Frank Masi
Liane Bonin
July 20, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

With Jan de Bont, the director of ”Twister” and ”Speed,” at the helm of this summer’s big-screen ghost story ”The Haunting” (opening July 23), action fans are already bracing themselves for a spooky-effects extravaganza. Not so fast, effects freaks. According to de Bont, viewers will have to use a little imagination this time around. ”Effects are definitely not the emphasis,” the 55-year-old director tells EW Online. ”The things you don’t see in this movie are just as scary as the things you do see.”

The scary things you don’t see in this second version of Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel ”The Haunting of Hill House” come courtesy of an invisible spirit determined to control a group of paranormal-activities experts (including Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones) who visit a haunted mansion. De Bont, who drew on his worst fears of things that go bump in the dark, opted to play on audiences’ fear of the unknown instead of giving the ghost human form. ”The movie’s about all the things that scare you when you hear a knock at the door or see a shadow and it’s only a squirrel,” he explains. ”It’s about how fear influences your thoughts.” While de Bont won’t spill too many details of how stars Neeson, Zeta-Jones, Lili Taylor, and Owen Wilson are terrorized, he does say that there’s one creepy sequence in which a bedroom ”comes alive,” much to the horror of one visitor.

EW Online’s visit to the set in April revealed that, even if audiences won’t be able to catch sight of the movie’s bad guy, there will still be plenty of eye candy to savor. The elaborate scenery features walls overflowing with mounted animal heads and glass-encased bugs, a double spiral staircase (brace yourselves for an action scene in which the contraption collapses), and ominous paintings of a very unhappy previous owner. Vicious gargoyles, writhing garden statuary, and a library fit for Vincent Price are also part of the floor plan. Built in a former airplane museum, the enormous set is impressive enough for de Bont to consider it ”the biggest star in the movie, and the most expensive one.” (The film’s budget is estimated at $80 million.) Sounds good, but he may not want to tell that to Neeson.

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