I live in fear. It’s my own stupid fault for watching The Haunting of Hill House, and for the second time to boot. The first time was years ago, when I was 8 or 9. It was the original movie, in black and white, and I must have watched it alone on TV, because I can’t imagine my parents letting me see it. But see it I did, and then I couldn’t unsee it. Based on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel, Hill House is the mother of all haunted house movies. It doesn’t feature screaming banshees or rattling skeletons; its horror is more insidious, steeped in anxiety, dread and paranoia. The house is the monster, and it drives its occupants insane. It frightened me so badly I had to sleep on a chair in my parents’ bedroom for months afterwards, on my Dad’s side of the bed. If my mother caught me, she would scold and send me packing, but my Dad understood, I think, and turned a shoulder and a blind eye. That, right there, sums up much of my own troubled, sleep-deprived childhood, and subsequent anxiety issues. Thanks, Shirley.


So why watch it again, this time revamped as a Netflix series? Because old fears are sometimes like scabs you pick to see if they still bleed. If anything, the new Haunting of Hill House is even more horrifying. The story has been rejigged and contemporized; this time, a family with 5 young children moves into Hill House in hopes of renovating it and flipping it, but the House does not want to be flipped. Not only does it terrorize its inhabitants while they are there, but it continues to haunt them into adulthood, which implies that demons are just as likely to be found within, especially if you have, ahem, a vivid imagination. The show’s creator (Mike Flanagan) also likes to populate the scenery with ghostly figures that you can’t quite see, unless you hit pause, in which case you’ll catch a glimpse of a pale face or hulking figure at the end of a hall, or reflected in a window. It’s freaky stuff. I don’t mind telling you that I simply can’t watch it alone. Even when John has to get a drink or go to the bathroom, I have to pause it until he comes back, lest something come out of the screen and grab me. No, YOU shut up. It happens. Haven’t you seen The Ring?


A particularly distressing scene in The Haunting of Hill House takes place in the basement, as these things so often do. We used to have a scary basement too, until we finished it a couple of years ago, sealing off some unusable crawlspaces, and using others to store paint cans and whatnot. Yesterday, I had to retrieve some paint from a tiny dark closet accessible through a door in the back of ANOTHER closet.  While I was in there, Dewey, idiot dog, started barking, and the main closet door started to swing shut. Congratulate me, because I gave birth to kittens right then and there.


The nice thing about growing up and having a husband is that you don’t have to sleep in a chair in your room. The downside is that he won’t get up and come to work with me at 3:30 A.M. The house is dark and full of terrors at that time, and I have to brave it alone. In fact, I’m alone for long parts of the day, like right now. At least I think and hope that I am. There’s someone behind me, isn’t there?


Happy Halloween!


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