There’s always been something inherently Halloween-y about Netflix’s “Stranger Things.”
The first season, while released in the summer of 2016, still piled on the spooky atmospherics and its winking references to filmmakers like John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg. Last year, they doubled down on that vibe, releasing the episodes right before Halloween and including a more autumnal storyline, complete with the boys dressing up for Halloween and a subplot about toxic pumpkins. But, sadly, “Stranger Things” won’t return until next summer, for a truncated, sunshine-y season which may leave you wondering if there’s anything that can scratch that itch. Well, we are here to tell you that there is and it’s coming to Netflix this Friday.
It’s time to add “The Haunting of Hill House” to your queue.
But let’s start at the beginning: For years, Steven Spielberg has wanted to remake “The Haunting,” Robert Wise’s 1963 chiller based on the Shirley Jackson novel “The Haunting of Hill House” (originally published in 1959). Made of equal parts visceral terror and psychological ease, the original film was a classy adaptation of the original story, maintaining its Gothic tone and emphasis on more cerebral frights. It’s easy to imagine a young Spielberg getting spooked by the film, to the point that one day he’d want to make it his own.
And he almost did.
In the mid-‘90s, Spielberg called upon Stephen King to adapt “The Haunting of Hill House” for a new generation, using the real-life Winchester Mystery Mansion as inspiration. Unfortunately, they couldn’t agree on what the film should be and when Spielberg formally rejected King’s script, King continued to work on it, eventually turning it into the somewhat underrated TV miniseries “Rose Red.”
Eventually, Spielberg finally got his “Haunting” remake (below), only it was directed by “Speed” filmmaker Jan de Bont and made for Spielberg’s then-nascent DreamWorks studio.
Unfortunately, the movie was a flop, both critically and commercially (it made $91 million domestically against a budget of more than $80 million), and a true, great renovation of the Jackson story and Wise movie remained, tantalizingly, out of reach.
Until, of course, in 2017, when Netflix announced that it was launching an ambitious series to be based on “The Haunting of Hill House,” once again produced by Spielberg. This time, however, it was written and directed (in its entirety) by Mike Flanagan, a filmmaker who has become something of a horror auteur, thanks to his recent films “Oculus,” “Hush,” and “Gerald’s Game” (an adaptation of a seemingly un-filmable Stephen King novel).
For his new, multi-part version of the story, Flanagan has chosen to examine the lives of those who lived in the sprawling, deeply haunted (or is it?) mansion, toggling between their time in the house and their lives now. All sorts of parallels can be drawn between actual trauma, both psychological and supernatural, and how that trauma can affect your daily life, and it’s a testament to Flanagan’s take that he has assembled such a starry roster of talent, including (but not limited to) Carla Gugino, Elizabeth Reaser, Kate Siegel, Annabeth Gish, Henry Thomas, and Timothy Hutton.
And the critics seem to agree that the right adaptation was worth the wait. Sadie Gennis from TV Guide said that, “It’s as though Flanagan has taken Jackson’s original work, shattered it and then rearranged the pieces to create a completely original, but equally brilliant tale.” Variety said, “It’s an effective scare-fest that is at its best when the tale does more than jolt the viewer.”
So if you’re looking to recapture that “Stranger Things” spirit, well, “The Haunting of Hill House” seems to be a smart choice. With its time-shifting narrative, you’ll get plenty of that delicious “Stranger Things”-esque nostalgia. Plus, the new series’ emphasis on family dynamics and the kind of emotionally honest response to supernatural shenanigans, will undoubtedly remind you of “Stranger Things” as well.
So, even though you can’t visit the Upside Down this year, you can at least check into Hill House. Scary, right?
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