The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)
The Haunting directed by Robert Wise (1963)
I was expecting a more standard haunted house kind of story, but it ended up being so much more psychological. It honestly felt like a fever dream at times as we are in Eleanor’s head, trying to figure out where her head is at!
While I didn’t find it scary, like it didn’t make me scared of the dark which is how it determine how scary something is; it did get in my head and it is one that will stick with me.
Jackson shows how losing your sanity is the most horrifying thing there is. Having said that, there are certainly scary, tense moments throughout the book. And the way the house is described is just wonderful and vivid and creepy.
I didn’t really go into this movie with any expectations, but I really liked it! There are some great, disorienting camera shots and angles, as well as some cool effects-namely the scene where the door is budging.
This movie doesn’t have any jump scares really and no frightening images, which I like because it isn’t as disturbing as some newer haunted house type movies that do have those images. I do think not showing something can be effective though too because the audience can you their imagination.
I was also surprised how they definitely wanted to keep Theo being gay. Neither book or movie says it outright, but both have some clear indicators of it. Although I’m sure when the movie came out, that went over some people’s heads because they just weren’t as aware.
I love how the house was an entity itself, not just a haunted house, but a house that itself is evil. I know this opening line is quoted everywhere, but I still want to share it.
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
And another line reading, “It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people or for love or for hope. Exorcism cannot alter the countenance of a house ; Hill House would stay as it was until it was destroyed.”
When Eleanor first pulls up to the house it reads, “She turned her car onto the last stretch of straight drive leading her directly, face to face, to Hill House and, moving without thought, pressed her foot on the brake to stall the car and sat, staring. The house was vile. She shivered and thought, the words coming freely into her mind, Hill House is vile, it is diseased; get away from here at once.”
Stephen King references Jackson in a number of his books, and Hill House definitely reminded me of the Overlook Hotel. Eleanor is also repeating the phrase “journey’s end in lovers meeting” which is something King does as well-having a character repeat a phrase throughout the book.
But we also learn that Hill House was purposefully put together in this off center, askew way, which could cause people inside to have a slight vertigo. Eleanor also thinks how the builders seemed to be rushing to finish, as if they too could feel that what they were building was evil.
Hill House history
In the movie, we get the history of Hill House in the beginning, told to us by the doctor. In the book, the doctor tells the guests, and the reader, the first night they arrive.
Hugh Crane owned the home and had two daughters (but in the movie it is just one), and two different wives, both of whom died on the house grounds.
The dad seems pretty weird and extreme which we find out when they find a book, he had made for his daughter warning her against sins, which he signed in his own blood.
One night too, Eleanor hears the sounds of a child being hurt and we can guess these are the ghosts of Hugh and his daughter(s). It also made me wonder if Eleanor was also abused as a child.
In the book, we learn that the younger daughter stole the older daughters beau, and the younger daughter then got Hill House and lived there. She got a girl from the town to help her as she was older, and when she died, she gave the house to this girl. The sister was upset, feeling like the house should be hers.
But the girl companion gets the house, however she ends up committed suicide by hanging herself. There is a great line from the book about this which reads, “Gossip says she hanged herself from the turret on the tower, but when you have a house like Hill House with a tower and a turret, gossip would hardly allow you to hang yourself anywhere else.”
From here, the house goes to her family, and that is who owns it today. They rent the house out, but no one ever stays longer than a few days.
In the book as well, we learn that Hill House doesn’t let anyone leave at night. When someone tries to, they end up dying so you have to leave during the day. This isn’t specified in the movie though.
We have Doctor Montague, Eleanor, Theo, Luke and the woman who makes the meals Mrs. Dudley, but she leaves in the evening and doesn’t stay overnight.
We learn that Theo had an argument with her “roommate” which is why she decided to accept the Hill House invitation. This isn’t shown in the movie though
We see in the movie that Eleanor is living in her sisters living room and she is belittled by her sister and brother-in-law. She had been caring for their ill mother for the last decade, and the mother recently died, leaving Eleanor not knowing what to do with her life. So, when she gets the invite to Hill House, she is anxious to accept and she takes the car even though her sister had said she couldn’t.
In the book we know about her mom and her stealing the car, but we don’t know she lives with her sister.
One of the things I loved about the book, and the movie shows this as well, but the book had it even more, was how silly and sarcastic they are with each other. They immediately have a chemistry with each other and joke with each other, even the doctor. Eleanor seems like the most serious, yet even she was sarcastic and joking.
In the book, they are eventually joined by the doctor’s wife and her assistant, who are very into the supernatural. In the movie, his wife shows up, but it was unexpected and she doesn’t condone his supernatural “experiments”. So, her character was very different from book to movie.
First evening at Hill House
Eleanor arrives first, and then Theo. Eleanor is creeped out and is so grateful to have someone else there. She is usually more reserved, but she is so relieved to not be alone, she quickly opens up to Theo.
In the book the two of them explore outside, talk about having a picnic, and joking about how they must be cousins and sharing things with each other, but being very silly and fun.
In the movie, they are looking for the drawing room area and can’t find it and Eleanor kind of freaks out.
That evening the doctor tells them why they are here, giving them the history, I went over earlier.
That night, Eleanor and Theo hear crazy loud ponding and laughing outside their door, and cling to each other while they wait for it to pass-they had adjoining rooms, and when the pounding starts Eleanor goes to Theo’s room.
While this was happening inside, the doctor and Luke had thought they had seen a ghostly dog and chased it outside, but they themselves didn’t hear the pounding.
This is the same in book and movie.
The writing on the wall
The next morning everyone is feeling happy and energized after the nights experience. I thought this was interesting and seems true to life in the context of watching a scary movie or something. In the moment everyone is terrified, yet that gives you this adrenaline, and you feel more bonded to those around you, making you feel almost giddy afterwards.
During the day though, they see writing in the hallway, seemingly in chalk, saying “Eleanor come home”. Eleanor is very distressed, and when Theo shows up, she asks if she had done it. Theo then gets Eleanor riled up, saying Eleanor herself could have done it in order to get attention. This makes Eleanor angry, but then the doctor calms her and says Theo was purposefully getting her mad, to distract her from her fear. Theo says yes that’s what she was doing, but Eleanor doesn’t trust Theo and thinks she had actually meant it.
Later, Theo sees writing in her own room, again asking Eleanor to come home, but this time it is written in red and Theo’s clothes have been torn. The movie has the first writing, and the drama with Theo. But they don’t have the writing in Theo’s room.
Eleanor’s loss of identity
Eleanor is very distressed that the house knows her name and we see how as the book goes on, she seems to lose her sense of self. I also noticed that it was part way through the book they start calling her Nell, almost adding to her loss of self. In the movie, they call her Nell from the start though.
Anyway, there was scene earlier in the book when they were in the study, and Eleanor was thinking about her different attributes, what made her who she was. We get this in the movie, but she is talking to the doctor, telling him different facts about herself in order for him to get to know her.
When Theo’s clothes are ruined, she starts wearing Eleanor’s clothes. Everyone starts saying how alike they are, and at one point Luke is saying how she looks like Eleanor and Theo is saying she is Eleanor.
There is also a part where Eleanor is listening in on different conversations, wanting to hear what they say about her, yet people mention everyone else in the house, but don’t say anything about Eleanor. This part made me wonder if she had ever been there at all, but then it goes back to normal and they start acknowledging her again.
The doctor’s wife also shows up in the book, and thinks Theo is Eleanor, again just adding to the confusion of who Eleanor is.
Mrs. Montague in the book
The doctor’s wife is very different from book to movie. In the book, she is very into the supernatural, and is very pretentious about it. Her character arrives when they are a few days into their stay, and she definitely brought some comic relief. She speaks to ghosts using “planchette” which is like a ouji board but it writes with a pencil.
Mrs. Montague decides to sleep in the nursery, which is the most “haunted” of the rooms. The doctor tells the main four they should all stay in the same room in case something happens.
That night the same banging happens, and Eleanor feels like it is coming from her own head. She loses control of her mind that night and basically gives up fighting and allows whatever wants her to have her.
In the movie, the wife shows up but she is a huge skeptic and doesn’t believe in ghosts. That night she sleeps in the nursery, and the rest are in a room downstairs. The same banging happens, and Eleanor leaves the room and again, gives herself to the house so to speak. We see that Mrs. Montague is missing, and while the others are looking for her and Eleanor, Eleanor is going a little crazy and starts walking up the rickety stairs. The find her and the doctor goes up the stairs to help her down but while up there, the wife opens the ceiling door from the attic and freaks out Eleanor. No one else saw the wife do that though, and they just think Eleanor is crazy.
That very night they tell her she needs to leave and the house is having too strong effect on her. She doesn’t want to leave, but she starts driving away and is swerving, because the house doesn’t want her to go. She keeps saying that the wife took her place, and she was the one who was supposed to stay with the house.
As she is driving, she sees the figure of the wife, and she hits a tree. Though is is debated if she swerved because of the wife, or if that would have happened either way.
In the book, after the night when Eleanor basically loses it, the day goes by and she feels like has become one with the house and knows what is going on in every room.
That night, she leaves her room and starts knocking on the doors and laughing. She then goes to the library and from there starts climbing the sketchy stairs. In the book, Luke is the one that goes up to get her. Rather than speaking kindly, trying to cajole her to come down though, he is very harsh and is basically telling her to walk down, otherwise he will just push her off.
She comes down the stairs and seems a bit dazed.
The next morning everyone is kind to her at breakfast, but after breakfast they tell her she needs to leave. She says she can’t take her clothes, because Theo is wearing them. But then we learn that the room is apparently fine and so are her clothes.
They tell her to go to her apartment and this is when she reveals she has no apartment and has been living on her sister’s sofa.
They keep telling her though that she just has to go. As she is in the car, the book reads, “With what she perceived as quick cleverness she pressed her foot down hard on the accelerator; they can’t run fast enough to catch me this time, she thought. But ny now they must be beginning to realize; I wonder who notices first?…I cant hear them calling now, she thought, and the little footsteps running through Hill House and the soft sound of the hills pressing closer. I am really doing it, she thought, turning the wheel to send the car directly at the great tree at the curve in the driveway, I am really doing it, I am doing this all by myself, now, at last; this is me, I am really really doing it by myself.”
In the unending, crashing second before the car hurled into the tree she thought clearly, Why I am I doing this? Why am I doing this? Why don’t they stop me?”
The fact that at the last minute she seems to be thinking clearly and suddenly being like, wait, what am I doing is so powerful. In the movie she has a similar voice over, but in the voice over she thinks, “Why don’t they stop me, then thinks, I am really doing this.” Which isn’t as affecting as the book.
In the movie, we see their reaction as they run up to the car and see what happened. Whereas in the book, we move on to see that everyone is living normal life, almost as if Eleanor never had existed in the first place.
Book vs Movie
I think I would have given this movie a higher rating had I watched it, not having read the book. But because I did read the book, it just felt like the movie was lacking in some areas. I think it holds up really well as a great haunted house story and keeps the psychological aspect. The book had me so enraptured though and so caught up in Eleanor’s thoughts.