We’re celebrating our new Horror Award with a series of articles about our favorite films and TV shows in horror. Find out what scares us the most… and what we’re looking for from a horror script! Next up: THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE…
This article contains mild spoilers.
There have been a lot of adaptations of Shirley Jackson’s classic gothic horror novel THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. The first was the classic film THE HAUNTING in 1963, which was then remade in 1999 with results that were… well, not good. There have also been stage and radio adaptations, too.
So when Netflix announced their intention to adapt it into a television series, there were always going to be questions. With a story that has already been brought to life so many times, would a new adaptation bring anything new to the table?
The answer, to be brief, is yes.
With almost sixty years separating the book’s publication and Netflix’s show of the same name, a bit of revisionism was always going to be necessary. Just how far creator Mike Flanagan went with this revisionism, however, was a surprise – and turned out to be one of the show’s greatest strengths.
The original story of THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE is about (you guessed it!) a haunted house (big surprise). What the show does, however, is take this basic premise as a launching point to explore how being haunted doesn’t just affect the unfortunate Crain family while they live at Hill House, but in the long years afterwards.
The show uses non-linear storytelling to really tease out the psychological affect that the haunting has had on the Crains. In flashbacks, we see them as a close family unit (although it quickly becomes clear that they aren’t alone in their happy home); in the present day, we see them fractured and tortured by their experiences. They might have left Hill House behind, but it continues to haunt them.
With THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE taking place over ten episodes, it’s hard to fully explain the story. Of course, it should go without saying that the depth and complexity of the show is one of its strengths, and would have been completely impossible in a different medium such as film.
But what makes it so good is that it truly understands the psychology of fear. It plays with the minds of its audience just as it plays with the minds of its protagonists.
Flashbacks can often feel clunky if not used correctly (and at worse, just become a lazy device for conveying information), but THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE makes the most of them. No single member of the Crain family really knows the full story of what happened at Hill House, and as we watch the past through their eyes, we too get a broken and incomplete narrative that we have to put together ourselves.
That allows the show to tease the truth without showing it, building the suspense tighter and tighter as the pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place.
THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE is an intelligent piece of horror. It’s also full of thrills, sharp shocks, and long moments of dread. It’s been beautifully put together, and weaves a complex tale that keeps us guessing from start to finish.
And the best thing? There’s more to come. Netflix have announced a second season called THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR, based on Henry James’ THE TURN OF THE SCREW.
If it’s anywhere near as good as this first season, it’ll definitely be one to watch.
Enjoyed our review of THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE? Check out our review of THE WITCH as well – and if you think you’ve got a script of your own that we’d love, don’t forget to enter the WriteMovies Horror Award 2019!