Every Adaptation Of Shirley Jackson’s Story


Shirley Jackson’s 1959 gothic horror novel The Haunting Of Hill House has been adapted several times into full-length movies as well as TV series.

Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting Of Hill House has been adapted into two feature-length movies and an immensely successful Netflix series. The 1959 gothic horror classic is known for its incredible ability to elicit emotion rather than evoke outright fear. While it may seem like an abstract ghost story, it has resulted in some of the greatest contributions to horror movie history. Here’s every adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting Of Hill House.

Gothic horror stories have grown increasingly popular over the years. This is largely attributed to Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting series, which notably adapted Jackson’s 1959 novel for season 1 and took on Henry James’s The Turn Of The Screw for season 2, The Haunting Of Bly Manor. Ghost stories such as these have deeper meaning than other popular releases in the paranormal sub-genre such as The Conjuring and Paranormal Activity. They focus primarily on building on their horrors by amplifying the entities, hauntings, and possessions with each installment that follows the original. Gothic horror instead opts to craft the paranormal into an emotion. It’s something that exists inside of every character in their given storylines, which is very evident in Flanagan’s series with the entire Crain family and their ability to navigate grief under horrifying circumstances.

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Related: The Haunting Season 3: Gothic Horror Stories The Next Show Can Adapt

Shirley Jackson has inspired countless modern authors. Most notably, Stephen King and Neil Gaiman were largely influenced by her works. King even attempted his own adaptation of The Haunting Of Hill House titled Rose Red. It was released as a miniseries in 2002, but doesn’t resemble the original source whatsoever. Instead, it draws a lot of inspiration from a different haunted home, the Winchester Mystery House. In the 20th and 21st century, Jackson’s spirit lives on in these authors’ writing as well as the adaptations that came from her various works, such as We Have Always Lived In The Castle, The Lottery, and The Haunting Of Hill House. While The Haunting of Hill House only has three adaptations as of this writing, each serves to comment on Jackson’s story in very different decades, showcasing the true timelessness of this tale.

The Haunting (1963)

Robert Wise and Nelson Gidding’s 1963 adaptation of The Haunting Of Hill House premiered only four years following the book’s release. It is titled The Haunting, likely to shorten the name and keep the paranormal activity rather ambiguous as to whether it pertains to a home or a person. Jackson tragically died in 1965, which means this movie is the only adaptation of her 1959 novel that the author would’ve been able to enjoy. The Haunting starred Julie Harris as Eleanor “Nell” Lance, Claire Bloom as Theodora “Theo”, Richard Johnson as Dr. John Markway, and other notable actors from the 1960s. While it released to relatively mixed reviews, it has since been regarded by directors Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese as one of the most influential movies for them. In the late 2010s, The Haunting was recognized as being one of the most important LGBTQIA+ horror movies, as Theodora is a lesbian, which wasn’t common to witness in a movie of any genre during the 1960s.

The Haunting (1999)

Jan de Bont’s 1999 paranormal horror movie The Haunting attempted to alter Jackson’s story to make it more relevant and thrilling for contemporary audiences. Ultimately, this did not work in its favor and resulted in the movie bombing with both critics and audiences. This version of The Haunting starred Lili Taylor as Eleanor “Nell” Vance, Liam Neeson as Dr. David Marrow, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Theodora “Theo”, and Owen Wilson as Luke Sanderson. While the movie boasted an incredible cast of talented actors, their onscreen chemistry was lacking, which caused the entire movie to suffer as a result.

Related: Why We Have Always Lived In The Castle Would Make A Better Miniseries

The 1999 adaptation of The Haunting Of Hill House was so bad that it actually became the foundation of the horror comedy – which is really more of a parody – Scary Movie 2, which was known for poking fun at anything that flopped or grew stale in the genre. The Haunting didn’t retain many of the same elements that were integral to Jackson’s original novel. In fact, it attempted to make the story more of an action based horror movie, where its characters were tasked with defeating the evil in the house. This removed the nuances that stemmed from emotional fear, which was always so important to the 1959 book. There’s so much that The Haunting did that caused it to suffer; it ranges from lackluster acting to poor special effects all the way to how the source material was approached while crafting the screenplay.

The Haunting Of Hill House (2018)

Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting Of Hill House largely played a key role in popularizing Shirley Jackson’s story in the 21st century. While she and her books are both timeless, they received an incredible amount of attention after Flanagan’s series released in 2018. This interest also trickled into Stacie Passon’s adaptation of We Have Always Lived In The Castle. It must be noted that the Netflix original show isn’t entirely adapted from The Haunting Of Hill House — it’s inspired by the novel. This is important to recognize, as there were major changes to several book characters as well as ones who were added in order to grow the dysfunctional Crain family and help explore their different relationships.

Nell remains the primary character, which is arguably the most integral aspect of the overall story. She is portrayed by Victoria Pedretti, who returned in The Haunting of Bly Manor to play another leading lady: Danielle “Dani” Clayton. Alongside her, Hill House starred Carla Gugino as Olivia Crain, Timothy Hutton and Henry Thomas as Hugh Crain, Elizabeth Reaser as Shirley Crain, Oliver-Jackson Cohen as Luke Crain, and Kate Siegel as Theodora “Theo” Crain. Out of the three adaptations of The Haunting Of Hill House, the 1963 movie tends to be regarded as the best when compared to the others. This is largely due to its ability to stay true to the source material and retain Jackson’s intent to evoke emotion fear rather than outright horror. Flanagan’s series follows closely behind it with a unique take on the original story. Flanagan proved the story had the ability to create new depths to the existing emotions the author established in the novel decades earlier.

The Haunting from 1999 just can’t hold up to the expectations that come with an adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s works, especially when Flanagan and Wise did such an incredible job with theirs. While there doesn’t appear to be another adaptation of The Haunting Of Hill House coming in the near future, it’s likely that this iconic ghost story will be revisited again in the future. What direction that adaptation takes, of course, will continue to be a mystery.

More: Netflix’s Haunting of Hill House Saved The Horror Sub-Genre

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Updated: January 6, 2021 — 10:52 pm

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