The Haunting of Hill House – The Netflix Series – What it is and What it isn’t

Who has been coming to my door these days?



I’ve been getting a larger than usual number of hits at this blog lately. Sometimes WordPress records the search words that lead people to my page.   Some of the “search phrases” as of late are as follows:

  • is haunting of hill house the same as the book
  • the haunting versus the haunting on hill house
  • how does the haunting of hill house tie in with the haunting
  • the haunting of hill house same like the book
  • can hold my pee and peeing alot (Don’t know how this searcher found my page about haunted houses with this!)

In short, visitors are searching  for clues as to how the new Netflix  series The Haunting of Hill House  ties into  either:

  1. Shirley  Jackson’s  book by the same name, OR
  2. The Haunting, which is the movie that is based on Jackson’s novel.

Search engines  have led them to my site, which features  articles and reviews  of both the movie and book. But alas, visitors have found no information  about the Netflix  series  – until now!

I appreciate  the extra traffic. To show my appreciation, I  will answer some possible  FAQs about the Netflix series. I just started watching it: I have seen the first  five episodes. In an article I wrote about the movie The Haunting,  I express doubt  about the whole idea of turning Shirley Jackson’s novel into a miniseries. (The link to this article is at the end of this piece) However, now that I am halfway through it, I can honestly say that  I am hooked. I love it! The show is very very good!

Let me begin with  what the series  is not. It’s not a sequel to the book ( or movie). It is not a prequel either. It is not a crossover , it is not a spinoff; it exists in a story universe of its very own. What it does do is utilize the same character names of the book and it recreates several parts/scenes of the book/movie within an entirely  different  context. Admittedly, the series is a bit confusing  with its constant  jumps in time and non-linear  storytelling. Do yourself  a favor –  don’t try and figure out how the Nell of the series has become or was once the Nell of the book. Same goes with Theo. The characters of the series are very different than the characters that are portrayed in the original  story (though not entirely different This will be explained later). Please don’t add to any existing confusion  by trying to tie the characters  of the series to the book. It just won’t work. There is no prevailing story arc that flows from the original incarnation to this latest manifestation.

Before I delve into what the Netflix  series is, I first  need to explore  “the is” of the original story, the story that came from the brilliant  mind of Shirley  Jackson. The movie The Haunting (1963)  follows Jackson’s  book pretty closely, so for the purposes of this article I will treat both the book and the film as one in the same (although  in another article I write about the differences between the two mediums and their versions of the story. The link to that article  is posted at the end  of this piece.)

Dr. Montague   (Named Dr. Markway in the film, but who cares) recruits two people to take part in a study  that aims to investigate the paranormal  activity that has  been rumored to be rampant  at Hill House. Both participants have an affinity  toward the supernatural  in one way or another. Theo, the brash bohemian and implied lesbian, has ESP, can read minds, etc. Eleanor  Vance was once the victim of poltergeist activity  – stones showered down on her house when she was a little  girl. Dr. Montague hopes that Hill House will be more likely  to display paranormal   activity in the presence  of people that are attuned to the supernatural.

The two ladies join Dr. Montague for a prolonged  stay at Hill House. Also there is Luke Sanderson. He is due to inherit Hill House and he too stays with the trio at the house . He doesn’t believe  the ghost stories but he is taking part in this study mostly to protect the interests of his future property .

Hill House has a history of madness and unexplained  deaths. Built by one Hugh Crain, two of his wives lost their lives in the house or around the property.  His daughter Abigail  lived in the house from birth to death. She occupied the nursery the whole time. She died as an old lady , who called out to her caretaker  in the middle of the night. The caretaker  did not come to her assistance and , unaided in her ailment , Abigail passed on. The caretaker would later hang herself beside a spiral staircase.

The team of four witness several supernatural occurrences.  They stand in cold spots, they observe doors that won’t stay closed, they hear loud banging noises against the walls. But it is Eleanor  that receives the brunt of the haunting. Even so, she is drawn to Hill House, and Hill House  is drawn to her as well. It wants to keep her inside. Forever.

That is the classic  story in a nutshell. So, what’s the modern series all about? It’s about a family  -The Crain’s (the same surname of the original Hill House occupants in the backstory  of Shirley Jackson’s novel). They stay at Hill House for a summer.  There is Hugh the father, Olivia the mother, Shirley  the eldest daughter (approximately  twelve-years-old) and her younger  siblings:  Steve (Maybe age eleven?), Theo (age ten?) and the two young twins Luke and Eleanor  (approximately 5 or 6 years old  ). See what they did here? They use  the names of  the characters  from the original  story. While the series gives them similar traits as the original characters, they are different people in different contexts. In the original story, Luke, Theo and Eleanor are strangers to each other  until they met at Hill House. In the series  they are siblings.

Most of the family members have experienced some kind of ghostly disturbance during their stay at Hill House. After a tragedy , the family flees the house. The series juxtaposes between several time periods. We see the kids as grown ups.. As adults, they suffer through various life dilemmas and troubling psychological problems. Most of their problems  can be traced back to that summer spent at Hill  House. See, “the haunting of Hill House” follows the kids into their adult years . It is like a hand, and though most of the family has escaped Hill House’s palmy grip, Its  fingers stretch throughout the years, pointing its horror in the survivors’ direction,  poking at their daily lives. Even in their adult lives , they are haunted by ghosts.

The Netflix  series is creepy , dark, and very morbid. In other words , it’s great! And, it creatively  reimagines  some of the classic  scenes, fitting them into updated  contexts. Waking up in the middle of the night to feel a phantom hand holding your hand – this scene plays out in both the series and book. Finding graffiti on the wall of Hill House that reads “Welcome Home, Eleanor”, this happens in both mediums. Breaking out into a HillHouseNetflixOriginalHauntingdance before some creepy Hill House statues – yep, this scene can now be considered both classic and modern. The “Hill House” of the series has many of the same features of the Hill House of the 1963 movie,  including a large gate at the beginning of the driveway, and the “twisted” spiral staircase. Both Hill Houses feature rooms that are locked – for the safety of the inhabitants. The caretakers, Mr. and Mrs. Dudley, are featured in both the series and the book. But again, please remember, these are recreations of the famous scenes, not repeats, not meant to tie directly into the happenings of the original story. These are what they call “easter eggs”; features that pay homage to the earlier works.

Like in the book, the Theo of the series has a talent for “knowing things”. In the original story, she reads minds and knows the cards of another card player. In the series, she touches things (and people) and suddenly she gains knowledge about the object of her touch. While her sexual preference for women is only implied in the original story, she actively seeks out female sexual partners in the series. As in the book, Hill House “calls” out to Eleanor (Nell).  When they are children, Luke has an imaginary friend – Abigail (possibly a ghost?) Abigail is the daughter of Hugh Crain in the book/movie, the one who spends her whole life inside the nursery.

There are plenty of other similarities and references to the original story within the series, but I won’t go into them all.

If you are already a fan of the Netflix series but have yet to watch the movie The Haunting (or read the book The Haunting of Hill House), I encourage you to do so, then you yourself can discover the ghosts that crossover between the mediums .The movie is a classic and the book is a very intriguing read. Likewise, if you are fans of the film and the novel but are hesitant to try this modern reimagining of the story, I strongly suggest that you let go of this hesitancy and climb on board. You won’t be disappointed.



As promised, here are the links to articles and reviews that I have written about Hill House, The Haunting, and other good stuff:

1) An article comparing the book The Haunting of Hill House  to the 1963 film The Haunting:

Review of The Haunting of Hill House/The Haunting: Book Vs. Movie

2) An Article comparing the film The Haunting/1963 to the remake – The  Haunting/1999

The Haunting 1963 Vs. The Haunting 1999 – Which Film Wins? 

3) An article reviewing another book written by Shirley Jackson – We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Who are the Ghosts that Haunt Shirley Jackson’s Novels?


Review of The Haunting of Hill House/The Haunting: Book Vs. Movie

The following article is a comparison between The book The Haunting of Hill House and the 1963 film The Haunting. To read about the Netflix Series: The Haunting of Hill House, click here:  The Haunting  of Hill House  – The Netflix  Series – What it is and What it isn’t  



haunting-of-hill-house-NOVEL 2

The Haunting of Hill House

Shirley Jackson


Excellent book!


The Haunting – Robert Wise -1963 – Great film!

Each deals with the same story.  Which is better?

The old adage is that the book is always better than the movie.   Quite often this is true -but never always. Tolkien fans will want to hang me out to dry for writing this, but I enjoyed Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Ring’s films more than Tolkien’s books (Hobbit films not included). On the other hand, I thought JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series were far better than the films.

So for me, it just depends.

About a week ago, I watched The Haunting again (saw it once about fifteen years ago) and reread The Haunting of Hill House – the book by Shirley Jackson that inspired the movie. Before going into the whys and wherefores of any possible preference for one over the other, let me address some possible confusion concerning these titles and another film of a similar name.

1950s – It was the decade of “Haunts” and “Hills”. Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House novel came out in 1953, and  William Castle’s film The House on Haunted Hill premiered in 1959 (click here for my review of this film.) Please note – these stories have nothing to do with each other. Castle’s movie is NOT Jackson’s book adapted for film. The film version of Jackson’s novel is simply called The Haunting.   It came out in 1963.   Castle’s film has the word “Hill” in the title, just like the Jackson’s book.

Okay by now you’re thinking, “Ugh! Enough with the confusion! Just tell me what the damn story is about!”

Right. Well, it’s a about this house, see? And it has a history of death and violence associated with it. Dr. Montague is a professor of anthropology who wants to embark upon a scientific study of paranormal phenomena. So he rents out Hill House and invites three other people to live in the house with him and together they are to study any ghostly activities that might occur.

The tale focuses on house guest Eleanor Lance. She is the unreliable narrator, freed from a decade long burden of caring for her recently deceased invalid mother. She is quite neurotic and not prepared for the ghostly disturbances that Hill House will bring. Or maybe, in her own twisted way, she is very much ready for Hill House. Too prepared for her own good. I will expand on this later.


The book or the film – which wins? Each medium has its flaws. The film flattens out the supporting characters a bit. In the book house guest Luke Sanderson is a sociable man appreciative of tastes and pleasures, spoiled in his wealth, a reluctant hero, perhaps lonely. The film reduces him to a shallow cad. Likewise, Theodora of the novel is witty and adventurous, confident, free spirited and independent, sometimes compassionate and sometimes cruel. The film however focuses mainly on Theodora’s scorn. But this is the drawback of film in general when it comes to inserting book characters onto the screen. There is more room in a two hundred-page novel than a two-hour reel of film to round out the characters

As to the book’s faults, the dialogue and plot sequences are sometimes disjointed. Eleanor and Theodora are at each others throats at the end of one chapter, only to be locked arm-in-arm in friendship at the beginning of the next. The group as a whole will suffer through a horrifying haunted house experience, only to be laughing in camaraderie shortly thereafter as if they were vacationing at a spa. And yet, I understand this laxity of flow. The neurotic and insecure Eleanor is the central character and the story is unveiled through her unreliable thought processes.

But in the end, both platforms excel at establishing a mood and setting necessary to bring this haunting tale to life. The book does so with its poetic descriptions, tone and character development while the film captures the chilling mood with skillful camera work and brilliant art direction. The question then becomes – which of these modes of artistry better instills a fond sense for the chilling?

For me, it’s a tie.

The book has some fine moments indeed. The very first paragraph (which is always the most quoted) sums up the tone beautifully:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. 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

Who or what is the “whatever” that walks alone? In the end, maybe its Eleanor? Maybe.

The book traces the haunting developments of Hill House from her skewed perspective and it does it well. It’s almost as if Eleanor herself is the ghost. From the beginning, Eleanor, trapped in arrested development  on account of her being forced to care for her invalid mother for many years, yearns for a life of her own. Ghosts to that, don’t they? Little by little, the house takes her over. She insists that she belongs at Hill House. And maybe she does? Haunted houses need their ghosts.

Toward the book’s end, she watches the rest of the occupants from afar; detached. Sometimes she is hiding on them – spying. Is she the topic of the conversation Luke and Theodora are having? No. So she moves on. Eavesdropping. She has the attention of no one.   She belongs not with them. Only with the house. And the house will have her at the end.

The film follows the slow dissolution of Eleanor as well, but to a lesser extent. Due to the limitations build into the film medium, it cannot develop the character as well as the book. Instead, it does what it can with the tools it has. It focuses a lot of attention to the house itself. And this focus is done artfully.

haunting-of-hill-house 2The establishing shots show the house in its totality. Slowly the contrast fades and the house dissolves into a dark, amorphous shape. Dutch angle camera techniques are used to give viewers a disoriented perspective of the innards of the house. The camera shakes when the characters climb a rickety staircase.   Then there are the props – the film is generous with haunted house décor. There are the wooden faces of children carved into the corners of the nursery door (creepy!), the giant statues of a saint healing lepers (mysterious!) the wallpaper of chaotic designs (unnerving!) and the enormous bedroom doors that seem to have an eerie face hidden in the etching-design.

Then there are the sound effects – the disembodied laughter, the whispering, and, of course “The booms”.   BOOM! BOOM! BOOM – as the ladies hold each other in fright – something is pounding on their chamber door!
Both the novel and the film come highly praised. It is a favorite of film director Martin Scorsese:

Director Martin Scorsese placed The Haunting first on his list of the 11 scariest horror films of all time

Likewise, Stephen King has great praise for the novel:

In his book Danse Macabre (1981), a non-fiction review of the horror genre, lists The Haunting of Hill House as one of the finest horror novels of the late 20th century and provides a lengthy review.

Maybe someone else can choose one over the other, but I cannot. I highly recommend both the book and the film.

Thank you for reading this article.  If you enjoy my writing, please consider buying my latest book.  A writer/house sitter haunts a house with his stories. They haunt him back in return.