Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Haunting of Hill House: A Win for Horror Fans

Nothing much to report this week, so perhaps I’ll give you a television recommendation.  If you haven’t yet watched The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, you really should.  Assuming you like horror, this is one of the best television shows of the last decade, if not more—we’re talking a Game of Thrones level, Breaking Bad level, Walking Dead level show.  In fact, it’s quite possibly the best horror TV show of the 21st century thus far, period.  One has to discount certain contenders, of course: Ash vs Evil Dead and Santa Clarita Diet are magnificent shows, but they’re in the horror-comedy camp (pun inteneded, naturally), and that’s a different ball of wax.  Walking Dead is a triumph, of course, but zombie shows are not so much horror shows as they are post-apocalyptic stories of man vs natural disaster—it just so happens that the disaster in this case wants to eat your brains.  True Blood deserves a mention as well, but realistically it’s more urban fantasy (with just a touch of supernatural Harlequin romance).  So I think the only real competition that Hill House has is American Horror Story, which has some fantastic seasons but also a few clunkers, and Castle Rock, which is a tempting choice: it’s a beautiful story, with more Easter eggs for hardcore Stephen King fans than we probably deserve.  But here’s the reason Hill House wins: it’s terrifying.

American Horror Story has some gruesome moments, and one or two genuine scares (especially in the first season).  Castle Rock is more of a masterwork puzzle with the way it all fits together perfectly while also turning in on itself.  But Hill House has all those things: it started scaring me right in the first episode, and when I got to the end and finally saw how it all fit together, I literally gasped.  I’m now watching it for a second time so I can fully appreciate all the foreshadowing and callbacks.  But it also fully delivers on the scares: one of the middle episodes gave me such a vicious jump scare that I dropped my laptop on the floor.  And, you know: jump scares can be cheap ... you can generate one with a loud noise and a cat popping out from behind a chair.  But this one was well-earned and amazingly effective.  And that was only halfway through: there was still plenty more to come.

The show runner is Mike Flanagan, who has produced a slew of well-regarded if not so well-known movies.  THe first one I was aware of was Oculus, which is a clever (and quite scarey) film, even if it doesn’t rise much above genre fare.  Then there’s Hush, which is nothing short of brilliant.  Ouija: Origin of Evil is that rarest of beasts: a Hollywood sequel that’s actually much better than its cheesy original.  And then there’s Gerald’s Game, which is a Stephen King novel that I had pretty much considered unfilmable, as it contains almost no action whatsoever and has only a single character in a single location for about 90% of its length.  But Flanagan found a way to make it work nonetheless, although Game is one of the few King books that really doesn’t qualify as horror at all.  But, still: when I heard Flanagan was going to helm a remake of The Haunting of Hill House, I was pretty excited.

This version departs pretty firmly from Shirley Jackson’s novel, as well as from both theatrical versions: 1963 and 1999.  Both of those tried to stay a bit more faithful to the source material, but both were ultimately failures, in my opinion.  Flanagan, on the other hand, departs rather sharply and ultimately succeeds, and no less than Stephen King agrees with me:

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.

Obviously I’m a bit biased when it comes to King—he’s the top point in my pentagram of literary idols—but I hope I don’t have to convince you that the man knows what he’s talking about when it comes to horror.

I could go on, but hopefully I’ve given you enough info to tell whether or not this is a show you’d be interested in checking out.  If you like horror as much as I do, I think you’ll find it pretty compelling.  I know I did.