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/.