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Until the blood freezes

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Film
German title Until the blood freezes
Original title The Haunting
Country of production USA/UK
Original language English
Year of publication 1963
Length 107 minutes
Age rating FSK 16
Staff
Director Robert Wise
Script Nelson Gidding
Production Robert Wise/MGM
Music Humphrey Searle
Camera Davis Boulton
Edited by Ernest Walter
Cast
  • Julie Harris: Eleanor Lance
  • Claire Bloom: Theodora
  • Richard Johnson: Dr. John Markway
  • Russ Tamblyn: Luke Sanderson
  • Fay Compton: Mrs. Sanderson
  • Lois Maxwell: Grace Markway
  • Rosalie Crutchley, Mrs. Dudley..
  • Valentine Dyall, Mr. Dudley..

Until the Blood Freezes is a 1963 American-British horror film directed by Robert Wise. It is based on the novel Haunted Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

Storyline

Dr. John Markway, professor of anthropology and parapsychology, tells the story of the infamous country estate “Hill House”, which has stood somewhere in New England for 90 years now. Built for his wife in the 19th century by wealthy Hugh Crain, however, she dies in a carriage accident minutes before seeing the house for the first time. Crain’s second wife also dies under mysterious circumstances in the gloomy house when she falls down a flight of stairs. Crain then leaves for England, but leaves his daughter Abigail behind at Hill House, where she spends her life without ever leaving her nursery. Taken care of as an old woman by a young girl from the village, Abigail dies one night while the girl is supposedly having fun with a boy and does not respond to being caned against the wall. The girl inherits the house, but years later hangs herself at the top of the spiral staircase in the house’s library.

Now, many years later, Markway has convinced the heiress of the house to let him use the country estate for a while to conduct an experiment. He wants to prove the existence of the supernatural. To do this, he has invited various psychically susceptible people.

One of them is Eleanor Lance, a faded spinster who until recently sacrificially cared for her ailing mother. After her mother’s death, Eleanor has been living with her sister more poorly than well and sees the invitation as a significant opportunity to turn her life around. Arriving at the estate, however, Eleanor is met with a frosty reception. Dudley, the caretaker, tries to scare her off at the gate of the estate’s driveway. Much greater, however, is her horror at the first sight of the house, a sprawling monstrosity of a gloomy, even menacing-looking structure that Eleanor fears is watching her. At the house she is met by the housekeeper, Mrs. Dudley, who coolly and at the same time somewhat crazily points out that the couple live in the village and that “no one will be there if you scream … in the night … in the dark!”

Eleanor is dissuaded from leaving the house by the arrival of another guest: the brash Theodora takes a biting joke and some verbal jabs at the strange lady of the house and the cluttered, cramped and gloomy-looking building. In the process, it is noticeable that Thea seems to know things about Eleanor without her mentioning them. On a first tour, the two women promptly get lost, and for the first time both feel an unusual chill and strange presence in the house, supposedly stalking them. As panic spreads, Markway suddenly appears and leads them into lighter chambers. He explains to them that Hill House can literally be called “weird”; there is apparently not a single right angle in the entire house, which is why doors open and close without assistance.

Markway’s charming ways make an impression on Eleanor, to which Thea reacts slightly jealously. In the dining room, they finally meet the last guest, young Luke Sanderson, a relative of the current landlady. Luke is a sufficiently charming, if mainly interested in money, greyhound who treats the whole enterprise with obvious derision. At dinner afterwards, they learn that all the other candidates for the experiment have cancelled, and Markway explains to the two women why they, of all people, were chosen. Eleanor, however, adamantly denies the poltergeist phenomenon to which she is said to have been subject as a child. Markway doubts his choice of person for the first time, but Eleanor is determined to stay in the group, as they represent something of a new family and the house a new home.

Then, on her first night in the house, Eleanor is awakened by a distant thumping that she thinks is her mother knocking. Thea and she panic, especially when something unknown bangs on her bedroom door with elemental force. Grinding noises can be heard, and something is trying to move the doorknob. Only when the “haunting” is over are they able to make contact with Luke and Markway, who were oblivious to everything because they were chasing a dog or something similar in the backyard. Markway fears that the house is trying to separate them.

The next morning, nothing can dissuade Eleanor from staying at Hill House. She is convinced that something must happen to change her life. Shortly thereafter, a message written in chalk on a corridor wall reads, “Help Eleanor come home!” Eleanor becomes hysterical and accuses the others of being the author of the message, and can only be calmed down with difficulty. Further exploration of the house reveals a conservatory containing a large group sculpture, which they ridicule as some sort of family portrait, but Eleanor playfully goes along with it and dances absorbedly with the imaginary homeowner.

Shortly after, they also want to explore the library, but the stale smell reminds Eleanor of her mother’s hospital room, and she refuses to enter. It is dominated by a gigantic gloomy spiral staircase, which turns out to be rickety and dilapidated. Meanwhile, Eleanor fantasizes about the caregiver’s death and nearly falls off the balcony; Markway is able to save her at the last moment. Again, he wants to send her away, but then decides against it because of the experiment. However, for safety, the women are to spend the night together. Thea tries to find out about Eleanor, but she fibs to her about her non-existent new life. Late in the evening, another cold spot is discovered outside Abigail’s nursery, which is always locked, but no one can explain it.

At bedtime, the women get into an argument, not least because Thea’s telepathic talent gives the lie to Eleanor’s tales. In the darkness, however, Eleanor hears unexplained noises. A child cries and sobs, a monotone voice memorizes a religious chant, a face, it seems, looms in the wallpaper. In hopeless terror, Eleanor believes that the equally terrified Thea is holding her hand, eventually crushing it until she can stand it no longer and jumps up screaming. But when the lights come on, Thea is in bed and Eleanor is on a distant divan. Shaken, Eleanor asks whose hand she has been holding all this time.

The next morning, Markway tries to allay Eleanor’s fears by saying there was no real threat, but she surrenders to the complex of being to blame for her mother’s death because she didn’t listen to her knocks. When he tries to reassure her, she comes close to revealing her feelings to him, but Markway is too attached to his work. Instead, Thea teases her for her lies. Just then, a new visitor arrives at Hill House: Grace Markway, his wife. She thinks her husband’s work is ridiculous and he wants her to leave immediately, but Eleanor teases her by mentioning the nursery as the house’s “haunted room.” Indeed, surprisingly, the door of the room is suddenly open – Grace will spend the night there.

Markway orders everyone else into the parlor for the night; Luke stays behind as a guard outside the nursery. As he sneaks into the parlor for a sip of whiskey that night, the door slams, and the four of them again hear the sounds from the first night. Again something bangs against the door, which curves inward as if it were breathing. Then the sounds move away toward the nursery, alarming Markway. A confusion about what to do ensues, during which Eleanor separates herself from the others. Seeing no more chances with Markway, she surrenders to the will of the house she feels she belongs to. She even climbs the old spiral staircase in the library, from which she must rescue Markway at the risk of her life. Just as she is about to descend, she sees the terrified Grace peering through a trapdoor and is nearly scared to death.

Markway now arranges a quick departure for Eleanor, although Grace is still not found. Eleanor is against this and refuses to leave her new “home”. When the friends are inattentive for a moment, she starts the car and drives off. Still on the property, she sees a shadowy figure and steers the car into the tree under which the first Mrs. Crain died. By the time they retrieve her, she’s dead, and Grace shows up at the park. It’s possible she was the figure. The house got what it wanted. Luke comments on the sight of the gloomy masonry by saying, “Burn it to the ground. And sprinkle the earth with salt.

Reception

Until the Blood Freezes is one of the best-known horror and scary films. While this genre often tries to create horror with visual supernaturalism (ghosts, monsters, vampires) or with violent effects, director Robert Wise concentrated in this film on creating an underlying fear by foregoing visible monsters (the house itself is the evil) and visual gimmickry, and instead concentrating on atmosphere and mood. He achieves this primarily through innovative camerawork (“subjectification”) and editing techniques (frequent changes of perspective), as well as a quiet soundscape that comes to the fore at crucial moments. Thus, one repeatedly hears Eleanor’s thoughts as a haunting inner monologue.

Reviews

“An above-average spooky movie in the special effects department for the time it was made.”

Encyclopedia of International Film[1]

Production

Ettington Park

The exterior scenes were shot at the Ettington Park estate in England, which is now a hotel.[2] The interior shots were filmed at MGM British Studios in Borehamwood.

Lead actress Julie Harris tried to prevent any friendly relationship with Claire Bloom during filming, as this allowed her to better empathize with her role as the eccentric character. Only after the film was finished did Harris apologize to Bloom for this behavior and tell her why.

The costumes Claire Bloom wears in the film were designed by Mary Quant.

Aftermath

1999 saw the release of The Haunted M ansion, a free remake of Until the Blood Freezes. The 2018 Netflix series Haunted Hill House is also based on the novel by Shirley Jackson, and again leans more heavily on the original film – even including individual dialogue quotes (“Whose hand was I holding?”) in the series.

Literature

  • Shirley Jackson: Haunted Hill House. Diogenes, Zurich 1993, ISBN 3-257-22605-5.

Web links

Individual references

  1. Until the Blood Freezes. In: encyclopedia ofinternational film. Filmdienst, retrieved 2 March 2017. template:LdiF/maintenance/accessused
  2. Tony Reeves:The Haunting film locations.In: web presencemovie-locations.com. The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations, accessed 24 April 2013 (English).