When it comes to haunted house film’s, the original (Not the shitty remake.) The Haunting (1963) stands as one of my all time favorites, surpassed only by The Innocents (1961). I first saw it as a kid and it scared the socks off me!
Interestingly enough, I had only been vaguely aware that it was based upon a novel. Despite being a voracious reader, I never took the time to search it out until I was an adult. The movie wasn’t as scary as when I was child, though under the right circumstances it can still be creepy. The book, however, unnerved the hell out of me!
There’s a reason The Haunting of Hill House (The title for the film was changed so as not to be confused with Vincint Price’s 1959 hit House on Haunted Hill) is considered the best ghost story ever penned…it’s down right terrifying!
Author Shirley Jackson does more then just spin a yarn involving a haunted house, she takes us on a ride through a dark and sinister environment that challenges our very sanity. The movie doesn’t even begin to convey the terror that wait’s inside the wall’s of Hill House and that’s saying something.
Like the movie, the evil that walk’s the desolate hall’s of Hill House doesn’t manifest as apparitions or demonic entities, it comes in the form of manic voices calling from the dark, footsteps echoing throughout the sinister house in the dead of night, or as an invisible presence. This is what makes this story so damn chilling. It’s what you don’t see that is most frightening.
What I found most ingenious, was the trap Jackson sets for her readers that comes in the form of the character of Eleanor. It’s a slight of hand that find’s us bound to this poor lonely woman who only seek’s a little excitement in her life. It’s not that we are made to follow Eleanor, we’re actually forced to share her mind. We feel what she feel’s, we see and hear what she does, and we find ourselves asking the same questions as she. We feel sorry for her as the terror she experiences slowly unravels her already fragile mind.
While tempting to compare Jackson’s novel with the works of the master of the ghost story, M.R. James, it would be more fitting to compare it to Henry James Masterpiece “The Turning of the Shrew” of which the aforementioned film The Innocents was based. Like that story, reality is blurred as we are forced to watch the downward spiral of a lost soul, never sure if thing’s are what they seem.
Every haunted house tale that came after The Haunting of Hill House, which was published in 1959, has been inspired by it. Stephen King acknowledges it’s influence on many of his works, including The Shining. That should tell you something right there. Hell, Guillermo Del Toro’s film Crimson Peak was directly influenced by it!
Below is an excerpt. Obviously I couldn’t post the entire novel as it would be too long and also, it’s not free domain. If your a fan horror literature, especially Ghost Stories, you owe it to yourself to check this one out. You’ll find a link to Amazon after the excerpt where you can purchase either a hard copy or an ebook version. If you don’t want to pay, hit up your local library. It’s so worth it, trust me!
However you get a copy, do yourself a favor, crawl into bed around midnight when the house is dark and silent, and begin your journey into Hill House. I promise you, you’ll be pausing every so often as a sound from within your house grabs your attention. Those creaks and groans you always told yourself was just the house settling, will suddenly take on a whole new ominous nature.
Don’t worry, it’s probably just all in your mind…maybe…
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.
It knows we’re here,” Eleanor whispered, and Luke, looking back at her over his shoulder, gestured furiously for her to be quiet.
It is so cold, Eleanor thought childishly; I will never be able to sleep again with all this noise coming from inside my head; how can these others hear the noise when it is coming from inside my head? I am disappearing inch by inch into this house, I am going apart a little bit at a time because all this noise is breaking me; why are the others frightened?
She was aware, dully, that the pounding had begun again, the metallic overwhelming sound of it washed over her like waves; she put her cold hands to her mouth to feel if her face was still there; I have had enough, she thought, I am too cold.
“Purest love,” Theodora said madly, “purest love.” And she began to giggle again…
Now we are going to have a new noise, Eleanor thought, listening to the inside of her head; it is changing. The pounding had stopped, as though it had proved ineffectual, and there was now a swift movement up and down the hall, as of an animal pacing back and forth with unbelievable impatience, watching first one door and then another, alert for a movement inside, and there was again the little babbling murmur which Eleanor remembered; Am I doing it? she wondered quickly, is that me? And heard the tiny laughter beyond the door, mocking her.
“Fee-fi-fo-fum,” Theodora said under her breath and the laughter swelled and became a shouting; it’s inside my head, Eleanor thought, putting her hands over her face, it’s inside my head and it’s getting out, getting out, getting out –
Now the house shivered and shook, the curtains dashing against the windows, the furniture swaying, and the noise in the hall became so great that it pushed against the walls; they could hear breaking glass as the pictures in the hall came down, and perhaps the smashing of windows. …Holding to the bed, buffeted and shaken, Eleanor put her head down and closed her eyes and bit her lips against the cold and felt the sickening drop as the room fell away beneath her and then right itself and then turned, slowly, swinging….Somewhere there was a great, shaking crash as some huge thing came headlong…
Click the the picture below to go to Amazon where you can purchase a copy!