books v film, Horror Writing

Books v Film: Haunting of Hill House

Personally, I love series’ as a vehicle for turning books to film. In my opinion, books going to film doesn’t often work simply because you don’t have the same level of time with a film that you do a book. A series negates that problem, you have tons of time for tension building, character building and storytelling. Take Game of Thrones for an example, there are 69 episodes, at the time of writing, of this show! At least an hour or more a piece. That’s a ton of time! Now imagine each season was condensed down into a 2hr film. Think of what you’d lose.

Recently Netflix released The Haunting of Hill House, its awesome, go watch it. The second season has trailers out now and everything and I’m very excited for it to start. This is a perfect example of why a series worked well, it was tense in places, had great characters and a gripping, engaging story. I’m not saying none of the film adaptations worked but none of them managed to capture the feel of the book as well as the series did.

Anyway, today I want to talk about turning this story into ‘film’

The book is unrivalled in its popularity, regularly appearing on ‘Top’ lists of horror novels, it received a lot of praise from readers, filmmakers and writers alike.  A ghost story with strong psychological elements, it simply cannot be beaten.

Hence why it has been adapted numerous times.

The Haunting – 1963

Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

What is different? Well, a fair few things, little things like characters names were changed, Theo’s sexual orientation was never expressly addressed, Elenore and the Dr are romantically involved with each other, or at least want to be, despite the Dr’s wife turning up and having a larger role than she did in the novel. Grace gets eaten by the house and Elenore sacrifices herself to release Grace.

Some of the changes are understandable, Elenore’s death, for example, is far more relatable and audience-friendly (I’m not touching the debate around suicide with a barge pole). The relationship between Elenore and the Dr being changed I sort of understand, for some reason a lot of people seem to think that a romantic element is crucial to a story so it doesn’t surprise me that it’s here, or that (in my opinion0 it is unnecessary. Other changes such as the name changes, I personally don’t get at all.

While the film doesn’t capture the feel of the book it is not a bad film, it’s well acted, well written and considering the time it was made, well done. I wish it could stand completely on its own, separate from the book but sadly it doesn’t.

The Haunting 1999

I saw this when I was a tiny child of 13 and I loved it. I hadn’t read the book by that point and had no idea the film was based, loosely around a book. So my view of this film is not without nostalgia glasses, even though it has always been poorly received by critics and the general public.

What’s different? A lot. But the main difference for me was Elenore’s character and motivation, her fears are gone or rather changed, she’s at a loss but for a different reason. Eleanor’s death is still a sacrifice, but this time its to save children or ghost children as opposed to suicide or saving the Dr’s wife. There is a weird plot point where Elenore is the only one who can fight the ghost of Hugh Crane because she’s related to his dead wife somehow.

The Haunting of Hill House – 2018

Photo by Elina Krima on Pexels.com

What’s different, again a lot. The plot of the series is not at all like the book, but the themes of the story are the most faithful. Elenore commits suicide in this version, but it happens right at the start of the season, its literally the first thing to happen and then the rest of the season is split with showing how the family cope with her death and flashbacks to their time living in Hill House.

Luke and Theo are Elenore’s siblings in this version, Theo’s sexuality is addressed (huzzah for progress). Although certain members of the family seem to have ‘powers’ Theo is a sensitive ESP type, while Luke sees dead people. Hugh Crane is the head of the family, not a ghost.

The story has you asking tons of questions, you’re not sure if Elenore killed herself or if she was murdered by ghosties for example. This reflects the book pretty well, there’s a strong element of is it ghosts or are people just mental.

There’s still a death via sacrifice in the series, just not Elenore.

The series works well despite being so different from the book, probably because it plays with the same themes of the book and has a lot of the book’s style thrown in for good measure.

Which adaptation is your favourite?

I'd love to hear what you think, please comment below.

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