The Haunting

[Video: scene from 1963’s The Haunting, directed by Robert Wise,
starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, and Russ Tamblyn. More below.]

From whiskey river:

In This

In this house you would come to believe
in ghosts and lives beyond the grave. Here
noises configure themselves into the voices
of those who’ve gone. “Cyril!” calls a wife
lost to cancer; a dead dog’s nametag chinks
against the brass of her collar; the creak
of an opening door, a footstep
on a warped floorboard, and someone
you’ve loved comes to breathe your name
once again, and now in Autumn the wind
moaning beneath the eaves, and the small tornadoes
of leaves lifted in frenzied gusts
scratch against the window late at night
like the feeble clawing of all our loves
wanting to come back, wanting to make us
believe that we can ever be reunited.

(Mikey Fatboy Delgado [source])


Anything that really frightens you may contain a clue to enlightenment. It may indicate to you how deeply you are attached to structure, whether mental, physical, or social. Attachment and resistance are appearances with the same root: when you resist by pulling away your awareness, the emotion is one of fear, and the contraction is experienced as a pull like magnetism or gravity; that is, attachment.

That is why we often fear to open our minds to more exalted spiritual beings. We think fear is a signal to withdraw, when in fact it is a sign we are already withdrawing too much.

(Thaddeus Golas, The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment [source])


There is the sound of dust heard over the telephone.
There is the sound of a piano with a faint heart
coming from below, a hell where people are happy.
There is the sound of someone standing on the grave
of someone they do not know and do not care about.
There is the sound the same person makes
standing on their own grave.
I love the sound of the iron on the ironing board
turning on and off, waiting for someone to come.

(Mary Ruefle, from “Refrigerator” [hear her reading the whole poem here])

Not from whiskey river:


Late night July
in Minnesota, with John
asleep on the glassed-in porch,

I listen (quietly)
to Bob Dylan on a cassette
you made from an album

I got rid of soon after
you died. Years later,
I regret giving up

your two moving boxes
of vinyl (which I loved)
in a stand against the futility

of saving outdated things.
Surely they were too awkward,
too easily broken,

too poorly mastered
for people who loved music
the way we did. But tonight

I’m in the mood for ghosts
like you, for being
younger, since you’re a

big girl, now I’m thirty-one
to your unchanging twenty-five.
In the mood for sounds

we hated: pop, scratch,
hiss, the occasional
skip. The curtains balloon;

I’ve got a beer; I’m struck
by guilt, watching you
from a place ten years away,

kneeling and cleaning each
with a velvet brush before
and after, tucking them in

their sleeves. Understand,
I was still moving then.
The boxes were heavy.

If I’d known I’d stop here
with a husband to help me
carry, and room—too late,

the college kids pick over
your black bones on Mass. Ave.,
we’ll meet again some day

on the avenue but still,
I want to hear it, the needle
hitting the end of a side

and playing silence
until the arm gives up,
pulls away.

(Katrina Vandenberg [source])

…and (Mr. Pounder is the local opera house’s professional rat catcher; he has just recently met with an unfortunate accident — his last):

It was very dark.


He looked up.

Standing in the air, at eye-level, was a robed figure about six inches high. A bony nose, with bent gray whiskers, protruded from the hood. Tiny skeletal fingers gripped a very small scythe.

Mr. Pounder nodded thoughtfully to himself. You didn’t rise to membership of the Inner Circle of the Guild of Rat Catchers without hearing a few whispered rumors. Rats had their own Death, they said, as well as their own kings, parliaments, and nations. No human had ever seen it, though.

Up until now.

He felt honored. He’d won the Golden Mallet for most rats caught every year for the past five years, but he respected them, as a soldier might respect a cunning and valiant enemy.

“Er… I’m dead, aren’t I…?”


Mr. Pounder felt that many eyes were watching him. Many small, shining eyes.

“And… what happens now?”


The soul of Mr. Pounder looked at his hands. They seemed to be elongating, and getting hairier. He could feel his ears growing, and a certain rather embarrassing elongation happening at the base of his spine. He’d spent most of his life in a single-minded activity in dark places, yet even so…

“But I don’t believe in reincarnation!” he protested.


And this, Mr Pounder understood with absolute rodent clarity, meant: reincarnation believes in you.

(Terry Pratchett [source])


About the video: When I first saw Robert Wise’s The Haunting, I thought I’d pass out. This would have been sometime when I was in my late teens (and I wasn’t even seeing it in a theater but on a plain-old non-HD TV set, with a 20-some-inch screen). I’ve heard people say they’re more creeped out by The Uninvited — and those same people tend to shrug off The Haunting — but I never got the same sense of sustained, almost movie-length dread from that one. (Martin Scorcese put The Haunting at the top of his “11 Scariest Horror Movies” list; The Uninvited is down at #3.) The Uninvited, to me, is like a polite, tea-drinking cozy mystery, a drawing-room thriller. But again, just from my perspective: The Haunting = fingernails scraping down the blackboard of my normally placid self.)

The Wikipedia entry on The Haunting includes some interesting details about how it achieved its effects. No CGI back then, of course. No blood. And when it comes right down to it, almost no actual violence, even action. Just… just… eeeek.

Send to Kindle


  1. I recall watching this on our grandmother’s TV set in the living room of her house as her and the dog harmonized their snorings. I was so creeped out by the scene above that I think I stayed up all night waiting for something to come and get me. Geez! And when I watched it several years ago, it still made me feel weird. The new version didn’t scare me half as much.

    • I think I first saw it at Jack’s house in Medford. (But the aside about Granny and her dog made me laugh.) I did see another B&W horror film over at Morris and Ann’s that made me jump. I can still remember the one shot of the one scene that did it — a man’s eyes, highlighted by moonlight — which may have taken place in a cemetery, in one of those whatchamacallits… a mausoleum. No idea what film it was, although I’ve watched a bunch of them just in the off-chance they’re IT.

      Never been tempted to see the Haunting remake. (And — blush — I never read Shirley Jackson’s short story, either.)

  2. Love this collection of writings. Trying to work up courage to see opening video!

  3. I’m not one for scary movies. I think they overstimulate the CNS and then I can’t sleep for days. Pratchett ‘s piece made me think of Willard which dang near traumatized me for years. But I do like Halloween, and I wonder, now, if we’re going to have one this year. Sandy is starting to look scary!

  4. Dia de los Muertos is a good day to read these poems and excerpts. I’ve been trying to think of those gone on today, and so a few lines here certainly capture that–though I’ve tried to keep a more happy feeling about it. Maybe happy isn’t the right word, but not creeped out or depressed.

    I don’t watch scary movies as a rule. I’ve seen a few though not The Haunting–any version. The face in wall design…I’ve been freaked about by similar wallpaper in other people’s houses. It’s one reason I don’t like wallpaper. Once you see that face, it’s always there.

Speak Your Mind