The Haunting (1999) vs The Haunting of Hill House (2018) | adaptation review

In honor of Halloween this year, I read for the first time Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Obviously I was dying to watch the Netflix series when it came out, but I told myself I’d get around to it.

After finally reading the novel this year, I discovered there are film adaptations, too. I decided to only watch the 1999 one before watching the series. Because I legit could not wait to scare the pants off myself.

I obviously loved Jackson’s novel, but I knew it would be hard to convey that subtle horror atmosphere in film without seeming…cheesy. And though I have a lot to say about both adaptations, I will try to condense by writing about both in the same post. You’re welcome. Be lucky you don’t live with me.

Also: this goes without saying that these reviews contain spoilers for the novel The Haunting of Hill House and both adaptations. Read at your own discretion.

The Haunting

Motion Picture Rating: PG-13
Release Date: 1999
Director: Jan de Bont
Runtime: 113 mins.
Adapted From: The Haunting of Hill House

Dr. Marrow wants to conduct a study on the psychological effects of fear. He invites 3 insomniacs to Hill House under the guise of a sleep study. Eleanor, AKA Nell, has just recently lost her mother and is about to lose her home. Always an outsider, Nell is thrilled to be invited to Hill House for this study, where she meets the other two participates Luke and Theo. But as Dr. Morrow beings his true study on fear, things get a little too real for Nell…

A loose adaptation of Jackson’s novel, the 1999 film was a huge flop. And an even bigger disappoint to me as a lover of adaptation. With a Rotten Tomatoes score of only 16%, I feel OK telling you to never watch this movie. Like, ever. It was, as the kids say, a hot mess. Let’s start with casting.

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From left to right: Theo (Catherine Zeta-Jones); Luke (Owen Wilson); Nell (Lili Taylor); Dr. Marrow (Liam Neeson)

How did such a great cast produce such a bad film? Theo was exactly how I pictured in the novel: cold, flirty, flippant, and full of herself. And also incredibly bisexual, which was very obviously hinted at in the novel but which I’m incredibly surprised made it into the film in 1999. Wow. Luke was a very chill dude, and definitely not the heir to Hill House like in the novel but just a regular guy. Nell was timid, strange, a little flighty… And Dr. Marrow (why Marrow and not Montague?) was played by Liam Neeson so obviously he was 100% perfect—very doctor-like, dad-like, and a bit of a jerk.

(Also can I just point out that Owen Wilson as Luke exclaimed “WOW” twice in his first scene in the film! Bless him.)

So to answer my own question: how did this cast produce a bad film? The answer is simple: terrible, awful writing. Not only was the film about a fear study disguised as a sleep study (which seems weird when just using the original plot of a paranormal study would have been fine), but then we get this awful backstory about the Hills and dead children and Nell’s connection to the house and wow, it was cringe-y. It takes a lot for me to really dislike a film, so when I say it was bad, I mean it.

So plot was all wrong, and I think that really hurt the story. Especially the end. Wow. It was just this mess of… I don’t even know what to call it. It was bad. Let’s just leave it at that. And not only does Nell die (though her death was happy or something?), Luke also gets decapitated, so that was weird. Only Dr. Marrow and Theo get out of the house. Oh, and speaking of the house, which is always a character itself… I hated it. It was more like a fun house than a spooky mansion, with revolving floors and mirror rooms and hidden passageways. Reading the book, Hill House didn’t feel that way to me.

I never want to watch that movie again, and just save yourself 2 hours by not watching it. You will thank me later.

The Haunting of Hill House

Series: S1
Release Date: 2018
Network: Netflix
Adapted From: The Haunting of Hill House

In 1992, Hugh and Olivia Crain buy Hill House and move their 5 children in with them as they renovate the house for sale. But over the course of that summer, what the Crains experience can only be described as a nightmare. After fleeing the house, only 6 of the Cranes remain. But the terror doesn’t stop there. Hill House won’t let them go.

Take a breath of fresh air–I only have good things to say about Netflix’s loose adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House. With 10 episodes, Netflix does everything right what the 1999 film did wrong.

The series flashes back and forth between the past—the summer of ’92—and the present, when the children are adults.

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Violet McGraw | Victoria Pedretti

Nell is the youngest Crain, and perhaps the most haunted by Hill House other than her twin, Luke. As a child, she’s terrified of the “bent-neck lady,” a figure who follows her into adulthood and who, she believes, is responsible for the death of her husband. Only it turns out…she’s the bent-neck lady, I think? She was haunting herself the whole time. They really did Nell dirty… I mean, they killed her off so quickly. Her life was depressing and it made me sad.

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Julian Hilliard | Oliver Jackson-Cohen

Luke, Nell’s older twin brother by 18 minutes, is a drug addict in his adult life. He does drugs to hide from the things he remembers from childhood, one of those things being this suuuuuuper creepy tall boi that I cannot get out of my head. He also had a friend who everyone (myself included) thought was imaginary (or even a ghost) but was really just the reclusive neighbor girl. Who then died. By poison. Right in front of him. So yeah, I’d probably do drugs, too.

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Mckenna Grace | Kate Siegel

Middle-child Theo is a child psychologist with special powers. She, like her mother, is “sensitive.” Just by touching someone or something, Theo is able to feel emotions, which sounds absolutely terrible but helps her in her current career. She wears gloves to control it when she doesn’t want to feel something. She is a lesbian with commitment issues, and currently lives in her older sister’s guest house.

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Lulu Wilson | Elizabeth Reaser

Shirley is second-oldest and fairly ordinary, aside from her sleep talking. She pretends into her adult life that she never saw anything scary or wrong in Hill House or after. She owns a mortuary with her husband and has 2 children.

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Paxton Singleton | Michiel Huisman

Steven, the eldest Crain child, is also very ordinary, and maintains he’s never seen a ghost nor experience anything off about Hill House. However he takes his siblings’ stories and turns them into a novel: The Haunting of Hill House. He, being the oldest, remembers his mother and that summer the most, and resents his father more than anyone. He believes his entire family has a mental illness.

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Timothy Hutton | Henry Thomas

And let’s not forget Hugh, the man with a plan, the man who can fix anything. Except Hill House. Or his family.

I mean, just take a look at that cast. I’m always fascinated when a show flashes back between past and present, and the past actors look so much like their adult counterparts. I’m in love with this cast, I really am.

With 10 episodes and a backstory like that, you know this adaptation also doesn’t follow the novel to a T. But that’s OK, for once, because I think they did this one right. And though I don’t want to go too much into the story, because it’s so long and back-and-forth, I will say I really appreciated this version of Jackson’s story. I thought it was very well done and actually did scare me. Like, scared me so bad I couldn’t watch it in the evenings and only could watch it when my gf was around and the sun was out. It took me 2 weeks to get through it!

You definitely need to watch the Netflix series if you haven’t already. I loved it and I hope everyone else does, too. Though it does give the still-living Crain’s a fairly happy ending while the book has a super cynical and sad ending, I wasn’t upset with it. I truly enjoyed how this series was spun and played out. For once I actually appreciated all the differences in the adaptation versus the novel.

This show is about a haunted house, yes, but it’s also about grief and fear, and kind of about time? How time isn’t linear at all. Nell says time isn’t like a row of dominos, but more like rain falling around you, or confetti. Very trippy. Hill House is confusing. And scary. But also made for a great, timeless story. And although the Netflix series was amazing, I’m still going to have to say…

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