The Haunting of Hill House: A Retrospective


The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Published in 1959, the book was a finalist for the National Book Award. The story follows a group of people who are staying at an 80-year old mansion, Hill House, and studying paranormal activity. Dr. Montague has put together the expedition which includes possible psychic Theodora, shy and awkward Eleanor, and the young man who is heir to the house, Luke. The story mostly takes place from Eleanor, or Nell’s, point-of-view. As you read, you notice how she is falling apart mentally while the house shows more and more symptoms of paranormal activity. My favorite thing about this story is the relationships between the characters. They feel so real and honest that you truly believe, and are therefore invested in, everything happening. The Haunting of Hill House is known to be one of the best modern ghost stories ever written and it manages to do so without actually having any straightforward horror. That is, in my opinion, what makes the book so genius.

The Haunting (1963)

The first film adaptation of the book was directed by Robert Wise and stars Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, and Russ Tamblyn. It says very faithful to the book, with the exception of cutting things that don’t fit and some editing around the doctor’s wife (but I wasn’t fond of that character or storyline anyway). The one thing I missed from the book in this film was the closeness between Nell and Theo. In the book, it’s clear (at least to me) that there are romantic feelings between the two. Since the film was made in the 60’s, that sort of thing was considered taboo and severely cut down. Nitpicking aside, The Haunting is one of the most classic horror movies out there and did a good job conveying the uncertainty and tension of Jackson’s fantastic novel.

The Haunting (1999)

This version is much different from the original tale. The four main characters are there, as is the haunted house, but so is a lot more. In typical 90’s fashion the film features fantasy elements and gruesome deaths. Starring Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson and Lili Taylor, the film has dismal ratings and even some Razzie nominations. It’s not the worst horror movie ever made, but it’s pretty darn campy. If that’s your thing, then enjoy. Otherwise, stick the the 1963 version.

Coming Soon: The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix series)

   

Since this project is in-development, there isn’t too much known about it yet. Writer-director Mike Flanagan is adapting the book into a ten-episode modern re-telling. The show’s cast list includes Carla Gugino, Annabeth Gish, McKenna Grace, Timothy Hutton, and Michiel Huisman. While I’m wary of the inevitable changes, I’m trying to keep an open mind about this. Hopefully they will follow the novel’s lead and realize that when it comes to horror, “less is more.”

My Casting Wish List

Lastly, just for fun, if I was going to make this book into a film or mini-series, here’s who I would cast: Ruth Negga as Nell, Irrfan Khan as Dr. Markway, Bridget Regan as Theo, and Lucas Till as Luke.

 

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