A modern twist on classic horror, The Haunting of Hill House

Joseph O'Gorman

The Haunting of Hill House is Netflix’s latest hit, a horror drama that is, in the opinion of one the best horror writers of all time, Stephen King, “a work of genius”.

The premise of the series is probably the most common horror trope; family moves into a haunted house, terror ensues. It is how the series deals with overcoming the clichés that makes The Haunting of Hill House such an effective horror.

This modern reimagining of the Shirley Jackson novel from 1959 follows siblings who, as children, grew up in what would go on to become the most famous haunted house in the country.

Now adults, they are forced back together in the face of tragedy and must finally confront the ghosts of their past. Some of those ghosts still lurk in their minds, while others may actually be stalking the shadows of Hill House.

The genius of the series The Haunting of Hill House, written and directed by Mike Flanagan, is to draw a line between supernatural terror and the unresolved traumas of childhood – the closest the majority of us will come in real life to being spooked by our past.

Flanagan has pedigree in the genre; he turned a Stephen King novel previously said to be unfilmable (Gerald’s Game) into a very well received Netflix hit.

King recognised it as a piece of true originality. “I don’t usually care for this kind of revisionism, but this is great,” he tweeted. “Close to a work of genius, really. I think Shirley Jackson would approve, but who knows for sure.”

What is fascinating about the approach that The Haunting of Hill House takes is how we can see just how the time spent within the walls of Hill House effects the Crain siblings as they grow up. Flanagan flashes back and forth between the present-day adulthood of the dysfunctional Crain siblings, and their ghastly memories of the early nineties, when their parents moved them into the fixer-up mansion, which turned out to be possessed by the malevolent spirits of the long-dead Hill family.

The real brilliance of Hill House is how it builds tension, it is almost like a novel in how the suspense and dread grows. A TV series can’t rely on the same tricks that a full length feature film can.

The series never really hides what it is. It is quite obvious from the outset that the family are under some kind of curse thanks to Hill House and because of that there is always an underlying sense of dread, which builds and builds.

Hill House is a series that really digs its claws into you. Even if it doesn’t bring you out in a cold sweat, you will get wrapped up in the trials and terrors of the unfortunate Crain children. When it’s scary, it’s pretty damn scary.

What Hill House does very well is hold a mirror up to real life, and makes the viewer confront the terrors of their own life. After all, maybe that’s where the real demons are.


Joseph O’Gorman
Image Credit: thegreekytyrant.com