These ten movies directed by horror-master John Carpenter sadly live on as underrated additions to the horror film genre—in fact, many of these you won’t ever hear mentioned in daily horror culture, but that’s a shame because all of these are worthy of at least a little attention.
Someone’s Watching Me (1978)
While this horror movie isn’t truly a paranormal horror tale, it is a classic horror tale that many women can relate to in their real lives—being stalked. True to form of successful movies that continue to live on from the 70s, Someone’s Watching Me (1978) is a traditional, “less is more,” type of piece. It relies upon the situations that would if one were to experience them in own life, would cause incredible anxiety and lasting fear. This is possibly Carpenter’s most underrated movie, perhaps simply due to the years that have passed since it was released. In truth, it’s the kind of movie that might constantly be giving loud advice to the main character while she gets increasingly sticky situations.
As the title suggests, this film brings its scare from the fog—it’s a horror movie that focuses on the creeping and inevitable, there is no stopping the fog from rolling in, especially when it moves against the wind. What can you do when there is something deadly in the fog—something that moves with it, that kills without provocation? All you really can do when it comes is bolt your doors, lock your windows, and stay inside your house. This story of Captain Drake and his ill-fated crew is definitely a classic worth watching or re-watching if it has been a while.
Honestly, this is one of those classic movies that you just have to watch, anthologies this entertaining are few and far between and while it’s not nail-bitingly scary, each of the stories are interesting and unique. This movie scared the pants off of me as a child, because it never went over-the-top with any attempts to use technology that was out of its reach but just believable enough to allow you to be in the story with the characters.
The classic tale about a boy and his first car—his possessed car that is. Have you ever felt that someone you know is overwhelmingly obsessed with one of their belongings, to the point that their life and well-being becomes intertwined with the well-being of their belonging? This film is among the first of its kind to really put an emphasis on the possession of an inanimate object in a meaningful way.
Although there are many movies based on the emergence of Satan, this was possibly one of the most imaginative takes on how the Prince of Darkness might escape from hell into the world. After a priest finds a huge vial filled with some unidentifiable slime, he requests that a scientist and his students to help him figure out what it really is; finding out what it is, is only a small part of the problem, once they find out they’ll realize it’s already too late. The end is already beginning, will they be able to stop it in time?
This is one alien horror flick that stands out among the rest, They Live (1988) is a movie that is classic from the time that it was made and is definitely worthy of a shout out or three. If you’ve ever wondered where the line, “I’ve come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass—and I’m all out of bubble gum,” comes from, you’re in luck. Aside from the wrestler to actor shenanigans with Rowdy Roddy Piper, the acting is what you might expect from a movie made in the late eighties. Forget action movie alien invasions, this kind of invasion is creepier than any other witnessed in cinema history.
This movie shows how society might devolve if violent books, movies, and video games were truly to blame for the erratic behavior of human beings—can an author really have the sway over the way people act, well if you were to read a Sutter Cane book, you might not be able to control yourself at all. It might sound far-fetched, but the easily persuaded might be just a short read away from storming the streets with axes in hand. This is not a predecessor of The Purge (2013), it’s another Carpenter movie that stands on its own within the horror genre, as a horror ride of the imagination—or at least the imagination of an author who wants to cause people to go mad.
This is one of those movies where the terror develops over time, but if you’re one of those people who finds small children disturbing, this is definitely one that you might enjoy. What I like most about this movie is the creep factor—it’s not scary in the traditional sense, no real startling moments, nothing is going to pop out and scare you. The focus of the fear factor here is how it would feel to have a malevolent, creepy child in control of your actions. It reminds me of The Bad Seed (1956) if Rhoda were able to force you to kill yourself with her eyes.
Along with zombies, vampires have been creatures that have been overworked to death in books, films, and television shows, everyone has a new take on it to show why their vampires are somehow better, scarier, or more realistic than everyone else’s. Originally creatures that would incite fear, now they’re more and more often portrayed as objects of romance, love interests, so overdone that they went from truly evil, to rebellious bad boys. Fear not, Vampires (1998) is still in the genre of horror, where vampires truly are evil creatures suited only for hunting.
Not conceived to be a true horror movie, this paranormal thriller offers more in the way of jump scares than much of anything else—while it doesn’t boast a well-known cast, the cast does a convincing job of selling their fear. The plot is enjoyable and decently executed, nevermind some of the plot holes, but the climax of fear is typically punctuated by a complete loss of the moment, followed directly by a cheap startle. The only thing that makes this movie less enjoyable is the ghost itself; we get a clear view of her from the beginning and there is no room left for that character and plot device to grow. It has its own share of twists and turns though, so the important thing about this movie is to watch until the very end—it doesn’t end exactly how you think it would.
Author. Artist. A little bit Alaskan. Mary lives with her dog in a rural cabin outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. They explore the bounty of the Alaskan wilderness during the summer and cozy up in their log cabin during the winter.
The Accursed is a beautifully crafted folk horror tale of betrayal and a curse that spans generations. Hana spends twenty years suppressing a maleficent curse that was placed upon her bloodline, only to have a family member knowingly release it forcing her to kill or to be killed. This creeping darkness of a film is beautifully set, acted, and filmed. The music by Tasos Eliopoulos sets the mood perfectly behind the scenery. Fun fact – they did the entire music production over zoom. 10 extra stars for making it happen during a pandemic.
From witches to New Orleans based hexing the Accursed blends lore from different cultures to bring you one cohesive, scary storyline. Salting the earth to block evil from touching you – check, egg shells to protect against angry spirits – yep. It’s a well paced slow burner, but not without jump scares and some real graphic horror scenes in the end.
Who is Behind This Dark Horror Film?
The short answer is “bad ass women.” Almost Normal Productions was born through relationships that span two decades back to 1999 in Chicago where founders Kathryn Michelle and Elizabeta Vidovic met in an acting class. Elizabeta’s daughter Izabela Vidovic is the third member of the team. She has her own history of acting in films and TV including horror shows such as Zombieland the series (a favorite around here) and iZombie. Switching from acting to producing was natural for Elizabeta and Kathryn as they sought to create films that were better content for themselves. Izabela who still does a lot of acting readily tackles a lead role in The Accursed. They are all on a mission to change how women are perceived in horror — they simply want “more women that save their own asses.”
Elizabeta Vidovic brings in her roots from Bosnia into the feel of The Accursed with small details like traditional tattoos she recalls from her childhood. The setting and actors create a specific eerie tone and it feels like you are somewhere in Eastern Europe living the curse, with the family throughout the film.
This team is close and the entire time I spoke with them I felt like I was speaking to one extended family. Izabela has been working with Kathryn and Elizabeta since she was 7. They have worked through growing families, pregnancy during fundraising, and it all shows in the passion and connectedness they have on and off screen. The Accursed is just the beginning with horror for this group.
I’d be missing my right arm without Kathryn
Elizabeta Vidovic co-founder Almost Normal Productions
We explored their roots of horror, which included the classic 80’s and 90’s slashers like Halloween, Motel Hell and Scream to Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. But, even with the usual classics in the arsenal they see women in horror making a different impact on the genre.
Female voice becoming more prevalent – We’re seeing a shift in horror because women are getting more opportunities. More and more female filmmakers are entering the genre. This will shift the industry. It’s a good time to be a female in the industry. Women simply explore different topics in horror.
Kathryn Michelle – co-founder Almost Normal Productions
The Accursed reached the #1 Indie Horror film spot on Apple TV soon after release, Nov 12th 2021. It remains popular and available on most streaming channels such as Amazon, Apple TV, and many more streaming options which you can view here.
When asked what to expect next from them.
You can expect Badass women
Izabela Vidovic co-founder Almost Normal Productions
With all up and coming artists we talk to the question of advice comes up. When asked what would you tell your past self heading into the daunting task of creating a film production company the group responded with wisdom that only real experience can bring.
Elizabeta – “This is going to take a minute”
Kathryn — “It’s not as scary as you think, don’t let anybody tell you should not be in film making”
Izabela — “It’s not that complicated, so don’t stress so much”
This is a bright, talented, and energetic team and I for one cannot wait to see what they create next. I really hope it’s more horror!
Tritone’s love of horror and mystery began at a young age. Growing up in the 80’s he got to see some of the greatest horror movies play out in the best of venues, the drive-in theater. That’s when his obsession with the genre really began—but it wasn’t just the movies, it was the games, the books, the comics, and the lore behind it all that really ignited his obsession. Tritone is a published author and continues to write and write about horror whenever possible.
Something strange is happening at Comfort Notch. Joining the ranks of other malevolent township imaginings such as Derry, Arkham, and Riverdale, this New England-inspired setting may fool you at first only to violently push you in a pile of leaves. Is it eco-horror or something more cosmic? Judging by the first three issues of The Autumnal (2020) we’re still early from raking in any answers, but that doesn’t stop the shadowy warnings from creeping into your subconscious.
Kat Somerville -donning a black leather jacket and a pair of sunglasses- is on her way to the principal’s office again to discuss another incident involving her daughter. Underneath the shades hides a black eye that gives a hint to her vices and proclivity toward violence. Her daughter, Sybil, shares that tendency (medically diagnosed as “Intermittent Explosive Disorder”). Kat – prior to the meeting- learns that her estranged mother has passed away, and that a mysterious party has bequeathed her the deceased’s home. So when things turn dicey at the principal’s office, they flee to Comfort Notch, New Hampshire leaving behind her daughters school and Rich –Sybil’s absent father. Will this Fall-painted town offer the new beginning that she’s hoping for?
An overarching mother-daughter story is at the heart of The Autumnal, contrastingKat’s protective relationship with Sybilagainst the – seemingly- non-existent one with her own mother. Surprisingly, Kat isn’t the only one with disdain for her matriarch Trudy, as the entire town appears to share the sentiment, resulting in an empty church for her funeral and the seemingly-chipper townsfolk to openly speak ill of her. Left with a house full of metaphorical ghosts and nothing but time to investigate, Kat will soon learn the reasons behind her mother’s questionable actions, and how she might be connected to the weirdness in this very uncomfortable town.
Sometimes the best use of horror comes from evoking fear in the mundane. Look at how Hitchcock made you look twice before hopping in the shower, or how The Conjuring (2013)triggered audiences with a simple clap. Thanks to the artist, Chris Shehan, and colorist, Jim Campbell, The Autumnal somehow manages to transform fall foliage into an ominous void. Orange leaves clog the gutters between panels making for a menacing motif once we arrive at the enigmatic town. The townsfolk are constantly observed raking leaves and warning the characters to stay out of the piles leaving you to wonder what’s lurking beneath. Even worse, leaves are shown in more graphic imagery as part of strange deaths and odd funerary rituals. Nature aside though, the town itself is absolutely suspicious as we encounter haunting nursery rhymes and creepy infantile scribblings all hinting to something mysterious and sinister living in the trees.
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Part of the joy of reading The Autumnal comes from the storytelling of author Daniel Kraus, who received recent praise for his co-authorship on George A. Romero’s posthumous novel, The Living Dead (2020). Kraus has also worked with Guillermo Del Toro on the novel adaption of the Oscar-winning film, The Shape of Water (2017). Clearly influenced by the previously mentioned counterparts, Kraus is soaring through the literary world at lightspeed and with a range that leaves you wondering what he’ll possibly unleash next. However, based on Kraus repertoire, we’ve just touched the surface of The Autumnal and we are most likely in for a treat.
These first three issues introduce us to an intriguing and authentic mother-daughter duo that I’m eager to watch develop in the coming issues. There’s also much to be learned about the pastoral town and whatever diabolical secret it appears to be hiding. This is definitely a series that you’re not going to want to fall behind on. However, while you wait for the remaining issues maybe it’s best that you avoid frolicking through any of those enticing-looking piles of leaves
Like most Constant Readers, Max’s love of horror began with Stephen King. After devouring stories of rabid dogs, sinister cars, and bloodied prom queens he went on to the next best thing: Slashers. While he enjoys the mindlessness of Jason Takes Manhattan and Malignant, he’s also a major sucker for complex stories like Midsommar, The Only Good Indians, and Get Out where the genre is used to tackle very real horrors that don’t wear a mask. Horror films may take up most of the space on his shelves, but he also has a deep love for comics and literature that can make you look over your shoulder without the suspenseful score.
When he’s not consuming every medium of entertainment, Max works in Civil Engineering while finding time to be a struggling writer. He writes for his own personal enjoyment and occasionally for the pleasure of others with hopes of eventually publishing a work of his own. He believes that horror is the one genre that isn’t afraid to explore the world with full and total honesty.
“The book is so much better than the movie.” It’s a phrase you hear often from the most advanced bookworms, especially horror enthusiasts who love to discover terrifying new worlds from the comfort of their own (occasionally haunted) homes. No jump scares. No monsters in SFX makeup. No image of scream king Patrick Wilson banishing a demon. Just you and the deadly silence, flipping through pages of the most hauntingly beautiful tales about ghosts, spirits, and life beyond the grave. The year 2020 has given us plenty of time to dive into the most dread-filled novels – ranging from dark fantasy and gothic horror to the post-apocalyptic. But you can’t go wrong with a classic ghost story – detailing the experiences of spirits who (knowingly or not) haunt the living world, and you’ll definitely find yourself looking over your shoulder with every creak or crack you hear while reading these haunted books.
Author: Steven King
No list of best haunted books would be complete without The Shining – an epic novel from the godfather of horror, Mr. Steven King. In fact, you could even argue that this was King’s breakthrough story. The Shining focuses on the life of Jack Torrance, a struggling writer and recovering alcoholic working as an off-season caretaker at a hotel in Colorado. His son Danny, who possesses psychic abilities referred to as “the shining,” begins to pick up on the hotel’s tragic past – with haunting visions and terrifying threats coming his way. Danny and his mother, Wendy, soon find themselves in great danger when supernatural forces begin to take control of Jack – and a snowstorm traps them inside the hotel with their deranged loved one and evil forces. The Shining was made into a film in 1980 – earning its status as a horror classic and pop culture phenomenon. Here’s Johnny!
Lucas Graham’s life is falling apart – his marriage crumbling while his formerly successful career as a true crime writer has come to a halt. What’s a man to do when he has nothing left? Tell the story of Jeffrey Halcomb, a convicted cult leader who has avoided media interviews for many years. Seeing his chance for redemption, Graham gives up his life in New York to move into Halcomb’s old home – until he discovers that the residence, and Halcomb’s history, is far more sinister than he could have imagined. Many haunted house tales begin with a more modern type of horror story – a person’s fall from grace. They move into a new house hoping for a fresh start and sense of purpose, just like Graham, only to discover that their demons (and other evil spirits) will always follow them. Within These Walls is a terrifying horror story that’s more relatable than most of us would believe.
If you’ve watched the hit Netflix series based on this novel, you know that it’s not just ghosts that bring the terror, but complex relationships. But unlike the group of siblings you follow in the show, the book focuses on four strangers – brought to stay at Hill House for the summer under the guidance of Dr. John Montague, as he attempts to prove the existence of the supernatural. It’s safe to say that he succeeds, as the participants begin to notice strange noises, ghosts roaming the halls, blood written on walls and other paranormal occurrences that are terrifying in every decade. As much as you loved watching The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, now may be the time to step away from the laptop and pick up the novel that started it all. Undoubtedly one of the best books about hauntings ever written.
Most horror fans have a fairly high tolerance for the gruesome, strange, and disturbing… but Hell House takes it to the next level. You’ll definitely feel a little uncomfortable while reading this 1970’s novel, yet also find yourself unable to put it down. Pretty standard for the horror genre. The story involves a dying millionaire, William Reinhardt Deutsch, who hires a psychiatrist and two psychics to investigate the existence of the afterlife. Seems simple, right? Not quite.They only have one week to do it, and are required to enter the most haunted house in the world – with a disturbing history of blasphemy, perversion, and murder. Most who enter the Belasco House don’t make it out, and the researchers must solve the puzzle of the afterlife without turning on each other or losing their sanity in the process. Hell House is basically the 1970’s, more terrifying version of a modern escape room – and you’ll be thrown right into it with this terrifying haunted house novel.
Children play a large role in the horror genre – whether they’re the ones falling victim to spiritual trauma, or just the ones doing the killing. This novel tells the story of a grudge-holding spirit named Jennet Drablow, also known as The Woman in Black. After young lawyer Arthur Kipps is summoned to the English town of Crythin Gifford to settle the estate of Alice Drablow (Jenett’s sister) after her death, he discovers that the townspeople are reluctant to talk much about the woman or her family history… besides the fact that The Woman in Black is frequently sighted before the untimely death of a child. As it turns out, it’s for good reason – as the circumstances behind these experiences are more terrifying (and heartbreaking) than anybody could imagine. The Woman in Black was also made into a 2012 film starring Daniel Radcliffe, but you should definitely read the book first for extra spook factor.
If we learned anything from American Horror Story: Murder House, it’s that moving into a mansion is not enough to save your failing marriage. No matter how gorgeous the house is – and especially not when it’s crawling with ghosts. Published in 2017, The Restless follows Stephen and Marlo Coleman as the couple and their twin daughters move into an old house inherited through a family trust. The catch? Marlo’s elderly aunt Anabelle still lives there, and needs daily care – and things begin to take a turn as the woman speaks of a family curse and visions of her deceased daughter walking the halls. While the family initially believes that Anabelle is simply old and possibly senile, things escate as they begin to experience paranormal occurences, and are forced to uncover the family secret that Anabelle has been hiding for years.
The Amityville Horror
Author: Jay Anson
The story of the Amityville house has become legendary in horror and popular culture – with a series of books and films detailing these horrific hauntings. But this 1977 classic is the book that started it all. It tells the story of what happened after Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his entire family at Amityville in 1974, when the Lutz family moved into the house and vacated the premises after less than a month – apparently due to being terrorized by evil spirits and paranormal phenomena. The “based on a true story” claim has been met with controversy over the decades since The Amityville Horror was released, but it’s a must-have read for any horror enthusiast – and will definitely put you in the mood to book a flight to New York and see the real-life haunted house for yourself.
Like many haunted tales, The Good House begins with the tragic loss of a child. Angela Toussaint lost everything after her son committed suicide – her law practice, her family, and her sense of purpose. She decides to do the unthinkable, and journey back to her grandmother Marie’s house where her son took his own life. While she visits the home looking for answers, she uncovers a family curse that puts herself, and countless others, in a terrifying position. This novel is a gorgeous mix of supernatural, mystery, and magic – featuring everything from ancient Voodoo rituals and terrifying spirits to the real-life horror of losing the things (or people) we love the most.
The only thing more scary than a haunted house? An entire haunted apartment building. Seriously, you’d think that people would realize that a super gorgeous, underpriced home is definitely haunted – but that wouldn’t make for a good ghost story. The Graveyard Apartment centers on the Kano family as they move into a brand new, luxurious apartment in Tokyo. The downside is that it’s surrounded by a creepy graveyard, and the family begins to realize that their beautiful new place is also home to tons of paranormal activity. Since we all know that Japanese horror movies are some of the best in the genre, just wait until you read this J-horror book that will make you very wary before moving into your next apartment.
Dive into this haunted house story with a unique perspective. You see, it’s not just those living in the house who are terrorized by spirits and bad vibes, it’s also the poor neighbors watching their sanity and home value decrease. The House Next Door is told from the perspective of a Colquitt “Col” Kennedy, a middle-aged woman who watches the contemporary home next door continuously lose owners to murder, madness, and scandal. As she discovers the power of the house, she needs to decide if she should warn others of its danger, or keep her reputation and safety intact by staying quiet.
I am a lifelong pop culture junkie with immense passion for all forms of art and entertainment. On a typical weekend, I can be found at a concert or musical, chasing ghosts on the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, or watching way too many makeup tutorials on YouTube.
I feel as if, in general, I’m a pretty easy going person, I don’t like to cause a stir and I generally stay out of heated discussions. After all, I know where I stand on certain issues, so why stress out about a conflicting opinion from someone else? We’re all allowed to have an opinion, that’s our right in life as human beings; unfortunately, a lot of you horror buffs out there have been actively comparing The Haunting of Hill House (2018) and The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020), the two seasons Netflix original series The Haunting, but you need to stop and here’s why:
Aren’t Hill House and Bly Manor Part of the Same Series?
While these two seasons of The Haunting series do have a lot in common, they’re from the same showrunner, they both have some of the same cast, and their names are awfully similar—but I would consider this series to be in the same vein as American Horror Story (2011- Present), Black Mirror (2011 – Present), or Two Sentence Horror Stories (2019 – Present) as they share the similarity of standalone storylines. American Horror Story features a new storyline with each new season, but we saw in one of the most recent seasons that they are intricately interwoven together in pretty incredible ways, but they feature the same cast and same creators—I can honestly say that I enjoy certain seasons of the show more than others, but I cannot in good conscience that I can compare them in any way. Just like Black Mirror has some episodes that have a more riveting storyline than others, as does Two Sentence Horror Stories.
It’s fair to argue that because these shows share a name or even some common elements that they are even remotely comparable. The truth of the matter though, is that these shows are simply the first two parts of an anthology series where Flanagan and his creative team are tackling one iconic horror novel at a time. So yes, while they have similarities, even Flanagan himself has asserted that they both serve as standalone storylines:
The Haunting of Bly Manor is the second installment in The Haunting anthology. We started with Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, and this follow-up season is a standalone adaptation based on the ghost stories of Henry James. Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw is one of the most influential ghost stories ever written. What struck me as a really wonderful opportunity for this season was Henry James wrote other ghost stories as well, most of which have never been adaptation. The opportunity to go further into Henry James’ library, to look at some of his other ghost stories, to try to find a way to bring them all together, it was a challenge that we really couldn’t say no to.
Mike Flanagan in Behind the Scenes: From Hill House to Bly Manor
Since we’re seeing Flanagan return as a writer and a director for the opening episode, we’re also seeing the same setting where we get a lot of the same wide shots and creepy ghosts hiding in the background of a lot of otherwise normal scenes. A common question I have seen, in the horror communities within which I lurk, addresses the concept of why they made the second season of this show a completely new story, rather than continuing on with the storyline of The Haunting of Hill House. Flanagan had a great response in regards to this when he was quoted as having said:
It was important to me that we told that story to its conclusion in the first season. I didn’t want to cynically repeat ourselves, and the actors didn’t want to either … this frees us up because, in theory, in this anthology format, every season can be its own exploration of another classic piece of horror literature. Actors can stay or go depending on their preference and their availability. That opens it up to a new cast and new chances for existing actors. I love that format. It would be quite a disappointment to have to revisit the Crains. It would rob them of the closure they got at the end of that season.
Mike Flanagan in an interview with Gamesradar+ in 2019
So should you expect to see some of the same characters, or even related storylines in The Haunting of Bly Manor? No, no you should not, since they are standalone stories based on the stories of two different authors, they are unique in that sense. Should you compare whether one is scarier than the other? Also no. Again, these stories are unique from one another, which means the storyline and genres are different. With respect to The Haunting of Hill House, it was adapted from the original Shirley Jackson book of the same name whereas The Haunting of Bly Manor was adapted loosely based around the novella by Henry James entitled The Turn of the Screw, with elements of other short stories also written by James.
Is Bly Manor as Scary as Hill House?
Well, that really depends on how you define the word scary—are you the type of horror fan that likes jump scares or blood and guts kind of violence and gore? Or are you the type of horror fan that can appreciate a deeply twisted storyline that gives you that sickeningly painful feeling in your gut and with each revelation, pulls you deeper into an unsettlingly and delicious feeling of dread?
It seems like everyone with a Twitter account has turned into a TV critic these days and they have been flocking to their social media accounts in droves to talk about how The Haunting of Bly Manor is not only lacking the scares and thrilling moments, but that it’s straight boring compared to The Haunting of Hill House. I guess everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I think they’re missing the essential point that it’s not meant to be the same type of frightening as The Haunting of Hill House. I get it, there are few jump scares in the second season, so those who are more of a fan of slashers and violent torture porn, then they’re not going to appreciate it in the ways that it is scary.
There are fewer ghosts in Bly Manor, and they definitely don’t pursue victims in the same manner as those in Hill House. No, Bly Manor is a slow-burn kind of horror that continued to build over each episode—it fed off of a more intense and intellectual fear that leaves the audience with a feeling of being stripped bare to the unseen forces in the world and a feeling that we are so small and meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Bly Manor is the type of cosmic gothic ghost story that Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft would have been proud to include in their genre of horror.
The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
The Netflix series that debuted in 2018 began, unbeknownst to the fan base it would obtain, as an anthology series with the first season using the famous Shirley Jackson novel The Haunting of Hill House as inspiration for a macabre and twisted tale of a close yet dysfunctional family. Flanagan of course takes quite a few creative liberties when adapting the book to script, as an example, when he completely abandons Jackson’s original plot surrounding a group of paranormal investigators who have come to investigate ghosts at Hill House. Even beyond that, however, Flanagan somehow takes the tale of a haunted house and turns it into a commentary on how grief and trauma manifest for each of us personally and haunt us the way a ghost might. These traumas that Flanagan addresses within his telling of Hill House come across as impenetrable walls, barriers that forever keep you trapped in eternal, yet self-inflicted pain—Hill House, therefore, becomes a metaphor for how some people escape from their past trauma, where others will be ceaselessly be victimized by it. The difference between the two is a strong support system and the will to overcome—this is illustrated perfectly by Flanagan who shows how the Crain family reacts when they begin losing their family one by one, finally realizing that they have some semblance of control over the final outcome. Their choice, in the end, is to save their family regardless of whether it puts themselves in danger.
The Crain family moves into the dilapidated Hill House; Hugh and Olivia, are the loving parents of five interesting and unique children—Steven, Shirley, Theodora, and the youngest—a pair of twins—Nell and Luke. The parents, set to repair and the flip the house, are less receptive to the baleful nature of Hill House, but as the children explore their new temporary home they become aware of things that they had never before experienced, but that children are uniquely equipped to encounter. The innocence of these children makes them vulnerable to dark spirits, hallucinatory experiences, and the discovery of rooms that simply shouldn’t exist within the house. Of course, the adults chalk this up to vivid imaginations and generalized anxieties, but when their mother Olivia begins to be affected by the house as well, things begin to turn dangerous—but the story is shrouded in mystery, the kind that never fails to pull you back in, and it all starts at the end of a tragedy the kind of non-linear timeline that not only keeps people guessing about what happened, but also how it happened in the first place.
Adapted from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
Shirley Jackson’s original novel The Haunting of Hill House (1959) is actually based on four strangers—not a family—and they all come together at Hill House, a house that was long believed to be haunted. These strangers come under the guidance of Dr. Montague, a man who is hoping to scientifically prove the existence of spirits and specters. This horrifying tale takes the reader on a supernatural and psychological thrill-ride as we see the story progress over an incredibly haunted summer for these poor strangers who only wish to uncover the truth. It’s as if the house itself wishes to be left alone in its own misery.
While it’s true that the novel and the show are incredibly different beasts, there are some common elements that translated across the formats. These strangers share the same names as the Crain family, but it’s also true that Eleanor (Nell), the sensitive child in Hill House is also supernaturally inclined within the book. Her sense of the house being evil upon arriving at the house is also eerily similar between the book and the show.
This by no means makes the book and the show any more related, but it does show that Flanagan did take inspiration from the original novel in more ways than just the superficial elements, which is more than what most adaptations can boast.
The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)
The Haunting of Bly Manor is an American gothic romance, which means that it is steeped in mystery, the supernatural, the horrific, and a love story. As noted before, based loosely on the novella Turn of the Screw, but they also took elements from other horror short stories by the same author and essentially crafted their own story with all of the new puzzle pieces. What they created was a tragically beautiful and meaningful love story, that still pulled off the frightening elements that also made it a horror story.
Set in the 80s, Bly Manor houses its own share of ghosts and ghouls—and they’re far from boring, in fact, it wouldn’t be far from the truth to say that the ghosts are what elevate these shows from being simple dramas about family, love, loss, and grief. At the beginning of Bly Manor, we see Dani a young American woman being hired as an au pair by the wealthy uncle of two young orphans—Miles and Flora. By the time we introduced to these two adorably tragic children, there is already a sense of things being wrong… we just don’t know what.
The Burden of Our Own Emotional Limitations
We slowly get to know the household staff that are paid to take care of and effectively raise Miles and Flora, in place of their uncle, Henry Wingrave, who is now their only living relative. It’s clear that Wingrave loves the children, but it’s as if he doesn’t want to get stuck taking care of them when he still has his business to run, and Bly Manor has a history of trapping people within. It’s quite a commentary on how we each get stuck in our own lives—not necessarily within places, but in torturous memories, and the grievous emotions that mark the worst moments in our lives. We see that Wingrave is running away from the responsibility of the children in much of the same way that Dani is running from the death of her fiancé, for which she feels responsible, but we soon see that she is haunted by him as he follows her, reminding her of the sheer weight of her guilt. Wingrave too, is trapped by the guilt of his brother’s death, especially due to the fact that he had a lurid affair with his brother’s wife, which may also add to the obligation that he feels to care for his brother’s children.
Wingrave’s personal assistant, Peter Quint, is also stuck—he’s stuck with the trauma he endured from a negligent and abusive upbringing—and despite the fact that he isn’t a terrible person underneath all of that, he comes across as a villain throughout the show. Owen, the cook responsible for feeding the children and staff, finds himself in Bly taking care of his sick mother, who is suffering from dementia, and she proves to be a significant burden on him emotionally. His guilt lies within the fact that he not only resents his mother for her condition, but he also grieves her loss despite her still being present in his life—this is something that anyone who has ever dealt with a family member suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s can sympathize with. Owen too is trapped in Bly, at least for as long as his mother remains alive. The housekeeper at Bly Manor, Hannah Grose is revealed to have died at the beginning of the season when we begin to see all of the pieces of the puzzle realized together as the picture finally becomes whole. He torture in this circumstance is that her life was devoted to holding the family together in the face of wanting to follow her own pursuits, half-aware of her own fate and half-unaware as she is taunted with the fact that she can never leave and live the life with Owen that she so desires.
Regardless of whether or not these people are able to leave the manor, we see them trapped within their own circumstances, they struggle hard to prevail over them, but in the end realize that their fate is inevitable. This brings that hard-hitting, existential crisis to heart; that no matter what we do, we will never win, we will never get what we want, and there is no one who can save us from our inescapable ruin…
Flanagan touches upon grief in a hauntingly beautiful, by bringing you deeply into the lives of his characters and exposing their psychological trauma to the light of day. We’re not just seeing one person’s struggle as noted in the section above, we’re seeing them unfold for everyone involved. This is what makes the story so tragic.
What is a Gothic Romance?
A gothic romance stories have a strong emphasis on the mood that is conveyed to the audience, it should be suspenseful, mysterious, and thrilling—not something that you might expect with a traditional romantic storyline—but at the same time, it should focus strongly on the romance of the characters. This of course is achieved quite fluidly by Flanagan…
What sets Bly Manor apart is that at its heart it’s a love story. It’s a Gothic romance story. When you look at the word ‘romance’ it conjures up images in your mind. Gothic romance means something very, very different, steeped in mystery and doom, incredibly passionate emotions that swung into the darkness of human nature.
Mike Flanagan in Behind the Scenes: From Hill House to Bly Manor
If we take a second look at Bly Manor, we realize that this is set up as a romance from the very beginning, it’s not something that the story simply took upon itself later in the season—this was a deliberate setup that we see from the narrator at the start of the season. We realize only at the end that the narrator is actually an older version of Jamie, telling the story of Bly Manor to Flora Wingrave and company at her wedding reception. It seems strange that Jamie would be telling Flora about her own childhood, but as we find out shortly prior to this revelation, Flora nad her brother Miles had completely forgotten about what transpired at Bly Manor after moving with their uncle to America. Jamie’s relation of this story to her old piecemealed family from Bly is tragic in many ways—because of a forgotten history that to Jamie is ever-present and heartwrenching.
The theme of love in Bly Manor although not necessarily apparent to those who go in expecting cheap thrills in the generic horror fashion, is peppered generously throughout and is undeniable once the end of the story has been reached. Jamie’s own love story with the au pair Dani Clayton was something that she had previously considered something of a horror story, with all of the tragedy, loss, and subsequent grief from Dani’s self-sacrifice in taking the spirit of the faceless ghost into herself in order to save Flora from certain death.
We see Dani’s past, steeped in guilt from the recurrence of the specter with the yellow spectacles, who we find is the ghost of Dani’s fiancé Edmund. Upon facing their pending marriage she finally has the courage to stand up for what she wants for herself and that denying her own sexuality by marrying her childhood best friend will only lead to a lifetime of unhappiness for herself. Dani’s guilt lies in the fact that breaking off the engagement due to not being heterosexual, directly preceded Edmund’s flight from the parked car and directly into the path of a big rig. Despite not wanting to be married to Edmund, the last thing Dani wanted was for him to die and she takes upon herself the blame for his death. Edmund’s ghost shows up as having blindingly yellow glasses because, at the instant of his death, he saw the truck coming rendering the reflection of the headlights upon his spirit from then on.
There are many other love stories that take place within the context of Bly Manor; Peter Quint, and Rebecca Jessel which is another horror story in and of itself, as Peter is abusive to Rebecca. Translating even after his death by the hand of the Lady in the Lake, when he possesses Rebecca and walks her into the lake so they can be together again, which of course leads everyone to believe Rebecca had committed suicide. The housekeeper Hanna and the cook Owen who develop an obvious fondness for each other after Hannah had already passed away (thanks in no small part to Peter Quint, who upon possessing Miles, shoves her into the well), which leads to broken hearts for both of them.
If there’s one thing that I hope fans take away from this season of Bly Manor, I think it’s that wonderful connection between a great love story and a great ghost story. The two are really the same thing, how each of us when we fall in love is kind of giving birth to a new ghost, something that’s gonna follow us for the rest of our lives. I hope that that intermingling of a ghost story and a love story is really impactful for people, and I think by the end of this season the line between the two is pretty much obliterated entirely.
Mike Flanagan in Behind the Scenes: From Hill House to Bly Manor
Adapted from Henry James The Turn of the Screw (1898)
Although Flanagan wasn’t the first creator to adapt Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (1898), he and his creative team did the best job so far. It was previously adapted for television when BBC produced Ghost Story: The Turn of the Screw (2009), which itself also took a few creative liberties. It’s worth mentioning that this infamous ghost story has also inspired live performances throughout Europe as well.
So while there are valid connections between the two seasons of The Haunting anthology, they are actually standalone presentations that merit a separate analysis, completely removed from the other. I think Mike Flanagan really said it best in this Behind the Scenes: From Hill House to Bly Manor:
When we finally meet Viola Willoughby, in The Haunting of Bly Manor, the ghost with no face, she goes from being an evil spirit to being a sympathetic character in a way—a woman who in life was beautiful, a good mother, and very much loved by her husband, but stricken with sickness and too stubborn to die. Her sister, who coveted what Viola possessed eventually choked her to death in an effort to take over Viola’s duty as a mother and wife. Viola, still too stubborn to leave the life that she had desperately yearned for, remained as a spirit, locked in a trunk of her nicest possessions, which she had left for her daughter to inherit at the appropriate age. Her sister again covets what her sister only possesses in death, unlocks the trunk, and is, in turn, choked to death by Viola’s ghost. Viola ends up trapped within her own home and over time, her spirit forgets everything except for the one thing that drove her in the first place—the drive to see her daughter and once again be reunited with her keeps her ghost coming back, long after she has even forgotten what she looks like. As tragedy prevails throughout the ages, anyone that has passed within the house is too stuck there with her, forgetting themselves and their own faces as well. So in a sense, the ghosts of Bly Manor do not haunt the living, they are haunted by the living, knowing that they at least have the opportunity to escape from the prison that the manor has become.
I can say with confidence that having experienced trauma in my life, that living a life trapped with sorrow, grief, or a devouring sort of guilt is bad enough, but the concept presented in Bly Manor, where we see that grief breach the veil between life and death, bringing that unending tragedy into eternity. Twist that knife a bit more while you’re at it.
Sincerely, to compare these two masterpieces is to do neither of them justice, as to be appreciated fully they need to be appreciated separately. So when you watch them again, like I’m about to, remember that they were never meant to be compared to one another in the first place.
Chitwood, Adam. “’The Haunting of Hill House’ Creator Mike Flanagan Explains How ‘Bly Manor’ Is Different.” Collider, 28 Sept. 2020, collider.com/haunting-of-bly-manor-netflix-vs-haunting-of-hill-house-difference-explained/.
Flanagan, Mike, director. Behind the Scenes: From Hill House to Bly Manor. Youtube: Behind the Scenes: From Hill House to Bly Manor, Netflix, 28 Sept. 2020, youtu.be/LRE3PzK_vUE.
Hill, Libby. “You’re Right. ‘Bly Manor’ Isn’t as Scary as ‘Hill House.’ It’s Scarier. – Spoilers.” IndieWire, IndieWire, 14 Oct. 2020, www.indiewire.com/2020/10/bly-manor-scary-hill-house-scarier-netflix-1234592826/.
Romaine, Lindsey. “All of THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE Parallels in BLY MANOR.” Nerdist, 13 Oct. 2020, nerdist.com/article/all-the-haunting-of-hill-house-parallels-in-bly-manor/.
Shepherd, Jack. “How The Haunting of Bly Manor and Hill House Are Connected.” SFX Magazine, GamesRadar+, 9 Oct. 2020, www.gamesradar.com/how-the-haunting-of-bly-manor-and-hill-house-are-connected/.
Author. Artist. A little bit Alaskan. Mary lives with her dog in a rural cabin outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. They explore the bounty of the Alaskan wilderness during the summer and cozy up in their log cabin during the winter.
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