Sometime in mid-July of ’99, or 18 and 1/2 years ago, I suffered through an all-media screening of Jan DeBont‘s The Haunting. I went with the hope that DeBont, whose stock had plummeted two years earlier after the catastrophe of Speed 2: Cruise Control, might rebound if he would only pay tribute to Robert Wise‘s The Haunting (’63) by relying on eerie suggestion rather practical and CG effects. Alas, he ignored Wise’s approach entirely.

The Haunting isn’t merely bad,” I wrote in my Mr. Showbiz column. “It’s one of the emptiest, most ineptly plotted, synthetically programmed, pointlessly overdone summer movies I’ve ever seen. I’m now completely convinced that this is the movie that drove Liam Neeson to the brink of retirement. The film’s final close-up is of Neeson and Catherine Zeta Jones wearing looks of utter exhaustion with a hint of self-loathing, and you have to figure that gearing themselves up emotionally for this shot couldn’t have been much of a stretch.”

The Haunting wasn’t a financial wipeout — it cost $80 million to make, earned $91.4 million domestically and $177 million worldwide. But it was so grueling to sit through…well, I don’t know that The Haunting was the reason behind DeDont not landing another directing gig until three years had elapsed — Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (’03). But it sure didn’t help.

Nor do I know if he was hurt by the fact that it cost $95 million but only earned $65 million domestic (it actually made $156 million worldwide). But I do know Lara Croft was the last film he directed.

The irony, of course, was that DeBont was on top of the world after directing Speed (’94). I even thought he did a reasonably decent job with Twister (’96). But boy, did he blow it after that.