Do you remember Hitchcock's Spiral Staircase? Well, there's one in Hill House

I'm really happy to find myself in the position of enjoying a few days off starting from today,  so I'm here to share with you my joy and one of my latest exciting watching experiences, which  may fit the somewhat-dark merriment of today. 

Let me be honest first: Halloween has never been a big deal to me because

1. It generally isn't in my country, Italy
2. I'm definitely not attracted to things macabre and gloomy.

But ... there's always a BUT, isn't there?

I've been unexpectedly enjoying a show that may be the perfect pumpkin in your Halloween special -things-to-do list,  if you are not going to a party and are planning a stay-at-home celebration, alone or with friends. 

Here's my treat:  The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix. I am the first to be puzzled by my suggestion since I never thought a horror show about a haunted house could be something worth watching. But now I'm sure I never thought that, not because I had never seen one before (NE-VAH!),   but  because I had not seen this one yet! 

Very loosely based on Shirley Jackson's 1959 gothic horror novel of the same title, The Haunting of Hill House was released globally on October 12th by Netflix. It is a 10-hour series, it is directed, written and produced by Mike Flanagan and it is so much more than a plain scare-jump rollercoaster!   I was totally in awe - and obviously also scared - while watching it, in just two sessions and  as soon as it was available online.

A High-Quality TV series

First of all The Haunting of Hill House is a stunningly accurate and rich production, which is unusual for horror movies, and it has an incredibly talented cast as well,  which is indispensable to successfully render the deep psychological insight into the complex characters populating the story. 

The ensemble cast includes Oscar winner Timothy Hutton, Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas, Michiel Huisman, Elizabeth Reaser, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Kate Siegel, Victoria Pedretti and a group of very  cute,  professional children actors. 

The story follows the Crain siblings who, as children, happened to live for a few weeks in what would go on to become the most famous haunted house in the country.  Now adults, they are forced back together in the face of tragedy and must finally confront the ghosts of their past. Some of those ghosts still lurk in their minds, while others may actually be stalking the shadows of Hill House. (from Rotten Tomatoes)

Little Nell doesn't want to sleep in her room, so Olivia sleeps with her in the sitting room. But the bent-neck lady knows!

The Crain family 

The family includes the parents, Hugh (Henry Ford and Timothy Hutton) and Olivia (Carla Gugino)  and five children: 
  • Steven (Michiel Huisman) - The famous paranormal author who doesn't believe in ghosts.
  • Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser) - The stern mortician 
  • Theodora "Theo" (Kate Siegel) - The child psychotherapist with ESP skills activated through touch.
  • Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) - One of the young twins struggling with drug addiction. 
  • Eleanor "Nell" (Victoria Pedretti) - The other young twin, the most traumatized of the 5 siblings, coping with depression and grief.
Theo, Steven, Nell, Luke and Shirley Crain as adults

They are all gripping characters you will be drawn to love.  Their story-lines and their dialogues or monologues are so well - written that you immediately start to care for them and you are terribly frightened, if not for yourself, for their safety. And this was the trick that swept me off of my feet and made me love a terrifying experience like watching this series: the focus is on the psychological effects which living in a haunted house for a few weeks has on a lovely, loving family.  The ghosts and the nightmares, the apparitions and the mysterious events are only part of the Crain family's greater drama.

The literary quality of the screenplay

I loved a monologue from one of the final scenes of  the final episode. I found it simple and direct,  but touching and thought-provoking. The scene involves the two rational siblings, Steven and Shirley,  and their spouses. The two siblings are finally coming to terms with their own personal ghosts. The following words are delivered by Steven:

"I've lived with ghosts since I was a kid. Since before I knew they were even there. Ghosts are guilt, ghosts are secrets, ghosts are regrets and failings. But ... most times... most times a ghost is a wish. Like a marriage is a wish. A marriage can be like a house and can be haunted  (...) I've built a wall all around a big part of my life and hid behind that wall, and I thought that wall kept us both safe, but walls don't work that way. Walls never work that way." (Steven Crain, The Haunting of Hill House,  2018) 

Steven Crain often uses Shirley Jackson's own words from the novel while writing or reading his own novel on the show:

"This house, which seemed somehow to have formed itself, flying together in its own powerful pattern under the hands of its builders reared its great head back against the sky without concession to humanity. It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people, or for love, or for hope." (Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House, 1959)

Dealing with the scary moments

How did I cope with the most frightening scenes? Not very well, actually, that is to say,  jumping and screaming, although I had tried to get myself ready with some defensive techniques.

- Before I started seeing the series I had watched all the featurettes and cast interviews - actors telling behind the scenes anecdotes or explaining how they shot certain particular scenes -    and I kept them in mind while watching, in order to remind myself that what was scaring me was just fake, that it was all about acting,  that it was just a TV series.

- I watched most of it in the afternoon and with my family around the house

- I covered my eyes when I really couldn't make it.

Silly as it may sound, I'm very proud of myself , since I got through till the end and even  watched it again from start to end to catch up with the bits I realized I had missed. (OH,  the red room!)

What scared me the most? The bent-neck lady haunting little Nell's nights and generally the creepy atmosphere in the house. And, of course, this scene below with little Luke in the dumb elevator!

Young Luke asks young Theo  to help him go for a ride on the dumbwaiter. Wrong direction, though!

Ten good reasons to watch the series

1. Psychological in-depth
2. Very good story-lines for each one of the siblings
3. Awesome acting from both the senior and the junior members of the cast
4. Intriguing dynamics between the characters
5. Tension and suspence ingeniously created
6. Touching monologues and unforgettable lines
7. Episode 6 uniqueness with its stage quality (and only 4 cuts!) 
8. The need to rewatch after ending to catch up on the bits you realize you've missed
9. Familiar faces you have definitely already seen in great movies or series
10. A very satisfactory finale which leaves you satisfied, moved and very happy you made it alive!

Steven and his father  go back to Hill House after many years

Some friendly advice

If I've made you curious and you are willing to try The Haunting of Hill House today or in the  next future, just remember:

-  brace yourself for an extraordinary, emotional,  thrilling journey (friendly advice)
-  you may want to watch it alone, but it is much better with friends (very friendly advice!)
-  choose a comfortable armchair and take the snacks and the drinks at hand,  because once you start, you will wish nothing or nobody to interrupt you. (super friendly advice!!!)

It's highly bingeworthy material!  And if you haven't subscribed to Netflix yet, you can always use the one-month free trial subscription they offer!

Sharing a secret

P.S. If any of you is wondering how a period drama lover who had always been picky when it came to horror stuff ended up watching this series, well, I'll tell you but ... KEEP IT A SECRET!

Everything started with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and a certain fascinating Dutch actor playing sweet, handsome Dawsey Adams, whom I had never seen before in anything at all.

Well, now I'm quite the expert fan, instead. I've been catching up with his filmography: 2:22, The Ottoman Lieutenant, The Age of Adeline, The Invitation, Irreplaceable You and even some episodes of Game of Thrones, Nashville and Orphan Black. I blame you, Michiel Huisman!

Michiel Huisman as Steven Crain in The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
Michiel Huisman as Dawsey Adams with Lily James as Juliet Ashton in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society  (2018)

Praise for The Haunting of Hill House

"THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, revised and remodeled by Mike Flanagan. I don't usually care for this kind of revisionism, but this is great. Close to a work of genius, really. I think Shirley Jackson would approve, but who knows for sure." (Stephen King on Twitter)

"Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House is officially a trending hit, offering viewers a mix of rich family drama and frightening supernatural horror. However, what seems to be connecting with a lot of viewers is the almost literary level of narrative and thematic sophistication that showrunner Mike Flanagan brought to the show, which has allowed fans to peel back layers of meaning and connect a lot of thematic dots, to discover even deeper and richer levels of meaning to the story of the Crain Family, and the ghosts (literal and figurative) that haunt them from childhood into adulthood."  (comicbook.com)

"Hill House is not a paranormal story so much as a meditation on the distinct way grief and trauma maim the living." (Vulture.com)

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