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The Haunting – Paramount Presents (Blu-ray Review)

One of the most banner years for cinema was 1999. There were so many great and notable releases in that year that its pretty unbelievable to take in. Liam Neeson happened to be in two big releases that summer. Unfortunately for him, they happened to be two films that weren’t very well received. In addition to Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Neeson also starred in Jan de Bont’s reimaginging of The Haunting of Hill House and Robert Wise’s 1963 film of the same title. Paramount Presents asks that we take another look at this film, twenty one years later, as they debut it for the first time on Blu-ray as part of the Paramount Presents collection. On top of having a new transfer, the film will also feature a brand new interview with director Jan de Bont. It arrives just in time for some Halloween viewing on October 20. You can order yourself a copy using the paid Amazon Associates link at the end of the review.

Film

This horror tale focuses on visitors to the secluded mansion of Hill House who have been called to the isolated location by Dr. David Marrow (Liam Neeson) as part of a study on insomnia. However, Marrow is really investigating fear, and he plans to scare the subjects, including the introverted Nell (Lili Taylor) and the seductive Theo (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Unfortunately for Marrow and everyone staying at Hill House, the manor is actually haunted by an evil spirit out to torment its guests.

Like many of you, when I left The Haunting pretty disappointed or moreso just strong unaffected by in 1999. Its greatest benefit seemed to be the ability to get the references in Scary Movie 2. And I haven’t sat down to watch the film since the summer of 1999. Returning to it now, despite Aaron Neuwirth’s incessant complaining about how bad he thinks it is upon news of it getting a Paramount Presents release, I was eager to go in with an open mind. I was eager to go in with low expectations and an open mind. Its been 20 years and I’m a different person and my film tastes and knowledge have grown and changed since then.

Unfortunately, the film didn’t really move the needle much for me. Most of my issues with it still remained. But this film isn’t bottom of the barrel garbage. There are some things it does quite well. Perhaps its seeing this outstanding new transfer from a 4K restoration that has me a little more positive about it, but it also could be that some things become more clear.

Regardless the material, Jan de Bont does quite a hell of a job in directing. He’s the key difference maker in making this feel much more elevated and having a more epic sense than other films that came around this time. Its nearest comparison would be 13 Ghosts. People would kill for more movies to looks and move like this one nowadays. There’s a glorious mansion crafted for this movie and de Bont gets every single cent he can out of it.

The camera really is the MVP of the film. It really knows how to make this house feel gigantic, huge and the inhabitants so miniscule and vulnerable. Pans and gliding shots gracefully wander through rooms and it feels like they almost even take their own angles and movements styles for individual rooms. You could almost sit and just let the camera tour you through the house. They also cut it together in an efficient geographical fashion too, so everything feels kinetic despite how large the house is.

Lili Taylor is quite good in the film and really has an endearing and sympathetic approach with a slight edge of mystery to her. She gets run through some dangerous effect and stunt scenarios and plays it like a pro. Catherine Zeta-Jones just showcases how radiant and magical her charisma was at the time, adding some zeal to every frame she inhabits. Oddly enough, this isn’t Liam Neeson’s finest hour. He feels very off balance in many scenes. Its uncertain whether you completely buy him as this guy. Which is quite odd considering he’s typically a very consistent performer.

Finding the positives on The Haunting felt a more a more constructive way to approach the film. I don’t need to rehash many of the points that are readily out there. And with 20 years removed from it, I found myself still pretty indifferent, but a solid “fine” with rewatching it. Mostly, I really loved just looking at it. There are some top notch sets in the film and technical skill behind the camera that make it a nicely made picture.

Video

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail The Haunting debuts on Blu-ray boasting a “brand new 4K master of the film”. And boy, does this thing look absolutely gorgeous. This is a polished, crisp, clear image with lots of details. Color saturation is terrific. The contrast here works itself some wonders. You’d be hard pressed not to find yourself just enjoying the film purely on how good this transfer looks. Especially since you get to tour so many different environments from within the house alone.

Depth:  The image has a very lovely depth of field with a nice three dimensional playing feel that feels spacious and free. Camera movements are super smooth and confident. Characters move naturally and fluid, with no issues regarding jitter or blur during any of the big action moments.

Black Levels:  Blacks are deep and at some lovely natural levels. Darkness is lovely, with great shadow work in the image. Hair follicles, surface texture and patterns are all quite clearly defined and not lost in the dark. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction:  Colors are pretty rich and bold in the palette displayed. Most of the pop here comes from Zeta-Jones’ attire and may some upholstery here and there. It features some terrific, refined saturation.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish of the film. Facial features and textures are quite clear here, from make-up brush strokes, to sweat, blemishes and more.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, English Audio Description, German 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English, English SDH, German, French, Japanese

DynamicsThe Haunting is one big party when it comes to the very active and engaging 5.1 Dolby TrueHD mix on this release. This sucker is loud and loose. It has a real thrill ride feel to it as the sound whooshes aross the room. Everything feels super present and puts you in the middle of it. There’s terrific ambiance and attention to 360 degrees of details in the room. Seriously, this track is wickedly impressive, you’d be hard pressed not give respect for how well done it is.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  The subwoofer planets really deep and just pounds during many action bits while also getting the normal every day stuff down to natural extensions.

Surround Sound Presentation:  Oh this mix has a zealous time sweeping around, haunting and attacking the room. No channel gets left unturned and every speaker matters. Its carries front to back and side to side with an impressive force and weight to it.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp. There are a lot of fun things done with them to make them feel not only part of the house, but to make you feel like you’re there in the house.

Extras

The Haunting, in first pressing, comes with a slip cover that folds open to reveal the original poster art for the film.

Filmmaker Focus: Director Jan de Bont on The Haunting (HD, 9:14) – de Bont opens by mentioning that Tom Cruise originally was involved in the early stages of the film. Because he wanted Lili Taylor in the lead, the studio forced him to cast a big name in Liam Neeson to accompany the film. Jan goes over details about the large and impressive sets. He goes into the bed attack and them doing their best with safety. “I felt really bad for her.” Jan mentioned they did have to add some more horror stuff inserts afterward.

Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (SD, 27:12) – Catherine Zeta-Jones hosts a behind the scenes/making of feature with interviews of the cast and crew taken on set. There’s lot of footage shooting and it delves into horror, the book, ghost studies, effects and more.

Theatrical Teaser Trailer (SD, 1:16)

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:23)

Summary

While I’m not sure the film is one we slept on back in 1999, I didn’t mind watching it and there are plenty of aspects to appreciate within. The Haunting is especially easy to take in with this very impressive new transfer and dynamite 5.1 audio track included on the Paramount Presents Blu-ray debut. Jan de Bont has a terrific interview which really allows you to open up your mind on some of the things he was going for on the film. For those curious, or fans of the film, you probably couldn’t ask for much better care given to it than this release.

This is a paid Amazon Associates link

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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