Written by William Gray and Diana Maddox, based on a story by Russell Hunter, this is a classy haunted house movie. It stars the great George C. Scott as piano teacher and composer John Russell, who is still grieving the loss of his wife (Jean Marsh) and daughter in a tragic road accident (which opens the film), when he moves into an old mansion to start his life over.
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There’s a mysterious presence in this house that “doesn’t want people,” and Russell discovers that he must solve a 70-year-old murder before he can find peace within himself…
Cinematographer John Coquillon does a superb job, capturing quintessential spooky angles in the house, especially in the narrow confines of corridors leading to a dusty and heavily cobwebbed attic room – where the aforementioned murder occurred. Although it’s hard to accept some of the intuitive leaps made by Scott’s heroic ghost hunter as valid dramatically, there’s no escaping the atmospherics conjured by Peter Medak’s old-fashioned, yet nonetheless highly astute and non-exploitative, direction. This is a supernatural chiller, full of implied dangers, not a horror movie with lashings of gore. Its accumulation of strange incidents (curious banging noises, breaking windows) builds into an undeniable sense of unease and disquiet, which is neither stabilised nor dispelled by the séance where a medium’s automatic writing spells out doom for the villain of the piece. If you can watch the child’s red ball come bouncing downstairs, again – even after Russell has been out and thrown the ball away – without feeling a shiver, your central nervous system may require medical attention.
Melvyn Douglas is stalwart, and burdened with guilt over the amorality of his inherited wealth, as the aged senator with a secret past. Trish Van Devere (who was married to Scott at the time) is good as a sceptical local historian, and there are minor roles for Barry Morse, Eric Christmas, and John Colicos as an ill-fated police detective.
DVD extras: anamorphic transfer with Dolby digital 2.0 stereo English sound (plus German, Italian and Spanish soundtracks in mono), six language subtitles, animated photo gallery, a trailer, and exclusive director’s commentary.