The Haunting  (Paramount Presents) – Blu-ray Review
Film Title: The Haunting (1999)
Release Date: 2020
Runtime: 112 minutes
Region Coding: Region Free
Distributor: Paramount Presents
Audio Format: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Aspect Ratio(s): 2.39:1
Version Reviewed: 2020 Paramount Presents Blu-ray
– Amazon Commissions Earned –
Blu-ray Release Date: 10/20/20
Director: Jan de Bont
Cast: Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson, Lili Taylor, Virginia Madsen, Bruce Dern, Marian Seldes, Alix Koromzay, Todd Field
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Full Blu-ray Tech Specs at bottom
“The Haunting” (1999), spine number 10 in the Paramount Presents Blu-ray series, was a suspense thriller really falling under the genres of horror, fantasy, and mystery — according to IMDb on the latter. The movie was directed by Jean de Bont, best known for also directing the films “Speed” (1994), “Twister” (1996), “Speed 2: Cruise Control” (1997), and “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” (2003). Jean de Bont has also served as a producer on such films as “SLC Punk!” (1998), “Minority Report” (2002), and “The Paperboy” (2012). He also was a director of cinematography, before doing most of his directing, working as the DP (director of photography) on such films as “Cujo” (1983), “All the Right Moves” (1983), “The Jewel of the Nile” (1985), “Die Hard” (1988), “The Hunt for Red October” (1990), “Flatliners” (1990), “Basic Instinct” (1992), and “Lethal Weapon 3” (1992). So, it’s very safe to say this filmmaker [de Bont] had lots of experience before making this 1999 film.
The Haunting 1999 film is what I consider more of a retelling (than a remake) of the film of the same title from 1963, as both are based on the Shirley Jackson novel (“The Haunting of Hill House“). The story itself was even recently adapted into a TV series, “The Haunting of Hill House“ (2018), as seen on Netflix. So, the basic story has been told before and continues to be told. Not always the same, but essentially with the same house involved and some of the basic characters. The screenplay here was adapted by David Self. Self is best known for his writing work on other films such as “Thirteen Days” (2000), “Road to Perdition” (2002), and the remake of “The Wolfman” (2010).
The story to this 1999 version (or telling rather) of the film involves our protagonist of a troubled female by the name of “Nell” — short for “Eleanor” (Lili Taylor) whose mother has just passed away. We are introduced to Eleanor as she’s having a fight with her sister “Jane” (Virginia Madsen) over being kicked out of her apartment and being given a car after their mother has passed away. Eleanor took care of her mother up to her dying days, we can tell and is taking her loss very hard, yet her family (typical in these situations) is not at all caring and out to get whatever they can. So, Eleanor is left with a car and told she has to move out of her apartment. She looks through the classified ads in a newspaper and finds out about a sleep study, for those having trouble sleeping (as we assume she does), and inquires by telephone, joining the study.
The sleep study here is being conducted by one “Dr. David Marrow” (Liam Neeson), who has managed to get an abandoned old creepy mansion to use to test just a handful of subjects, monitoring their sleep isolated in the house — away from society. The place (house) seems creepy from the very get-go to all of the other sleep study subjects, except to Eleanor who seems to be feeling almost at home in this strange house. She’s such a Velma, and trust me I’ll explain.
The other sleep study test subjects that Dr. Marrow has brought to the house include the very attractive and opinionated “Theo” (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and the very skeptical and slightly bit overly aggressive “Luke” (Owen Wilson). Theo seems more like the Daphne if this were an old “Scooby-Doo: Where Are You?” episode. Luke on the other hand seems like Fred and Shaggy with a sweater that later resembles both and even Scooby-Doo‘s collar. It’s almost ironic to look at, this group of oddly put together people in a haunted house who have been brought there by a man. Is Dr. Marrow the villain here and really going to be unmasked at the end, or is he just Scooby-Doo and along for the ride? You’ll have to watch this 1999 version of “The Haunting” to find out.
This is one very creepy film, and it scares me more each time I see it. The house itself and the immersive amount of attention that was put into the detail of the set decoration and design is just breathtaking, all these years later. The special effects, for 1999, hold up rather well for digital effects 21 years-old now. It’s a film that critics and moviegoers just never have liked, as you can tell by its ridiculous ratings on sites Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb. On a positive note, the film was made on reportedly an 80 million dollar budget and it ended up grossing 177 million worldwide at the box office, according to Box Office Mojo. This movie proved to be a success for the studio [Paramount], regardless of critics or naysayers had to say, making over double its budget back at the box office.
The Haunting (1999) went on to become a bit of a cult-classic and is still appreciated 21 years later after its original theatrical release by folks such as my self. This movie has always felt underrated to me, but now in its Blu-ray Disc debut, I was totally taken back by how much it is (underrated) by this excellent presentation that I’ll discuss further below in the video and audio quality sections.
Movie Rating: 3.75 (out of 5)
“The Haunting” (1999) on its (stateside) debut Blu-ray release via this Paramount Presents version, is presented in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio, just as it was originally during its theatrical run.
This movie was shot on 35mm film using the Beaumont Vistavision camera (with Nikon Lenses) and Panavision Panaflex Millennium camera (with Panavision Primo, C- and E-Series Lenses) — according to IMDb. It was shot on anamorphic lenses with the Vistavision process used for visual effects. The movie, via this Paramount Presents Blu-ray release, has received a new 4K scan of the film, which was remastered, and even supervised by the film’s director (Jan de Bont). Some of this movie used early digital effects that may look a very slight bit dated by today’s standards but they hold up. Just know that visual effects since 1999 and now (2020) have changed immensely. Some things might stand out as being digital effects, but that’s part of watching a good amount of movies these days. For its time, these special effects found here were somewhat impressive.
The new 4K scan and remaster of the original film source comes with a new color timing, especially in comparison to the original DVD, as I remember. Here on Blu-ray, you’ll finally get to see an example of accurate flesh tones, rich and vibrant colors (that don’t bleed), and one deep solid black level which is very fitting for a horror film that takes place almost entirely inside of a dark old creepy house. The attention here to every little bit of detail of this house and the creepy carvings, statues, and just the whole overall production design, is just astounding on this 2020 Paramount Presents Blu-ray. Facial close-ups offer up one very impressive amount of detail. There’s a nice amount of film grain left intact from the original 35mm film source and that is always a plus, in my opinion.
The detail here, again, is just so much more than you’ll have ever seen on any HDTV broadcast of the film even and especially blows the DVD out of the water in comparison. This is a very, very nice Blu-ray upgrade from a 4K scan and remaster. “The Haunting” (1999) Paramount Presents Blu-ray earns itself every bit of a perfect 5 rating for video quality. This is one of the most impressive titles I’ve seen on Blu-ray from a catalog film in a very long time. This felt like an entirely new, theatrical, visual presentation as well as audio experience — that I’ll describe below.
Video Quality Rating: 5 (out of 5)
Audio here, on the Paramount Presents Blu-ray debut of The Haunting (1999) is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (with a Dolby Digital 5.1 core). It is slightly surprising this doesn’t actually get a 7.1 mix as there were 7-channel discreet 6.1 mixes of the film available on the DVD release in Dolby Digital EX and DTS-ES formats, back in the day.
This starts up with a loud ominous roar of low-end bass coming from the subwoofer that left my room shaking, my dog a tad bit afraid, and even I felt a bit taken back — having forgotten how impressive this surround mix was all those years ago on DVD. This new lossless 5.1 mix starts things off right, for a horror film, and that’s the type of thing I love to hear, literally.
The dialogue here is distinct and driven from the center channel speaker and should require no adjustments to volume throughout your listening experience. The simple sound effects of environments, such as an apartment in the opening of the film, come with a nice subtle amount of rear channel presence. It’s not too much, but it can intensify when it needs to later on in the film — helping deliver scares. The front left and right channels here are the real powerhouse and what drives the music and sound effects all throughout the film. It’s an impressive mix from the very get-go, and I was (as mentioned) taken back by it. I had seriously forgotten what punch this little horror film still had in it, especially when now put into a lossless 5.1 sound mix.
This continues with that (aforementioned) loud roaring sound via low-end bass all through the film and really comes back as intense, if not more-so, later on when things include a lot of action. However, it’s this foreboding feeling that the sound itself gives that really seems to resonate mentally here with the listener, as well as obviously viewer. The sound mix here perfectly complements the visuals the film includes that simply look nothing short of stunning at times. But, that’s another section entirely, as I’m getting ahead of myself here.
Needless to say, this delivers in terms of a 5.1 lossless surround mix and is one hell of an impressive upgrade from the original audio mixes that were on the original DVD, as advanced as they were for their time. This earns itself one very impressive and, in my opinion, the definition of a perfect 5.1 lossless surround sound mix. This does some things I’ve not heard some mixes in higher speaker configurations not be even able to accomplish. That said, the Paramount Presents Blu-ray release of “The Haunting” (1999) earns itself a perfect 5 rating for audio quality. I’m simply blown away by this sound mix. It really made me literally jump in a startling sense on a few occasions and I have seen this film probably five or six times in my lifetime. There are some moments in this film, in fact well over half of the film, that I would consider as audio “demo material.”
Audio Quality Rating: 5 (out of 5)
Bonus materials on this release, are presented in HD video quality with Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (@224kbps).
A Digital Copy (code) of the film is included via a paper insert. This is redeemable via the Apple TV (iTunes), Vudu, and Fandango Now online services. Good luck trying to trick it into letting you get it at more than one place though, as you’ll only be given the choice of one. I chose iTunes (Apple TV as they’re now wording it).
The bonus materials that are on the Blu-ray Disc include:
- “Filmmaker Focus: Director Jan de Bont on The Haunting“ (9:14 – HD) is a sit-down interview with the film’s director. This, produced by Justin Beahm’s Reverend Entertainment, proves to be one very insightful interview as well as a look back on the film from the director, who also supervised this new Blu-ray debut of the film. He discusses first working on this film, which he took over from Steven Spielberg, and then finally discusses the Netflix TV series (“The Haunting of Hill House“) briefly — by acknowledging its existence and defends his film is popular in film schools. Right on. This was a very enjoyable interview with a man that has some impressive IMDb credits, as I mentioned way early on in this review.
- “Behind-the-Scenes Featurette” (27:12 – SD) is hosted by actress (co-star) Catherine-Zeta Jones (“Theo” in the film). This starts out like an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries” and then turns into your typical making of-style short documentary, for a bit, then goes back and shows us haunted houses. The featurette consists of on-set footage (filming) and interviews with the following people: Jan de Bont (director), Liam Neeson (“Dr. Marrow”), Susan Arnold (producer), Donna Arkoff Roth (producer), Lili Taylor (“Nell”/“Eleanor”), Owen Wilson (“Luke”), Colin Wilson (producer), Samuel Z. Arkoff (executive producer), Dr. Robert Stepsis (principal, Harlaxton College), Nick Hughes (Angel and Royal Hotel), Roy Dotrice (actor/narrator), and Eugenia Zanetti (production designer)
- Theatrical Teaser Trailer (1:16 – HD) only has Stereo sound (Dolby Digital @ 224kbps) and it features one absolutely creepy voiceover. It’s almost like whoever cut this teaser trailer never saw the finished film, as it ends up feeling like it was for another horror film entirely.
- Theatrical Trailer (2:23 – HD) comes with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound ( @448kbps ).
Physical bonus material here includes the collectible slipcover that features the film’s original 1999 poster art as a fold-out on the front. It also features new art (as pictured below) for the interior packaging.
Overall, the bonus materials here aren’t the most lengthy, only totaling up to around 37 minutes — if you don’t count the two trailers. Still, it’s quality content here for extras and that is what matters. First off, the new content is excellent and I want to totally say I enjoyed the interview with this filmmaker, Jan de Bont, as he has had one illustrious career — as I’ve discussed much, much further above. Justin Beahm‘s Reverend Entertainment continues to deliver top-notch interviews with the filmmakers in these Paramount Presents “Filmmaker Focus” featurettes.
Now, next, this is weird to actually say but here goes. It’s awesome to see film’s trailers actually presented this well these days when people just usually go back to a video you could find on YouTube. Here, it’s the actual film print’s trailer, as seen in theaters, with surround sound. You usually get that in just Stereo or even Mono for older films. This is actually an experience when you watch the trailer. The sound of laughter echoes in your real channels as it ends, and you’re left actually wanting to see this film if you haven’t ever before. That’s an effective way for a studio, or distributor, of presenting their original trailer to a film — be it a masterpiece or not. Thankfully folks like Paramount here, with the Paramount Presents line on Blu-ray, have taken the time to put some effort into this sort of thing.
I’m so sick of watching cinematic masterpieces to casual favorite film’s trailers in this pillar boxed up a bunch of old school crap. Usually, for widescreen, it’ll even have more black bars from the fact that someone didn’t even know how to correctly crop 16:9 (widescreen) material or they didn’t want to show how bad it would look, pixilated, once they did that crop from the said source material in this example I’m making. However, yes, the teaser trailer here only has Stereo sound, but at least they have correctly presented it in proper widescreen — even it is only in SD (standard definition). And, yes, I know some other films actually put their trailers this way with the original 5.1 but it should be commended and rewarded in a rating for bonus materials. This is a decent set of quality bonus materials, in my own personal opinion, that does the film as much justice as it possibly can.
Bonus Materials Rating: 3 (out of 5)
“The Haunting (1999) directed by Jan de Bont, received a pretty successful run at the box office, back in the day. In the terms of the box office, the film delivered a return investment over double the film’s reported production cost. Today, fans on IMDb don’t seem to be too kind to this film for some reason that I really do not think has anything to do with the original 1963 film or the new Netflix TV series (season, technically) adapted from Shirley Jackson‘s novel.
This has some great performances from the likes of Lili Taylor, Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Owen Wilson. There’s even a brief supporting role of the caretaker of the house played by the always awesome Bruce Dern. This film had some really great production value, amazing sets, and downright creepy vibes all throughout. Plus, the visual effects digitally of this era were impressive, at the time, and still hold up all these years later visually.
This comes with one very, very impressive 4K scan and remastering of the original film source that was actually supervised by the director (Jan de Bont) and I’m pleased to say that. Having owned this film on DVD two decades ago, it’s downright impressive to see it finally get its Blu-ray Disc debut done absolute and utter justice visually. This is one excellent 1080p HD presentation on the Blu-ray format and feels like it could someday make for a great 4K UHD Blu-ray release if people would be interested enough to justify one. This looks really good, and I couldn’t help but say “wow” about as many times as Owen Wilson does in the film or more.
This audio mix in lossless 5.1 surround sound also comes as one hell of an improvement of an already awesome audio mix from back in the days when this was released on DVD with some 6.1 discreet surround formats. Sadly, we don’t get a 7.1 mix here but I don’t think we even needed one. This manages to do things in a 5.1 speaker configuration that I haven’t heard some 7.1 mixes or even Atmos mixes do. I won’t mention which ones. Let’s just say, again, “wow!” This mix is intense as hell, with its loud low-end bass and in-your-face aggressive sound effects all throughout. The music to the film also sounds really nice here and makes nice use of the rear channels.
Finally, in terms of bonus materials, you get a new interview with the movie’s director in a “Filmmaker Focus” as well as the archival making of-style featurette and even two trailers for the film. One of those trailers, the theatrical one, actually even has 5.1 surround sound and an impressive video presentation, which is really rare to see on home video releases these days. This is a decent set of extras that is sure to leave fans of the film pleased. All I can say to describe this Blu-ray debut of the film, to quote Owen Wilson is: “Wow!” Great job, Paramount!
In terms of Blu-ray release, this gets:
5 (out of 5) for video quality
5 (out of 5) for audio quality
3 (out of 5) for bonus materials