An allegedly haunted house, built 90 years ago, has claimed numerous lives and created the fear surrounding it. In the modern day, Hill House has been inherited through its original family, but now remains uninhabited.
Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) is determined to find out the source of the haunting behind the house. He invites numerous people who have already had experiences with the supernatural, but only two show up - Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris) and Theodora (Claire Bloom). They are accompanied by another potential heir Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn).
After spending a few nights in the house, Markway is convinced of the haunting, but his experiment appears to be having a bad effect on Eleanor.
There are no visible ghosts in The Haunting. Nothing supernatural and nothing that can't be explained outside the character's own imaginations. On this premise, The Haunting can be classified as a study in the human mind, rather than declaring itself as an out and out horror movie.
That said, it is still scary. Director Robert Wise uses all the oldest tricks in the book (although, in 1963 they would have been relatively new), to put the audience in the shoes of the character so that we also fear their fears.
It is never revealed whether or not there is a ghoul, but the room stretches and molds in such a way that it is assumed to be inside the imagination of the protagonists. Sound and makeup are also cleverly used in the deception, but Wise is quick to provide a reasonable explanation for most of it, making us ponder the question; is it us that are going mad?
All in all it is easy to see how The Haunting reached the top of director Martin Scorsese's list of scariest horror films. I still protest that it isn't a horror, but it is still bloody (that is, figuratively) chilling.