My love for Shirley Jackson stems from one The Haunting of Hill House. The horror is subtle and the theme clear. The love and attention poured into this book remains unsurpassed as something that struck a chord with me.

Hill house blue prints
Blue Prints of Hill House taken from the biography Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin

Hill House’s Paradox

Jackson’s popularity earned her 3 adaptations of The Haunting of Hill House. So how is it I don’t particularly like any of the adaptations I got?

The Haunting by Robert Wise (1963)

Don’t get me wrong! I love the movie. We have great pacing, acting, and effects throughout the movie. The tidbits of story cut out don’t negatively impact the story. Did I mention Wise consulted with Jackson? Great effects and set design furthered the aesthetics Jackson laid down.

hill house
hill house

To match the description of the house having no right angles and no straight lines, Wise uses various lenses to warp the look of the house.

Give yourself time to guess in . . .




Wise created an atmosphere of paranoia–

–by making sure the house followed and watched them 24/7.

We need more directors like Wise.

The Haunting (1999)

All I’m going to say: awful CG, NO nuance, and, even with the same plot, it took me years to realize it was a remake.

The Haunting of Hill House (2018)

My feelings on this get complicated. I found this the worst adaptation so far made, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. A majority of the changes I understand especially considering the change of character backstory, i.e. now the characters are related.

Inspirations for the changes directly stem from character dynamics from the book. Lonely Nell found a family at Hill House. A similar atmosphere made the scares on point.

Not a nitpick.

They talk a lot. A LOT. You can’t binge watch the show because it gets so boring. They bounce around between show and tell, but the tell is so long-winded! Talking so much means a weakness lurked within the script and instead of sending in a dragon slayer to save the kingdom, you invited the dragon to the town meeting, but he contested the king and put a bid in for the crown. Now an election is due in the fall and now you have to join a campaign to spread the news and participate in the debate because you don’t know where this dragon came from or why he’s so dodgey about tax proposals.

You see my problem?

Hill House’s Connecting Threads

Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

The Haunting of Hill House, Pg 1

This sentiment pervades the novel, the paragraph book-ending the story. This is what stayed with me. All the other adaptations changed the suffocating, continuing emptiness and loneliness for a happy feel good ending.

Nell dies to stay with Hill House forever. She leaves behind her new friends, so she won’t go back to her old “life”. She dies alone; everyone mourns and moves on.

I admit Netflix Nell is a cool ghost.

It kind of pisses me off how all iterations of Nell paint her as happy, a savior, or a martyr in the end. How do you mess up a woman who, torn asunder by her fear, ended up losing? That’s where my problem lies. We see book Nell grow as a person and try to move forward, happier only to fall in the end.

Remember kids: Give nihilism a chance.

Today’s Tangent: Representing!

Fun fact for Pride month: Theodora is the best lesbian ever and a damn progressive character for anytime as she was a fully fledged character first. Jackson’s first drafts explicitly made Theo a lesbian, but after much pressure and push back, she stayed a lesbian, just without directly addressing it.

And EVERY fracking adaptation she got, she stayed gay! Hallelujah!

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

(Well. . . in 1999 she became a bisexual, but she was just experimenting so it’s cool. )

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