I’m terrified of ghosts, wouldn’t you know it. There are some people who feel like real threats, like serial killers, gangs, and stalkers are more frightening. And it totally makes sense. I mean, if I’m sitting in a car in an empty parking lot in the middle of the night (because people do that?) I’ve probably got a lot more to fear from an ax murderer than a dead thing. But it’s not the likelihood of attack that is so scary.
The thing is, I’m also drawn to ghost stories. Not because I like a good scare. In fact, kinda the opposite. I like a bit of creepy, but if you ask me my favorite Halloween flicks I will hold up Coraline or The Corpse Bride as my shining examples. About as scary as I get is A Quiet Place. Walking Dead gave me nightmares for months (and I still get them, when I dream of dead things)
Perhaps part of what makes ghost stories so terrifying for me, is my history of sleep disorders. Sleepwalking, nightmares, and sleep paralysis, along with hallucinations (sometimes without the paralysis as the opening act). Dead things suddenly become a bit more frightening when you wake up in the middle of the night to see them standing over your bed.
So, why, you may ask, did I watch the newest adaptation of the celebrated horror book, The Haunting of Hill House? Curiosity mostly. Netflix did I good job marketing it, I guess.
I didn’t expect to get so sucked in. When I say “sucked in” I watched the entire show in one day… one afternoon. And I didn’t sleep more than three hours that night.
Despite that, I absolutely loved this show. Yes, it was terrifying. There are reports of people throwing up from fear. Some people say that the author of the original book depends on “terror” instead of “horror” and I would fully agree with that. There was actually a jump-scare where I straight up screamed. I don’t scream.
While the ghosts, and the atmosphere and the story telling are all drenched in the very best of horror storytelling, that was not the main draw for me. Don’t get me wrong, like I said before, I am oddly drawn to ghost stories. But I feel like the best ghost stories don’t start and end with dead things and fear. Sure, there are “popcorn” horror movies that do just that, but I think we can all agree that when I’m talking about “great”, this is not what I mean.
The first thing I thought when I finished The Haunting of Hill House was, “goodness, I didn’t think I would cry so much for a horror show.” My second thought was “THIS is what I want for The Raventree Society”.
And there really was a lot of comparisons for Hill House and Raventree. A crazy amount actually. Enough that I feel right in quoting The Haunting of Hill House as a comparison title. The center of that comparison is the emphasis on family. In Hill House, the plot might be driven forward by the scares and the ghosts, but the heart of it is the family. A tragedy in the family forces the Crain siblings and their father back together. As they struggle with eachother, with their pasts, and with their own sins, they are knit back into a family and a force to be reckoned with. Each character is fully fleshed out, active in the story, and essential to the plot. There was not a single character that I was okay with losing. Probably the first and BIGGEST reason this story is different from so many horror movies.
Each relationship was tested, explored and grown. Watching this family brim with hatred and love, each in turn, was a beautiful thing.
The language was gorgeous in this show. There was so much poetry and beauty dripping out of this show. There were times when it felt really out of place. For instance, when the young children, particularly Stevie, were given lines that sounded like they were taken out of a Dickens novel. At first it was jarring to me. It didn’t feel natural. But it’s part of the charm of the story. One of the ways in which you have to suspend your disbelief. The poetry of the dialogue and narration compliments the deep and abiding themes and the enveloping emotion of the story.
This story as also told in a very unconventional way, without much concern to linear story telling. The first five episodes are a blend of flashbacks and a glimpse into each sibling’s life as they experience the same series of fateful events. From there the story heads into the next few days, while still revealing bits and pieces of the past. This method helps solidify one of the themes of the story as one of the characters tells us “It falls around us like rain. Like Snow. Like confetti”, solidifying both plot points, and the idea that the past and future are constantly effecting our present.
I’ll admit, the last two episodes were really not to scary for me. But I feel like they weren’t entirely meant to be. I did, however, bawl like a baby through most of it.
Horror stands unique in writing for this reason: fear is primal. It’s not like most of the other emotions that we try to elicit in our fiction. Love. Joy. Warm fuzzies. Frustration. Fear is something that either works, or it doesn’t, and it will do so in a split second. A lot like humor.
Because fear is so primal is shoots straight to the heart, and you as an author have a prime chance to carry something deep into the heart of your reader. The Haunting of Hill House does this to perfection, loading up terror with hope, family, unconditional love, and protection. Making the most dangerous of places speak to us about the safety of family, and the joy of hope that reaches even beyond death.
Have you seen The Haunting of Hill House? What about the book. I want to read it so bad now, is it as good as people say? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave your comments below!