“The Haunting of Hill House” came to Netflix in October of 2018, and the creators came back with another one this fall called “The Haunting of Bly Manor.” When both of these series came out, I finished them both in one day. It has, however, been hard to convince my friends who don’t like the horror genre to watch it with me. Though the shows are clearly about various hauntings, hidden ghosts and supernatural occurrences, you have nothing to be afraid of. Well, you do, but not in the way you think.
Season one, “The Haunting of Hill House,” based on the novel “The Legend of Hell House” by Richard Matheson, is about more than jump scares and keeping you up at night. It is quite simply a story about life, relationships and grief. The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. What you’ll notice when you are introduced to the characters of the show is that each child of the Crain family represents a different stage of this grief process. This allows you to relate to each of them in a way you wouldn’t expect. The season goes back and forth between the family when they lived in Hill House, as children or young parents, and who they are now as adults. In each episode, more is revealed in the past to help you understand the present—or vice versa.
Hill House represents a life. The more you may be afraid, the more walls you may build around yourself. It’s not about escaping a haunted house; it’s about escaping the fear we all face in life. Drug addiction, depression, divorce, sexuality or death. Each character in the show gets an episode from their point of view, where you learn how they interpreted the house as a child and why they are the way they are today. Episode five, Nell’s episode, titled “The Bent-Neck Lady,” is easily the most complex, revealing and riveting episode of season one. The more the episodes go on, the more questions you are left with, making the reveals of those answers that much more satisfying in the end. It won’t leave you feeling afraid; it will leave you feeling more confident in your feelings than you were before. If you aren’t a horror fan, but you are fascinated by the human brain and human relationships, as well as beautiful writing, this is the ghost story for you. “A ghost can be a lot of things. A memory, a daydream, a secret. Grief, anger, guilt. But, in my experience, most times, they’re just what we want to see.”
A lot of people have been asking me if I think “The Haunting of Bly Manor” is as good as “Hill House.” Yes and No. It is not bad, by any means. It could only be considered “bad” because “Hill House” is just so good. “Bly Manor” doesn’t leave you with as much pondering as “Hill House.” One is a large metaphor for life, and one is a ghost story.
“The Haunting of Bly Manor” loosely based on the book “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James, features much of the same cast from the first season. It is much more simple in its explanation of characters and, because of that, seems much less scary at first. Episode five titled, “ The Altar of the Dead,” is the first episode you’ll see that will make you feel like you’re watching something more similar to “Hill House.” What is compelling about this season is how totally normal every character seems. Shows often write overdramatic or unrealistic portrayals of people, especially when it comes to horror stereotypes. While the best thing about season one is the writing, it’s the acting in this season that will blow you away. The two leads of the series being two young children who are less naive than any of the adults. A child’s mind is so innocent, and when they are exposed to such fear at such a young age, you are handed a very haunting outlook on life.
I highly recommend watching both seasons and trying to find things they have in common. There are references made in “Bly Manor” that directly relate to “Hill House.” Do not be afraid to watch these shows. These ghost stories are not stories of death or fear. Both seasons remind us over and over that death doesn’t mean life stops. “Dead doesn’t mean gone.” “Death is something to mourn, not fear.” Halloween is such a fun time of year to explore spooky shows and movies, and if you have always wanted more depth to that genre beyond gore and stereotypes, these shows are “perfectly splendid.”