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Friday, October 26, 2018

The Haunting of Hill House (2018)

I normally never cover television seasons here at the Horror Dude Blog. Honestly it is way too much of a commitment to spend ten or twenty hours watching something for a review. But I’m going to make an exception for this one because I feel the need to share, plus I’m sort of angry. This might be part review and part rant so be prepared. Also, I need to mention that I’m a huge fan of the book this is based on as well as the original movie made in nineteen sixty-three which was directed by Robert Wise. Before we begin at some point in this review there will be spoilers. They are unavoidable.

The series follows the Crain family as we watch them in a series of flashbacks living in and working on Hill House. We also get to see them years later after the events of that last night which we find out as the series goes on was traumatic. Something bad happened to damage all of their lives and that is what drives the story. To that end the narrative of each episode is setup in a manner that jumps back and forth in time between the present and the past. And the events in the past are told out of order as several episodes focus on different characters. This is done in such a way that it isn’t confusing but is instead engaging. I found myself paying close attention, so I could fill in the blanks of previous episodes as we see the events from the perspective of different characters.

Not only did I enjoy how they told the story out of order, but they even take the time to tie this into the plot as well. One of the ghosts that features prominently, the Bent Neck Lady, is the best example of them using time and it being out of order as an interesting plot device. So basically we have a ghost story told in flashbacks that also has some elements of time travel or at least experiencing things out of order. This sounds a lot more confusing than it ends up being while you are watching the show.

They seemed like such a nice family...
None of this is in the book. The series is less an adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s book as it is a reimagining of it. That is normally a bad word here at the blog, but I thought they did a decent job updating things without switching around the themes that make the book so great. Instead of a group of outsiders going to investigate Hill House over a summer we have a family that is fixing the mansion up with the hopes of flipping it for a profit. Several of the characters are lifted right out of the book both in name and personality and inserted into the series, only instead of investigators they are the children of the Crain family. Even the name family’s name, Crain, is lifted from the book. Though in the book it is the name of the man who built Hill house.

Both the book and the original movie focus more on what you don’t see using door handles, seances, and loud sounds to give the impression of ghostly activity this series goes for the throat. There are a lot of ghosts that at first are shadows barely seen in the background but as the story progresses, they become more obvious until they are right on screen interacting with the characters. There are several feature ghosts that are important or at least are made to seem important to the story, I’ll have more on that later. There is also disturbing images and decent jump scares used to keep the tension as high as possible. They even make sure to use the loud banging sounds and whispers from the earlier adaptations to ratchet up the scares. This is a spooky and entertaining show… up until the end. This is a big change from Jackson’s book which leaves you wondering if anything really happened. That vagueness has always been one of my favorite things about the book and the original movie, but I get that it doesn’t translate well to a modern audience. They had to update it to capture the attention of today’s fans.

When you see your dead mom calling to you... leave!
So far it has all been positive. There are ten episodes in the season each running roughly an hour. For the sake of argument let’s say I spent ten hours watching The Haunting of Hill House. Nine hours and forty-five minutes of the show was awesome. Filled with creepy ghosts, scares, a plot that was engaging and the promise of a big payoff in the end I was having a blast with it. Then it all went to hell.

From episode one we know that the mother is dead and that she died on the last night in the house. It also becomes obvious that the father is hiding something to protect his children. Thru the events of the season they all end up back at Hill House in episode ten and over the last few minutes of the final episode have to do battle with the ghosts in the house that have been torturing their family. What happens? What epic and cool payoff do we get for almost ten hours of build up?

Here it is ladies and gentlemen. On that last night in the house the youngest Crain children were almost killed by their mother who was not possessed as much as she was influenced by the ghosts. Specifically, the ghost named Poppy that manipulated the mother into trying to kill her children and succeeded in causing her death as the rest of the family fled in terror. That same ghost has the children, now adults, locked up torturing them with horrible dreams and visions. It is hinted at that this is what the house does and that it is feeding on their pain. That is one evil ghost.

Ignoring ghosts makes them go away?
Now they are all back in the house and under the influence of Poppy things are clearly about to get all spooky. When Poppy now goes after the father, taunting and teasing him in her creepy way, it seems as if he is next to end up in a nightmare. Then the ghost of the mother shows up and tells her to leave him alone. So Poppy leaves both him and the children alone. They chat, and he convinces his ghost wife to let the kids go. Those that are still breathing leave and that is the end of the story… Really?

The house is still there. The ghosts are still ready to destroy anyone that walks thru the front door. Poppy who lead to a couple of deaths is still strolling around the house. The spirits of several dead Crain family members are trapped within the walls of Hill House for eternity. And the last scene we see are the surviving children celebrating the sobriety of their junkie brother with their significant others with them because everything is okay now? I guess abandoning the spirits of your loved ones in a hellish haunted house is good for relationships. Who knew?

They screw everything up in the last fifteen minutes of the last episode of the season because they either thought this was a good ending or perhaps didn’t have a better one. Not sure but either way it is garbage. It would have been better if it was bad from the beginning. At least I wouldn’t have wasted all that time on it. Plus, my lovely wife, Mrs. Horror Dude, doesn’t often sit down for the spooky stuff and this was something she wanted to watch. She didn’t like the ending either, so I feel like I wasted ten hours of quality screen time with her. Maybe she would have watched Killer Klowns from Outer Space with me? Okay probably not, but now we will never know. Skip this one.

© Copyright 2018 John Shatzer

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