Two Haunted Houses – Hill House And The Overlook Hotel

A week or so ago I caught The Haunting Of Hill House on Netflix, and I stand by what I said then, namely Mike Flanagan is the best horror director working today.

More recently I rewatched The Shining and realized both movies are remarkably similar.

An overhead shot of the hedge maze on the grounds of The Overlook Hotel from The Shining

A shot from the opening of The Haunting Of Hill House. Here the idea of a maze isn’t literal-in the sense that it doesn’t exist physically in the series–but is metaphorical in that Hill House itself is a labyrinth, a place of many doors and rooms that don’t appear on any floor plan

That’s not to imply that Flanagan stole ideas from either Stephen King or Stanley Kubrick, but I don’t think you can deny–particularly the former–deeply influenced his work.

Both are based on novels–the former by Shirley Jackson, the latter by King.

Both productions take liberties with their source material (though interestingly, King himself despised Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his novel–and said so–to such a degree that it was remade by Mick Garris in 1997 and more closely mirrored his novel.

And to be fair to King, while at haven’t read The Shining in many years, Kubrick’s movie, while enjoyable, is cold, both literally and figuratively.

Never mind it takes place during the winter, Stanley Kubrick’s perfectionism is laid bare for all to see, making the movie not only joyless but distant.

And The Haunting Of Hill House is by no means the first attempt to bring Shirley Jackson’s novel to the screen (whether big or small). The two attempts were simply titled The Haunting, and were made in 1963 by Robert Wise and 1999 by Jan de Bont.

And while I cannot speak for the 1963 movie, the 1999 version relied too heavily on CGI to be particularly effective (CGI was relatively new at the time, and I imagine as a filmmaker de Bont was amazed by what the technology could do.

Though what’s perhaps the most telling similarity of all is that both the Overlook Hotel and Hill House ‘preyed‘ on ‘weakness,’on fear, like carnivores targeting the young and unhealthier members of a herd of animals.

This is why Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is so susceptible to the influence of the Hotel: he wasn’t exactly playing with a full deck to start with while his son, Danny, was psychic.

Similar storytelling tropes are at play in The Haunting Of Hill House.  While none of the Crain family were flirting with insanity, the children seem to all be empathic/psychic to varying degrees (which is why in earlier episodes they often mention that the house ‘smelled’ funny or a particular room or spot is cold, never mind the actual temperature of the space.

Like Danny Torrance they’re more susceptible to otherworldly influences than most, though for those more unstable–like Jack Torrance, Olivia or Nell Crain–both locations tempted them with dreams of what could be, driving them to destroy themselves or others.

By the way, it’s worth remembering that ‘redrum’–written in red lipstick upon a door in The Shining was pivotal to the narrative, while the Red Room (likely a play on ‘redrum,’ and literally a red door) represented the ‘stomach’ of Hill House, and was equally–if not more–important.

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