don’t care. So allow me to be a hypocrite and contradict myself.

I hate remakes. Especially within the realm of horror as most not only seem unnecessary, but they usually lack the very qualities that made the original special to begin with. Lately, nearly all genre remakes hail from the 1980s, but around the turn of the century, horror movies from the 1950/60s were the rage: House on Haunted Hill, 13 Ghosts, House of Wax, and The Haunting. Now my viewings on these older originals from forty plus years ago are sparse (unlike the 80s horror), but I’ve seen my share. While well made for their time and place, the originals don’t hold up in horror terms. They’re dated and some of them deserve recycle treatment. For instance, take John Carpenter’s The Thing versus Howard Hawks’ The Thing From Another World. They feel as if made in different centuries. Technology has improved to the extent that some ideas can be improved. The time span between films, along with removing black and white, makes it feel fresh and new. And if a new version can have that effect, why not do it?

So why the hell pick The Haunting? Well, I’ll get to that but let me explain that I know it isn’t perfect. In fact, some of it is insultingly bad. As for the 1963 original, it’s still on my list of classics to see so I won’t and can’t bring it in to compare. (Plus, if you’ve seen the original it hurts the examination of the remake.) However, when I originally saw the 1999 version in theaters 11 or so years ago (really? really?), I liked it. And I think I’m the only one. In fact, it seems people really hate the damn thing. I asked a few friends about it and my average reception was either an eye roll or “F*ck that movie. It blows.” However, after revisiting it, I came away with my positive thoughts still in place. The Haunting works if you watch it for what it is – a big time Hollywood horror production. It, with its John Candy-sized warts and all, plays out like an event, and that’s something that’s been missing from

the current slate of horror. Everything now is on the cheap – from the production to the actors. Nothing feels special. Nothing feels like a blockbuster. And that’s a damn shame.

I know it’s not exactly easy selling The Haunting as a good flick. It’s directed by Jan de Bont, who made his name as the Die Hard cinematographer (and the director of megahits Speed and Twister ). Unfortunately, this, along with the Tomb Raider sequel and Speed 2, essentially slaughtered his career with a butcher knife. Or maybe with a sickle (it had to be a big weapon.) Regardless, I like to look at a movie like The Haunting in context. When it was filmed. Where the actors were in their careers. Liam Neeson probably made this during a weekend off from Star Wars or maybe he wanted to buy a new boat. Zeta-Jones was at her sexiest after Entrapment (minus humping Sir Sean), so it is a little surprising she took on a secondary role. Most of all, it’s interesting to watch Owen Wilson, who’s great here one film before he really became a star (thanks to Jackie Chan and a pair of cowboy boots).

That’s three major stars in a single horror outing, something that hasn’t happened since…shit, I can’t think of one. Maybe Scream? Or is that a cast that’s no longer relevant? Wait, this year’s The Wolfman fits, but the point is big studio horror doesn’t happen very often. I like the cheap, gritty as much as the next fanboy, but sometimes, only every so often, I want a massive horror spectacular. And that’s what I love about The Haunting. It feels and acts big. It feels like something people need to watch together. It feels like a blockbuster. It feels like something a whole family could watch without mom running off puking because of the gore. Again, I don’t want a trend of PG-13 horror; I just want a few more large scale horror productions that recapture that old school Hollywood horror.

While I enjoy The Haunting, allow me to add some contradiction as I point out what comes with big budget horror. Bad, I mean awful special effects. The producers perhaps had too large of a budget to create effects that always go two steps too far. Everything seems way overdone starting with the sets. It’s like the most fancy pants house on earth. Everything — from the hallways, to the fireplaces, to the grounds, to the little kid heads carved into mantels — feels stupid and all Snookied (my new term, meaning near rottenly overdone). Of course, the movie tells us this in the beginning. Right after the opening credits and our characters enter the house, de Bont had to give us the creepy, over the top maid so we can understand how eerie this place was. The maid tells us that no one will come “in the night, in the dark.” Whoooo. Perhaps the most idiotic scene comes after main heroin Nell sees some kids and runs up some shoddy steps. Liam chases her, and as the stairs nearly and very obviously almost collapse, Owen points out that the stairs are indeed dangerous in case the audience was too stupid to realize. What’s worse, no one dies for 90 minutes (give us death!).

However, why these flaws may hurt the overall quality of the feature, I think it only enhances the haunted nature, the haunted tone of the story. The Haunting is one of the few ghost house films that effectively recaptured the spirit of horror lite. This isn’t supposed to be a blood soaked journey through death. This isn’t an inventive, gritty indie. This isn’t made for horror fan boys. This is a studio horror film with a big budget and big stars. Flaws are a plenty, but the movie holds its own. Maybe it’s overdone, but it never dives into absolute B movie category. Maybe it’s just a lower case b movie.

Agree? Disagree? Get the DVD and discover for yourself.


Source: Arrow in the Head

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