I'm a sucker for a good ghost story, it's even better when it's on film. I can sit on the couch, turn off all the lights, maybe eat a bit of popcorn, and get lost in the fear that, hopefully, oozes off the screen. So for the rest of the month I will be highlighting some of my characters that have graced some of the best ghost stories of all time. This will I will be introducing Eleanor Lance, playing by the wonderful Julie Harris, in the 1963 version of The Haunting.
Eleanor Lance, "Nell" to some, has not had the easiest life. As her sister left the home to start her own family, Nell was left behind to care for the tyrannical, ailing mother. Needless to say it was the ideal situation for a young woman. As a result she has turned into a rather mousy woman who is unsure of her place in the world. Other than some psychic phenomenon early in life, nothing exciting has ever happened to bring Nell out of her funk. When her mother finally dies, Nell is forced to move in with her sister's family. She rents out the living room couch and shares half the car. Nell was afraid that her life would remain the same for the rest of her life, it may have been better if it had.
When Nell receives her letter from Dr. Markway, she feels as if that "thing" she has been waiting for has finally arrived. When her sister won't let her take the car, Nell steals it and goes anyway. The entire time she is driving to Hill House, Nell is psyching herself up about the life she is about to lead, she imagines her life once she leaves the house, how this is the turning point in her life.
Once at the home, surrounded by those who will be joining her in the house. Nell seems to split between two people. One is confident in her role in the house, the fact that she belongs there doesn't seem to leave her mind. The other is still that scared timid Nell who was dominated by her mother. It's fascinating to watch that struggle happening inside of Nell's mind as the house seems to take a life of it's own and the strange events start to happen.
Some may decided Nell is schizophrenic or, at best, slightly disturbed. It would be fairly easy to just throw that out there and let that color the her as a character. I think there was more to it though, I think that enough of her was fully aware of what was happening around her and what was going to happen to her. I think, that despite the fears such a fate would create, it was the first time she felt she truly belonged to something. By the end, you know she is scared to death but determined to see the thing through till the end.
I would love to say that she had her happy ending, but if you have ever red the book, seen this movie, or even it's horrible remake, you know she doesn't have that. What I do think, after many viewing and many readings, is she has the end that she wanted. She can finally say she's at peace and in the only home her heart ever desired.
She is a wonderfully complex and emotional character that just allows the viewer/reader to be drawn into her life. There are differences between the movie and the book it was based off of, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, but both versions offer up such a gloriously rendered, three dimensional character that it's hard to notice those differences. Both are great, both should be devoured by those who are not familiar with them.
Here is the trailer to the 1963 version of the movie. One of these days I will do full reviews of both this movie and the book, but this trailer will have to do for now.