The Haunting | 1999
Jan De Bont’s remake of the beautifully understated, and scary, 1963 classic The Haunting, directed by Robert Wise, goes down the route of full-on, in-your-face CGI effects. Despite the impressive cast, it’s far too cartoonish to be scary.
Which is a shame because the film boasts astonishing set design and an equally amazing exterior location. ‘Hill House’ in ‘Berkshires’ for the Nineties is the gorgeously over-the-top Harlaxton Manor, a neo-Elizabethan folly built in 1837 for the slightly obsessive Gregory Gregory on the site of a genuine 14th Century manor house.
A ‘carport’ porch entrance was added for the film, and the extravagantly carved lettering, announcing the owner’s name and the date of building, is blanked out. Yes, they actually toned down Harlaxton for its screen appearance.
Three miles from Grantham on the A607 in Lincolnshire, and now home to Harlaxton College, part of the University of Evansville, it’s not generally open to the public, though it’s possible to book group tours and there are occasional open days.
Although most of the interiors were created on soundstages in Florida, the real Harlaxton is eccentrically extravagant in its own way. I don’t know whether it’s a tribute to the film’s Art Department or a mark of Harlaxton’s flamboyance that scenes filmed in the real house are indistinguishable from the sets.
The ‘Billiard Room’, where Dr Marrow (Liam Neeson) comforts Nell (Lili Taylor) after ‘Welcome home Eleanor’ is daubed on the walls, and where Nell later tells the other guests that Hugh Crain killed the children, is Harlaxton’s carved wood-panel Great Hall.
The kitchen scenes used Belvoir Castle, home of the Duke of Rutland, about six miles from Grantham in Leicestershire, previously featured in Barry Levinson’s Young Sherlock Holmes and, more recently, as ‘Castle Gandolfo’ in The Da Vinci Code. It’s pronounced ‘Beaver Castle’. Stop sniggering at the back.