I watched this movie once as a teenager and it scared the hell out of me, and i am not easily scared. Blood, gore, men in masks with claws or ax-murderers are in my opinion not scary but psychological terror – which this movie has plenty of – really pins you down – because it is more real. And this movie is just that. It is like a two hour nightmare where things gradually built up until the truly frightening climactic ending. And boy, the last 10 minutes of the movie are genuinely scary. They dont make movies like that anymore – you know, where they rely on the acting, score and camera movement to create that kind of an atmosphere, mood and just that nightmarish horror. They make them all cgi or predictably bloody, but not this one. It is frightening from deep within. I liked how the changes in the characters, brought upon by something unknown, foreign – the house or whatever in it – are gradually introduced and very subtle so as to not create a checklist type of script, where you see them “changed” one by one and know who’s next. I also like that 70s hazy screen style they put over the frames as it does help give this movie that nightmarish feel.
I especially enjoyed seeing Bette Davis in this movie. There is a scene later on where she is tormented by something evil and you hear and see her struggling in bed, scared into paralysis but she doesnt die – that would be too predictable and easy; no, she is slowly, over the course of a day or two, tormented by something unknown and the fear and dread in her eyes that are brought upon by something no one can see or hear – boy that was scary and frightening. It was like you could feel the horror through her eyes. It also made me realize how much acting skill was required as the scene was shot with nothing really but Bette Davis on the bed and the score, which was introduced post-production. Now THAT is acting and film-making. THAT is truly creating an atmosphere of desolation and sheer terror without actually showing one drop of blood or having anyone else, but the subject under terror, in the room. No monster, no special effects, no murder weapons or knives – nothing. Just creating dread and fright through acting and atmosphere building.
What did annoy me, but that is minor really, where the ways in which the characters were sometimes seemingly incapable of expressing any kind of rational judgment, like when you stand in front of the house and you see the smokestack coming down and you know it will hit you, why keep looking at it and scream, instead of just running? And also, this is supposed to take place in California during the summer and if you know anything about California during summers then it is that it doesnt rain, especially not violent thunderstorms over a course of days. In that sense it was kinda scripted in order to probably introduce tension I guess, but overall really, it didnt matter. The location of the movie was irrelevant – it might have been anywhere.
Calling this movie a haunted house movie is misleading and understating, because it makes it look like some Halloween flick, but it is way more serious, more terrifying than that. So overall this is one chilling, terrorizingly nightmarish movie. I still remember the incredibly morbid, negative, and deeply scared feeling I got watching this 15 years ago and then again now.