I recently re-watched this film for the bizillionth time after finding out my wife had got away with not being forced to watch it like all my other favourite films (I don’t know how that one slipped through the net. I feel so ashamed).
Besides the fact that this is a very scary film made by one of the very finest directors, Robert Wise, it is also worth watching for its reliance on sound rather than special effects. The booming of the thing that “walks alone” in Hill House and the mumbling of voices through the wall is much more frightening than some CGI spook coming at you in 3D. On top of that, the soundtrack – although a little dated now – is a superb example of how to underscore a film. (Incidentally, the composer, Humphrey Searle, also composed the music to a Hartnell era Doctor Who story called The Mythmakers.) For all these reasons (except the Doctor Who bit) I always like feature this movie in my lectures when teaching Sound to Film in the uni, along with Once upon a Time in the West, Solaris (1972), Ringu, 2001: A Space Odyssey etc.
I have the suspicion that Robert Wise must have been particularly aware of the power of music in film. Bernard Hermann’s soundtrack to The Day the Earth Stood Still is an absolute classic of the genre and, in fact, defined what many people today think of as generic sci-fi music. The other composers Wise worked with were no slouches either. The rota includes Leonard Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith and Richard Rogers (sort of).