Series Review

'Haunting of Hill House' gave Stephen King goosebumps. Enough said

Netflix's much-hyped horror miniseries is best watched by daylight - and not alone, writes Jennifer Platt

28 October 2018 - 00:00 By Jennifer Platt
'The Haunting of Hill House' is loosley based on a 1959 American Gothic novel of the same name.
'The Haunting of Hill House' is loosley based on a 1959 American Gothic novel of the same name.
Image: Supplied

Stephen King says The Haunting of Hill House is a "work of genius". The horror master says the 10-part miniseries gave him goosebumps. What more of an endorsement do you need to watch the Netflix show? You can binge it, but that's not really recommended for your nerves or your heart.

It's very loosely based on the 1959 American Gothic horror novel of the same name by Shirley Jackson, which was considered a game-changer in the literary genre and one of the best ghost stories written in the 20th century.

Jackson writes of Hill House: it's "not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more".

The TV adaption is as definitive, taking the horror genre on television to a whole new level. American Horror Story seems now almost tame by comparison. The Haunting of Hill House is far scarier on many different levels. And it's timely viewing as it has become the water-cooler talk this Halloween season.

WATCH | The trailer for The Haunting of Hill House

Creator Mike Flanagan is not afraid to take viewers into shit-scary territory. He is not afraid to give jump scares. He is not afraid to fill episodes with unnerving panning shots in a mortuary, during a storm, with an unexplained blackout, with zombie creatures who have sprawling cavities for mouths and who crawl on the floor, or with unexpected ghosts who linger in the corner of the screen. Waiting. Watching.

That's just the supernatural horror element. The other horror element is the natural one, the human one. This is not Jackson's story, which was about a scientist who invites four people to live in the house in the summer so he can record the ghostly apparitions and their reactions to them.

This is Flanagan's creation. A story about a family. Ultimately one about five children who each had a terrible experience growing up and whose parents were fundamentally flawed and, it could be argued, almost negligent. The Verge.com called it "This Is Us wrapped in a Gothic ghost story". It's a story about family squabbles, grief and tragedy.

Each episode deals with a family member and their version of what took place in the house. It becomes a set of puzzle pieces that only can be put together in the last episode

Like This is Us, it works on several timelines. There's the present, with the children now defenceless adults and there's the past, the summer when they were defenceless young children being haunted in Hill House. Each episode deals with a family member and their version of what took place in the house. It becomes a set of puzzle pieces that only can be put together in the last episode. The characters, rather than the horror, become the story.

The parents are Hugh (Henry Thomas, ET; the older Hugh is played by Timothy Hutton) and Olivia Crain (Carla Cugino, Spy Kids). They purchase the decrepit mansion with the intent of flipping it during the summer. They take on way more than they can handle.

There's the eldest child, Steven (Michiel Huisman, Game of Thrones), who is a celebrated author of true horror books. His first bestseller was about his family experience in Hill House. His siblings are upset that he has written about them, that their fears and grief are there for the world to see. As a child he embraces the role of the elder brother. As an adult, he is a sceptic as he has never seen any of the ghosts in Hill House or what he has written about subsequently.

The first episode, however, is called "Steven Sees A Ghost" and we get to see his version of events during that fateful summer. The last time he left Hill House, his father carried him out, telling him whatever happens, not to open his eyes.

Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser, Twilight) is the second-eldest. She is responsible and cool-headed and needs control over her life. She decides to become a mortician to have command over the dead.

The second sister is Theodora (Kate Siegel, Hush) who always sports a pair of leather gloves for protection as she can sense too much by simply touching objects or people. She is a child psychologist but struggles to form any meaningful relationships.

Then there are the twins, who seem to be the most badly hit by their experiences in the mansion. Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Emerald City) is a drug addict, injecting himself with heroin to numb himself from seeing the floating tall man with the bowler hat and cane that keeps on haunting him.

Nelly (Victoria Pedretti) is clinically depressed. She has night terrors and starts seeing again the Bent-Necked Lady that she first saw crawling out from under her bed when she was a little girl.

The siblings might have left the house in the dead of night with their father, speeding off in a station wagon, but they are still being haunted as adults. Mostly estranged from their dad, they are all brought together by a recent death and one by one are dragged back to the house with the many rooms on the hill. The house that sees them as an unfinished meal ... a house that was just "born bad".

Advice: try to watch it in daylight with someone next to you.