Horror, as a genre, eats itself. It is endlessly self-referential and it relishes in its references. At its best; horror manages to be both strikingly original and wholly familiar. The Haunting of Hill House (the book) is a text which arguably sits as the definitive ‘haunted house’ and has influenced countless versions in the 60 years since it was first published.
This series, which dropped on Netflix in October 2018 and is now available on Blu-ray and DVD with three extended episodes in what creator and director Mike Flanagan referred to as their “original form” – and whilst this might suggest that what we had seen up until now was somehow compromised – this is not the case.
Instead, this is an opportunity for those members of its audience brave enough to return to Hill House and experience the finest example of horror storytelling on TV for some time.
The story focuses on the Crain family and tells; from each of their own perspectives, the story of what may (or may not) have happened when the five siblings were children and their parents brought the eponymous Hill House with the intention of flipping it so that they could then build their own dream home. Alternating between the present day, when the siblings are now adults and the fall-out from the horrifying events that took place when they were younger. The show covers themes of family, greed, mental illness, jealousy, and drug addiction – the series takes the ‘haunted house’ setting and uses it as a device to explore the personalities of each of the central players. It is also, at heart, a ghost story. In both the metaphysical and literal sense.
What makes this series so successful is its uncompromising attitude to disengaged viewers. In the age of second screens and watching TV on your phone on the tube; HoHH is a show which demands you watch and that you do it in the dark. It has a non-linear narrative and is filled with ambiguous and unreliable narration. The jump-scares are few and far between – with the show choosing instead to focus on building a persistent atmosphere of unrest and subtlety in its execution that rewards repeated viewings.
Amongst the extended episodes included in this box-set is my own personal favourite (and scariest) ‘The Bent-Necked Lady’. An episode which once you know its secret only feels more unsettling and horrific. As someone who considers themselves as a seasoned horror fan; this chilled me to the core and kept me utterly enthralled throughout. It was the high-point in a series that was in equal parts enthralling and utterly terrifying.
Where this show really stands apart from its contemporaries is not just in the scares, the multitude of ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-them’ ghosts but in its emotional storytelling. It takes the time to give us properly fleshed out, three-dimensional characters and draw us into their individual stories. The show is perhaps best described as being a ‘dark-Gothic thriller’ rather than out and out horror. It has more in common with The Witch and A Field In England than it does with American Horror Story. Where the ever-impending sense of dread it compounded by the characterisation of the location as being as much a part of the cast as the human characters.
For fans of the show, there is a lot of great additional content here, the extended episodes and commentary from Flanagan are a welcome expansion on a masterpiece in gripping and terrifying television. For newcomers, there are ten episodes of exquisite television and a series that bears repeat viewing.
If you dare.
Dir: Mike Flanagan
Scr: Mike Flanagan, Shirley Jackson
Cast: Henry Thomas, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Kate Siegel, Victoria Pedretti, Lulu Wilson, Michiel Huisman, Carla Gugion, Elizabeth Reaser, Mckenna Grace, Paxton Singleton, Julian Hilliard, Violet McGraw, Timothy Hutton, Samantha Sloyan
Prd: Meredith Averill, Charise Castro Smith, Justin Falvey, Mike Flanagan, Darryl Frank, Jeff Howard, Dan Kaplow, Ann Kindberg, Scott Kosar, Trevor Macy, Elizabeth Ann Phang, Brian Sherwin, Emily Fenster, E.L. Katz
DoP: Michael Fimognari, Maxime Alexandre
Music: The Newton Brothers
Runtime: 581 minutes
Season 1 of Haunting of Hill House is out now on Blu-Ray and DVD with the extended episodes and commentary.