Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Haunting of Hill House -- read the book or watch the movie?

Preamble


The Haunting (1963)

Sometimes it feels like without books the movie industry would grind to a halt. Think about the biggest films of this year. Think about the hugely hyped movie that's being released this Valentine's Grey. I mean Day.

Mostly I don't see the movie. Sometimes I didn't love the book, like the Life of Pi, or I was too distressed or depressed by it, like The Kite Runner and Gone Girl. Or a really liked the book and just wanted it to stay a book. In my head. My pictures.

The adaptations I do see and love bring something new to a book. Like the BBC's Sherlock. Different, but respectful. And that's how I feel about The Haunting (1963) and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. But enough of this philosophical crap. On with the reviews.


The Book

Eleanor has spent her whole life looking after her invalid mother. With nothing to show for her efforts, she jumps at the invitation to spend a few weeks at supposedly haunted Hill House with a professor of the paranormal. There's something so self-conscious and sweet about Nell at the opening of the book, relishing and narrating her own journey to Hill House. Then about the instant bond she forms with Theodora. After residing in the house a little while she quickly becomes self-conscious and strange. She seems to be suffering from some sort of social anxiety and a fervent wish to belong somewhere. ANYwhere. It's needy, and it's worrying.




The Movie

The first thing I'll say here is I AM TALKING ABOUT THE 1963 ADAPTATION. Not the god-awful slush that seems to be the 1999 remake. The second thing I'll say is that the premise of the film is exactly the same as the book above. It is also presented in a slick way with a short prologue stuck on the front that gives the viewer a quick (and augmented) history of Hill House. The black and white footage is stunning and the production is fantastic. What is interesting is the way the film takes the same main character, the same setting and the same basic ending, conflates things, twists others, and shoves it into a little black dress that is so damn engaging and so damn thrilling.


So, Which One?

Do you like to be scared?* No? Well, stick to the book. But if you do like to be scared, spend a little time with the movie. The book isn't scary and it has all the good things about the film except the things that go BANG in the night ... Almost.

I have to say, I like the film better. (Why do I feel like that's heretical?) I like what the film did with Dr Montague and his wife. (His poor wife!) I like all the creepy statues in the house and the doors that swing open, not closed. I like the trapdoor (spoilers, won't say any more). It's tense. It's direct. But most of all I like the clever, clever ending. The book gives you two plausible endings. The film gives you three.

*My boyfriend wasn't scared. But he's scared by movies like Jaws, not by ghosts.

Have you read the book or watched the film? Which one did you like?

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