The Haunting
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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for The Haunting can be found here.

Yes. The Haunting of Hill House is a 1959 novel by American author Shirley Jackson [1916-1965]. The novel was adapted for the movie by American screenwriter Nelson Gidding. A remake, also called The Haunting, was released in 1999.

There is Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson), the professor of Anthropology who is conducting an experiment at Hill House. Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn) joined the group when it was pointed out by the current owner that Luke is next in line to inherit the house. Originally, there were six others but, one by one, they dropped out of the experiment. Dr Markway thinks this may be due to the unsavory stories they had heard about the history of Hill House. In the end, only two others are left: (1) Theodora "Just Theo" (Claire Bloom) who was chosen because Markway had read in the annals of Duke University's Psychic Lab that she had identified 19 out of 20 cards held out of her sight, and (2) Eleanor "Nell" Lance (Julie Harris), whose name popped up in records of the International Psychic Society describing how showers of stones fell on her house for three days when she was 10 years old. It is Markway's hope that these two women will stimulate supernatural activity during their stay there. At about 1-1/2 hours into the movie, Grace Markway (Lois Maxwell), John's wife, joins them. The caretakers, Mr and Mrs Dudley (Valentine Dyall) and (Rosalie Crutchley), are there during the day but they never spend the night.

Markway has heard the history of Hill House and believes that the house will provide him with the proof he seeks of the existence of the supernatural.

It is said that the house was built by New Englander Hugh Crain for his wife. Just before she arrived at the house, however, she was killed when the horses bolted and her carriage crashed. Left with young daughter Abigail to raise alone, Crain remarried, but his new wife died when she fell down a prominent spiral staircase in the house. After that, Hugh Crain became so embittered that he left Abigail with a nurse and moved to England where he eventually died in a drowning accident. Abigail grew into an elderly invalid, and the story goes that she died calling for help while her hired nurse/companion fooled around with a hired hand on the veranda. The companion inherited Hill House, and people say that the house drove her mad so that eventually she hung herself from the spiral staircase in the library. The house was then passed to the Sandersons.

Hill House in both the movie and the novel is located in Massachusetts, somewhere southwest of Boston. The actual building used for exterior shots of Hill House is the Ettington Park Hotel, Alderminster, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. Interior shots were all made on a sound stage at Borehamwood Studios, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, England. Photos of the Ettington Park Hotel may be viewed here and here.

At the start of the story, Nell is staying with her sister Dora and brother-in-law Bud. The little girl is their daughter, Carrie, Nell's niece. There's a lot of friction between Nell and Dora, which seems to center on the fact that Nell got the burden of caring for their overbearing, invalid mother, who has just recently died, while her sister escaped by marrying and moving away.

Nell says that she sleeps on her left side because it wears out your heart more quickly. This theory actually has its origins in ancient China and India. Nell, befitting her doomed outlook and depressed life, has apparently been sleeping on her left side to shorten her life.

How does it end?

After Grace Markway arrives at Hill House, everyone retires for the night, Grace taking the nursery because she is told it is the most haunted room in the house, and she doesn't believe in the supernatural. During the night, the noises and door poundings begin again. It appears to be coming from the nursery but, when they check the nursery, Grace is nowhere to be found. While the others search for Grace, Nell goes off on her own, now certain that she wants to stay forever in the house she has come to both love and fear. She goes dancing from room to room, ending up in the library. She begins to climb the spiral staircase. When she is about halfway to the top, the bolts holding the staircase come undone. Although the staircase is on the verge of collapse, Nell keeps climbing. Markway and Theo call to her to come down, but she keeps climbing until she reaches the platform at the top. Markway climbs the staircase to bring her down. Just as they begin the descent, Nell sees Grace's face peering through a trapdoor in the ceiling. She faints.

Markway decides to send Nell away for her own good. Nell begs to be allowed to stay, convinced that the house wants her, not Grace, and that it will release Grace if it can have her instead. However, Markway is insistent. He packs Nell and Luke into her car. When Luke goes to get the key to the front gate, Nell drives off, telling herself that they can't force her to leave if Hill House wants her to stay. As she drives toward the gate, the car becomes more erratic in its course. Suddenly, Grace Markway appears in the road, and Nell veers head-on into a tree. She is killed instantly. When asked how she got there, Grace explains that she woke up afraid and went looking for her husband. How she ended up in the attic, she doesn't know. She admits to peering through the trapdoor, but she didn't mean to scare Nell. She also doesn't know how she got outside, but she does know that it wasn't because of her that Nell drove into the tree. Luke says that Nell killed herself. Theo believes that Nell got what she wanted and may even now be happy. Markway points out that it was this very tree where the first Mrs Crain also was killed and that he firmly believes Hill House is haunted. Grace only knows that she doesn't want to ever go back inside. Luke thinks the house should be burned to the ground and the ashes scattered with salt.

Many viewers think that it was Hugh or Abigail Crain who was haunting Hill House. Others have taken the view that Hill House wasn't haunted at all, that everything was either a hallucination on Nell's part or that Nell was responsible for making it look like a haunting because she loved the attention. It is also implicit that Nell has latent telekinetic powers that are running berserk because she's having a nervous breakdown, and some fans believe that all the paranormal events in the movie are the result of Nell's subconscious psychic powers. (Nell was chosen for the experiment because she experienced poltergeist phenomena as a teen, which many believe is really the work of subconscious telekinesis.) In Jackson's novel, however, it was Hill House itself that was evil, although no explanation is given as to where the evil came from, just that it has always been there and that the evil of Hill House will continue to claim victims whenever it wants them.

Those who have both seen the movie and read the book say that the movie is nearly identical to the book. There are some minor changes to details that don't affect the story, e.g., the professor and his wife are older in the book than in the movie, The movie changes the character of the Professor's wife. In the book, she is bossy and uses a planchette to contact the 'spirits', getting information that is completely wrong. She believes she knows way more about the supernatural than the Professor and chastises him for his slow deliberate 'scientific' method. Professor Montague of the novel becomes Markway in the film, Eleanor Vance's last name becomes Lance in the film. The movie leaves out a few scenes, such as a small occurrence involving a ghoulish nursery rhyme. Again, this doesn't affect the story. One mentionable deviation is that Nell's infatuation with the professor is not in the book, and Nell actually comes on to Luke at one point in the book. One interesting difference is the focus; the book is about the haunting of the house, while the movie focuses more on Nell's nervous breakdown, and raising the question of whether it's really happening, is all in her imagination, or the result of latent psychic powers running wild. Overall, however, the consensus is that the book contains a fraction more 'story' but, in general, the movie hits the nail on the head.

Stephen King has admitted that Salem's Lot (1979) is a tribute to Jackson's The Haunting. Like Hill House, Marsden House is an evil house in and of itself, and it attracts evil, like vampires, to it. Burnt Offerings is another film that features an evil house that is capable of rejuvenating itself by sucking the life out of its human residents. Richard Matheson's The Legend of Hell House (1973) is somewhat similar although much less subtle and ambiguous.

Page last updated by bj_kuehl, 2 months ago
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