Dark Shadows

The Haunting goes Gothic to get ghoulish.


GOTHIC BECOMES ECLECTIC: In the library of The Haunting's house, the Victorian habit of mixing Gothic with complementary styles plays out in a Tiffany-style Art Nouveau table lamp, an Arts and Crafts-friendly mica floor lamp and the inlaid floor.

PURE GOTHIC: The soaring vaulted ceilings in The Haunting's house are straight out of the Middle Ages.

With its sinuous tracery, branching vaults and fantastic carvings, Gothic architecture bristles with dark, animate energy. It has embodied the spiritual realm since first taking shape in cathedrals that served notice on the mortality of the medieval soul with lurid depictions of the damned writhing in eternal agony. No mystery, then, why Gothic has always been the style of first resort for horror movies. Add a stormy night, a few lightning flashes, and you've got the audience well chilled even before something hideous emerges from behind a creaky door. But Goth chic, which blossomed into popularity over the last decade, has heightened the enthusiasm for the style in general. Cher may have pulled the plug on her Gothic-to-go catalog a few years ago, but Gothic totems like gargoyle book-ends and knickknacks replicating the stone monsters of Notre Dame Cathedral are scattered around gift stores everywhere.

Oscar-winning production designer Eugenio Zanetu (_What Dreams May Come, Restoration_) had every reason to turn to Gothic design for this summer's The Haunting, which is directed by Jan De Bont and stars Liam Neeson as a psychologist studying the effects of a ghostly old East Coast mansion on his young subjects Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lili Taylor and Owen Wilson.

"The house is a character in the movie," explains Zanetti. "It actually comes alive." With exteriors provided by Harlaxton Manor, one of England's stately stone piles, Zanetti was free to conceive a labyrinthine interior of octagonal rooms and vaulted halls. He bedecked the house with throne-like wooden chairs, elaborate silver candelabra and thick brocaded drapery in keeping with the late-Victorian Gothic Revival, which added a mélange of Moorish and Baroque influences to the house's basic medieval forms.

"The overall mood is Gothic, especially in the literary sense," Zanetti says, citing the Gothic Revival's link to Romanticism in literature and art (which gave us, after all, Frankenstein). Blurring boundaries between fiction, memory and reality, The Haunting is designed to remind us, Zanetti adds, that "the greatest horrors are inside us." --Jeff Book


Production designer Eugenio Zanetti combined moody Victorian motifs, like the spiderweb design of the oculus, with the classic Gothic carved chairs and statuary of mythological beasties.