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TV Series Review

Whatever walked there, walked alone.

So horror author Shirley Jackson wrote in her 1959 book, The Haunting of Hill House. We hear those same five words again, solemnly intoned in the opening moments of this new Netflix series, loosely inspired by Jackson's novel.

But is that true? If we judge from the rattling doorknobs and shaking paintings and the creepy, crawling things we see, it would seem that the halls of Hill House are quite crowded, actually. And the house is ushering in more haunts all the time.

A Hill to Die On

Jackson's original book (and the 1963 movie that followed) centers on a psychically fragile woman named Eleanor Vance. She and a small team of paranormal investigators spend time in Hill House, a sprawling, crumbling mansion with a macabre reputation. Many consider Jackson's work to be the definitive literary ghost story of the 20th century.

In a twist perhaps somewhat fitting, Netflix has kept the house and some key characters but promptly killed off most of the rest of the story, making room for a new host of guests. Also fitting: Time is relative here. The story's told on separate timelines, à la This Is Us: Future fatalities walk Hill House's halls in unknowing innocence, unaware that they could be the home's next haunts.

In this version of Hill House, and in its own Netflixian past, Eleanor is the youngest daughter of house-flippers Hugh and Olivia Crain. She's not alone: Hugh and Olivia preside over a large, mostly happy brood—Steve, Shirley, Theo and Luke are the other kids in tow.

As Hugh and Olivia push to finish this one final property so they can make enough money to build their own "forever" home, the kids rattle around in the mansion's endless rooms and frolic in the overgrown acreage with, at first, nary a care. Thumping walls and shaking paints are simply "old pipes," Hugh explains. And the other … things that the kids see? The product of overactive imaginations, they're told. Sure, the hidden basements and locked attics of Hill House are a bit bothersome, but what old house doesn't have its share of secrets?

Things are significantly less rosy for the Crain clan in the present. Steve's become a writer of "real" ghost stories, even though he doesn't believe in ghosts (despite his own experience with them; he believes that overactive imagination line). His first subject was Hill House, naturally—a novel that some other siblings consider nothing short of an act of betrayal. Shirley's a mortician, tasked with giving the dead one last time with the living. Theo's a lesbian psychologist with a literal psychic touch. Luke's an addict constantly running from rehab.

And Eleanor? Dead. She went back to Hill House and killed herself—not unlike what her mother, Olivia, allegedly did years before, when they all lived there together, and Olivia held out the glowing promise of a "forever" house like a carrot.

Hill House broke them, some believe. It broke them both. Perhaps it broke them all.

Ghastly

In the context of modern horror, The Haunting of Hill House is more restrained than some similar tales. It's no slasher story, like a 10-episode Friday the 13th movie. It's not horrifically gory, like a Netflix version of Saw. The real frights here don't jump out of closets with a boo and a burst artery: Instead, they creep from behind boxes, thump down the halls, settle into bed with the sleeping children—holding them, tender and tight, in their cold, clammy arms. It's yet more proof that stories don't need explicit R-rated content to scare the living daylights out of you.

But to say that sort of content isn't needed doesn't mean it isn't there. We don't need to see a female corpse with exposed breasts and innards. But we get it, anyway, even though it doesn't heighten the scares one little bit. We don't need to see a play-by-play of Theo's sexual escapades, yet there it is—sneaking into our living rooms like an unbidden bogeyman. The only f-word horror fans ask of a horror story? Fright. But Netflix plasters us with plenty of the other sort, too.

Netflix has fielded plenty of plaudits for its atmospheric, psychological ghost story. Viewers have peppered Twitter with backhanded praise. "Haunting of hill house [sic] is making me terror vomit in joyful confusion," one tweet read. "So I love it."

But not everyone enjoys the experience of "terror vomit." Some would rather not have graphic, salacious images stalking through their brains' shadowed corridors, or hear unwanted words thump against its doors. The Haunting of Hill House isn't just scary: It's dark—the storytelling equivalent of sneaking into a black basement without turning on the lights.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Oct. 12, 2018: "Touch"

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Michiel Huisman as Steven Crain; Carla Gugino as Olivia Crain; Henry Thomas as Young Hugh Crain; Elizabeth Reaser as Shirley Crain; Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Luke Crain; Kate Siegel as Theodora Crain; Victoria Pedretti as Nell Crain; Lulu Wilson as Young Shirley; Mckenna Grace as Young Theo; Paxton Singleton as Young Steven; Julian Hilliard as Young Luke; Violet McGraw as Young Nell; Timothy Hutton as Hugh Crain; Anthony Ruivivar as Kevin Harris; Samantha Sloyan as Leigh Crain; Annabeth Gish as Mrs. Dudley; Robert Longstreet as Mr. Dudley; Olive Elise Abercrombie as Abigail

Director

Distributor

Network

Netflix

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

Released

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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