While Stranger Things may be a delight to watch and the children who star in it are a set of finds for the next generation of Hollywood actors, it's hard to call it a horror series. But no one will mistake Netflix's new show, The Haunting Of Hill House, for anything less than a good old-fashioned horror thrill ride. The ratings are through the roof, and the critics are gaga over it. But where did the tale come from? Is The Haunting Of Hill House based on a true story?
The new 10-part series is based on a novel written by horror author Shirley Jackson, all the way back in 1959. It's considered a classic among the horror genre fanatics, a psychological story of "emotional horror re-imagined as a house." The novel has been adapted twice before, both for the big screen.
The first was in 1963, under the shortened title of The Haunting, only a few years after the novel arrived, as a UK production, starring some of the biggest names of the era. More recently, The Haunting was remade in 1999, starring Liam Neeson, Owen Wilson, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. This is the first adaptation for TV and the first to use the book title's full name.
So is the novel based on a true story? Unlike some films of the genre, like The Conjuring (based on real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren) or The Amityville Horror (supposedly based on a story from Upstate New York), The Haunting of Hill House makes no such claims.
Not that the TV show sticks all that close to the book anyway. Unlike the movies, which keep the book’s paranormal investigation plot, and stick relatively close to the story at hand in a two-hour film, Netflix's ten-hour joint uses it more as a jumping off point. The series also makes the subtext text, turning the ghosts and hauntings into personal manifestations the characters must defeat to move on from their trauma and grief.
In Netflix's telling, this is the story of the Crain Family, who move into Hill House sometime in the mid-to-late 1990s, when house flipping first became all the rage. The five children are spooked by their new home, and soon enough their mother, Olivia, is as well. One night....well, to go into what happened would be spoilers, but husband Hugh gathers up the kids and flees the house, leaving his wife behind to die.
This is the core moment from which the story springs, with the children, now all adults, unable to process what happened. For instance, son Steven (Michiel Huisman) became a best-selling author by writing about the family's paranormal experiences at Hill House. Sisters Theodora (Kate Siegel) and Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser) are a child psychologist and a mortician respectively. Apparently, no one really moved on.
That's where the realism of the story comes in. This may not have happened to real people, but grief comes for us all one day when we lose a parent, and loneliness is a part of the human condition everyone feels at some point. In that way, The Haunting of Hill House is a story everyone has been through.