Back in October this year, Netflix streamed its adaptation of Shirley Jackson's classic novel. Anticipation had been low, even in horror circles, since horror remakes and re-imaginings rarely receive critical acclaim. So when the show turned out to be brilliantly terrifying, word soon spread.
The Netflix show isn't exactly an adaptation - rather, it's an amalgamation of the novel that can be viewed as a sequel. For example, Steven and Shirley aren't characters in the book, although it was written by one Shirley Jackson. And whilst adult versions of Theodora, Eleanor, and Luke do appear in the book, they're not siblings, meeting for the first time at Hill House.
It's the work put into those characters and others that elevate it. A jump-scare can still be effective on its own, but it's far more effective when the audience is emotionally receptive to the victim's plight.
The words of Steven Crain in episode one hold a lot of truth: "When I say I've never seen a ghost, it's not exactly true. I've seen a lot of ghosts — just not the way you think. A ghost can be a lot of things — a memory, a daydream, a secret, grief, anger, guilt."
It's not just Hill House that's haunted; the Crain family's hearts and minds are, too.
10. The Bent-Neck Lady Floats, Too
Episode: 1x1 - Steven Sees A Ghost
With this scene, the show makes it clear - children are fair game.
For many horror stories, modern or not, children are off-limits. There's a seemingly unspoken rule that many writers abide by - don't hurt children in any way. Perhaps that's why some of the most powerful horror movies of all time feature children coming to harm. A young girl is tormented in The Exorcist; a young boy is haunted in The Shining; and a young girl is abducted by poltergeist in, uh, Poltergeist. Suddenly, a line is crossed, and the fear factor is multiplied.
Earlier in the episode, Nell wakes up her dad with her screams. She complains that someone she calls the Bent-Neck Lady appeared again, standing at the foot her bed, and with some reassurance, goes back to sleep. We get a brief glimpse of the Lady.
Later in the episode, Nell spends the night in another part of the house to escape the Lady's presence. It's no use. She wakes up paralysed, the Lady floating above her, eerily reminiscent of a phantom from Japanese horror. As Nell and the audience come to learn, the Lady will shadow her, literally and figuratively, for the rest of her life. All the more heartbreaking is the realisation later in the series that Nell herself is the lingering object of her fear.
Interestingly, the apparition of a dark, shrouded woman is a common sight among those who experience sleep paralysis.