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Review: THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018)

Mike Flanagan’s Netflix series is among the greatest haunted house tales ever filmed

Many years ago, when I was coming of age as a horror film obsessive, my mother mentioned that – to her- the scariest film ever made was Robert Wise’s 1963 movie THE HAUNTING. She cited the lack of blood, of violence, of anything remotely exploitative in the picture and praised the way it had the power to terrify with sound and mood and the reactions of its characters to things that went bump in the night. For someone who was in love with FANGORIA magazines and who was waking up in the era of practical special FX from goremeisters like Tom Savini, this sort of antiquated picture seemed a bit too tame for me. But then I saw the film. And I got it. And man, did it get me…

Wise’s adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel “The Haunting of Hill House” is indeed a marvel of dread and seems only more powerful when stacked against Jan de Bon’t vulgar 1999 FX-soaked stinker of a remake, a migraine-inducing dud that fills in all the delicate blanks of its predecessor with unimaginative shocks and overbaked imagery. News of yet another mounting of Jackson’s tale, this time as a Netflix series, might have annoyed some of THE HAUNTING’s puritanical fanbase (especially in the wake of that de Bont bummer), but turns out there’s no need to fret. Because this new incarnation, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, is helmed by OCULUS and OUIJA 2 director Mike Flanagan, a director who is probably the only voice in contemporary horror worthy of the moniker “master”. Here is a filmmaker who truly, deeply understands the mechanics of the haunted house drama, who almost always shows a deft hand at balancing character and carnage and refuses to submit to cheap shocks and savagery. Flanagan developed, wrote and directed every episode of THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, making this the ultimate Flanagan experience, a ten hour free-fall into domestic hell that honors the source novel and the Wise film and still manages to feel contemporary, fresh and accessible.

In short, it’s one of the greatest small-screen horror entertainments I have ever seen.

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