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The Haunting‘s one of those classic horror movies that’s thoroughly deserving of the title. Directed by Robert Wise and based on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel of the same name, it sees a group of people taken by a scientist to an old house to investigate whether it’s really haunted or not. These people, some sceptics, some psychic, some a bit unhinged, slowly learn that either the house is haunted or they are.
Wise’s direction doesn’t involve horror or ‘jump shocks’ but is instead based around the slow build up of tension and horror, as we try to piece together what’s happening and our imagination runs riot. It’s a technique that’s been used countless times since and the likes of Ghostwatch owe The Haunting a huge debt.
Cycles of horror
Horror, like every other genre, is subject to trends and the style of horror exemplified by The Haunting was to reach its zenith in The Exorcist, before changing cinema rules meant gore took over as the mode of choice for directors by the mid-70s and 80s. Since then, we’ve had The Blair Witch Project give us more than a decade of “found footage” horror, while the Saw franchise and the likes of Eli Roth dialled up sadistic horror to the max. Meanwhile, the “jump shock” school of horror – aka “quiet, quiet, BANG” – has had a renaissance in movies such as The Quiet Place.
Thanks to director Mike Flanagan (Occulus, Absentia, Before I Wake) we also now have a return to at least something of the original The Haunting‘s tension-building horror with a new adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House for Netflix as a ten-part series. To expand the story out to that much of a runtime, Flanagan does a lot of tinkering with the underlying story, making the various original characters siblings, yet otherwise keeping them similar. He also gives us two timelines.
In the first, set in 1992, we have a family move into the old ‘Hill House’, a fixer-upper if ever there was one. They intend to remodel it and redesign it, before selling it on, so they can make enough money to settle down permanently and build and live in their ‘Forever House’. Tragically, however, before their dreams can be attained, the family has to flee in the middle of the night, leaving mother Carla Gugino behind dead. What happened? Father Henry Thomas (ET) claims it was ghosts; others say it was suicide.
The whole world wants to know, so naturally when son Steven (Michiel Huisman) is down on his luck, the aspiring novel writes a tell-all book, which makes him rich – but ostracises him from his sisters, mortician Elizabeth Reaser, child psychologist Kate Siegel and struggling addict Oliver Jackson-Cohen.
Sister Nell (Victoria Pedretti)? Well, she’s a bit batty these days thanks to all the dreams. Of course, things take a turn for the worse for her once she decides to go back to the house one night, leaving the rest of the family to piece together what happened to her and revisit old memories – that’s when old memories aren’t revisiting them…