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The Haunting Of Hill House: Everything You Need To Know About Season One

Riss is freelance writer, fan of all things horror and paranormal, and an avid consumer of Netflix.

Netflix’s 2018 drama-suspense series is a ten-episode rollercoaster of emotions, jump scares, and sinister mysteries unfolding. Based on the 1959 Shirley Jaskson novel, The Haunting of Hill House, the first season in this anthology series, which seems to be taking on a haunted house theme, delivers a slow burn creepiness set over the backdrop of a family torn apart by loss. While the plot is a masterpiece in itself, it is the characters that stay with you long after you’ve finished the show. With the upcoming Season 2 premiere of The Haunting of Bly Manor, let’s take a look back at everything that made Season 1 truly great.

The present day Crain siblings in front of Hill House.

The present day Crain siblings in front of Hill House.

Who are the Crains?

Hugh Crain

If Hugh Crain had a catch-phrase, it would be, “I can fix it.” Loving husband, father to five, and one half of the Crain house flipping team, in 1992 Hugh is optimistic, ambitious, and full of hope for the future. By the present day though, Hugh has become depressed and haggard from trauma and decades of his children’s resentment. His love for them, and for Olivia, never fades and throughout the series it’s clear that Hugh has hung on to some of his optimism. Henry Thomas, who plays younger Hugh, and Timothy Hutton do such a fantastic job keeping Hugh’s mannerisms and quirks consistent between time jumps that it’s easy to forget two different actors are playing the same adult man.

Olivia Crain

Olivia Crain, played by the lovely Carla Gugino throughout the season, is the creative to Hugh's handy-man. She is intelligent, quick-witted, artistic, and patient but plagued by horrific migraines that shorten her temper and at times seem to change her personality completely. She’s loved dearly by her children and husband alike and her death has torn the family apart.

Steven Crain

Steven is the eldest Crain child. As a child he was responsible, upbeat, and helpful, a true “chip off the old block” in his desire to emulate his father. As an adult and writer he is more removed from his family, partially due to his clashing with Shirley. Steven is married in the present but separated from his wife Leigh and he seems to be less mature now than his child self in ‘92, lying to and gaslighting his wife and siblings. Played by Paxton Singleton in flashbacks and Michael Huisman in the present, Steven's character arc from responsible child to emotionally cold adult of dubious morals is disappointing if not unrealistic.

Shirley Crain Harris

If there’s one thing Shirley likes, it’s control. As a child she learned she could control and “fix” death if she made the deceased look alive again and as an adult she works as a mortician in the funeral home owned by herself and her husband Kevin, where she does in fact fix up the deceased. Such is her need for control that she insists on being Nellie’s mortician despite her grief and while she means well, she often oversteps her bounds attempting to fix others while ignoring her own shortcomings. Young Shirley is played by Lulu Wilson while Elizabeth Reeser kills it as present day Shirley.

Theodora (Theo) Crain

Theo is a badass. There’s no other way to put it. Early in the season we watch her single-handedly take down a child rapist through her use of intuition and a gift that may or may not be supernatural in nature. Theo fights hard for what she believes in but she has repressed her trauma and emotions so deeply that she struggles to show any kind of emotion or weakness to those she loves. The adorable Mckenna Grace plays the younger tomboy with Kate Siegel giving a raw and powerful performance as adult Theo.

Luke Crain

A sweet and quiet boy, Luke is arguably the most affected by the events at Hill House. He is the only one to be regularly tormented by many of the ghosts in the house and he is the only one in the family who lost someone besides Olivia on the night of her suicide. Luke’s response to the trauma he faced was becoming a heroin addict, which predictably leads him to lie and steal from his family. Julian Hilliard plays an innocent 6-year-old Luke and Oliver Jackson-Cohen does a great job portraying that innocence and pain in a haunted adult Luke.

Eleanor (Nellie) Crain Vance

Nellie Crain has a personal ghost: the Bent-Neck Lady. The only Crain to ever see her, Nellie has been haunted by her her entire life, despite the rest of the family’s insistence that she’s a nightmare or a manifestation of mental illness. Violet McGraw gives a stoic performance as the very serious little Nellie but it’s Victoria Pedretti’s tormented adult Nellie that really makes the show shine. Through Nellie’s perpetual haunting by the Bent-Neck Lady, her pure joy and bliss at her marriage to the love of her life, and her pain and despair when it’s all ripped away your heart hammers as you desperately wish for a happy ending for Nellie even while knowing how it all ends.

Who is Mr. Smiley from The Haunting of Hill House?

Who is Mr. Smiley from The Haunting of Hill House?

What about all the ghosts?

At its most basic, The Haunting of Hill House is a ghost story and the Netflix adaptation doesn't fail to deliver on the paranormal creepiness. There are several wide shots in the house featuring dozens of ghosts but here are the ones we get to know personally in the show.

The Bent-Neck Lady

The Bent-Neck Lady is Nellie’s personal ghost, and for good reason as we find out in episode five. She appears to Nellie as a woman with long dark hair, wearing a white gown with her neck broken and bent at a 90-degree angle. She usually appears silently for several seconds before disappearing, though once she can be heard repeating “no, no, no, no” and during another appearance she screamed.

William Hill/Tall Man

The ghost of William Hill, the former owner of the house, the Tall Man is an impossibly tall, levitating man wearing a bowler hat. Luke has a run-in with the Tall Man after finding his hat in the basement, causing the ghost to come looking for it. During a hallucination, Luke’s addict friend tells the story of the Tall Man who bricked himself into a wall and died feeling so small but then “woke up from his dream” (a recurring metaphor for death in the show) so, so tall.

Poppy Hill

Wife of William, Poppy was clinically insane and it is implied she killed herself after the deaths of her children. She pretends to befriend Olivia in order to draw her deeper into the house’s grasp and implants many of the ideas in her mind that ultimately lead to her suicide. She is also responsible for trapping and attempting to kill the remaining Crain children in the finale. Poppy usually appears as a beautiful young flapper but occasionally we get glimpses of her true form, which is rotting and decayed flesh and clothing.

Hazel Hill

Hazel is a minor ghost, her only major appearances being a reflection seen quickly by young Luke and a warning to Olivia about Poppy’s untrustworthy nature. She appears as an old woman and inhabits one of the upstairs bedrooms.

Abigail

Luke’s “imaginary friend” he met in the woods behind the house, Abigail can’t really be counted among the ghosts, although that fact does not become clear until the season finale. Abigail is a blonde girl about the twins age who appears only to Luke and is often seen playing with him in the yard.

Which Hill House ghost are you?

For each question, choose the best answer for you.

  1. You move into a new house and shortly afterwards you learn it's haunted. What do you do?
    • Lay low and hope the ghosts leave you alone.
    • Use the hauntings for your own financial gain.
    • Sell the house immediately but warn the new owners.
  2. You're a ghost! How did you die?
    • Murdered by another ghost
    • Old age
    • Bricked myself into a wall
  3. A new family has moved into the house you're haunting. What do you do?
    • Warn them about the danger.
    • Leave them alone unless they mess with your stuff.
    • Kill them so you can haunt the house together.
  4. How will you find peace in your afterlife as a ghost?
    • By saving your family's life.
    • By earning fame and notoriety.
    • By playing tricks and messing with the living.

Scoring

For each answer you selected, add up the indicated number of points for each of the possible results. Your final result is the possibility with the greatest number of points at the end.

  1. You move into a new house and shortly afterwards you learn it's haunted. What do you do?
    • Lay low and hope the ghosts leave you alone.
      • The Bent-Neck Lady: +1
      • William Hill/Tall Man: 0
      • Poppy Hill: -1
      • Hazel Hill: +1
    • Use the hauntings for your own financial gain.
      • The Bent-Neck Lady: -1
      • William Hill/Tall Man: +1
      • Poppy Hill: +1
      • Hazel Hill: 0
    • Sell the house immediately but warn the new owners.
      • The Bent-Neck Lady: 0
      • William Hill/Tall Man: -1
      • Poppy Hill: -1
      • Hazel Hill: +1
  2. You're a ghost! How did you die?
    • Murdered by another ghost
      • The Bent-Neck Lady: +1
      • William Hill/Tall Man: 0
      • Poppy Hill: 0
      • Hazel Hill: 0
    • Old age
      • The Bent-Neck Lady: 0
      • William Hill/Tall Man: 0
      • Poppy Hill: 0
      • Hazel Hill: +1
    • Bricked myself into a wall
      • The Bent-Neck Lady: 0
      • William Hill/Tall Man: +1
      • Poppy Hill: 0
      • Hazel Hill: 0
  3. A new family has moved into the house you're haunting. What do you do?
    • Warn them about the danger.
      • The Bent-Neck Lady: 0
      • William Hill/Tall Man: 0
      • Poppy Hill: 0
      • Hazel Hill: +1
    • Leave them alone unless they mess with your stuff.
      • The Bent-Neck Lady: 0
      • William Hill/Tall Man: +1
      • Poppy Hill: 0
      • Hazel Hill: 0
    • Kill them so you can haunt the house together.
      • The Bent-Neck Lady: 0
      • William Hill/Tall Man: 0
      • Poppy Hill: +1
      • Hazel Hill: 0
  4. How will you find peace in your afterlife as a ghost?
    • By saving your family's life.
      • The Bent-Neck Lady: +1
      • William Hill/Tall Man: 0
      • Poppy Hill: 0
      • Hazel Hill: 0
    • By earning fame and notoriety.
      • The Bent-Neck Lady: 0
      • William Hill/Tall Man: +1
      • Poppy Hill: 0
      • Hazel Hill: 0
    • By playing tricks and messing with the living.
      • The Bent-Neck Lady: 0
      • William Hill/Tall Man: 0
      • Poppy Hill: +1
      • Hazel Hill: 0

This table shows the meaning of each possible result:

The Bent-Neck Lady

Family is the most important thing to you and you'd put yourself in harm's way if it meant keeping your loved ones safe. You always mean well but unfortunately your actions sometimes backfire.

William Hill/Tall Man

You just want to feel tall and important. Other people don't bother you so much, as long as they don't get in your way.

Poppy Hill

You're insane, clinically. A trickster and a liar, you're at your happiest when people join in your insanity. You may seem cruel hearted but people don't realize the pain you've suffered in your life.

Hazel Hill

You're a kind old soul, if a little frightening at first glance. More than anything you want to be helpful, even if your help may come a little too late.

What questions does the show answer?

The Haunting of Hill House poses a number of questions in the first several episodes that viewers are dying to have answered. The show takes it time, though, and continues raising both the stakes and our curiosity until we can't take it anymore, and only then does it provide us with the heart stopping answer. Some of the most pressing questions are as follows.

What chased Hugh and Steve out of the house on the night they left?

In one of the first scenes in Episode 1 we see what happened from Steve’s point of view the night the Crain’s left Hill House. Hugh wakes Steve in the middle of the night and shushes him, then they wait silently as something on the other side of the door slowly turns the knob. When it leaves, Hugh carries Steve out of the house running while he gets a glimpse of something or someone chasing them. We don’t see this scene from Hugh’s point of view until the final episode, leaving the events a mystery and building the suspense for ten episodes until finally, the truth punches us in the gut.

Who is Mr. Smiley?

This one is resolved early on and serves mostly as a plot device to establish Theo's character, but it's creepy nonetheless. Is Mr. Smiley a ghost, a figment of a child's imagination, or something far more sinister?

Who are the Dudleys?

The Crains are told the Dudleys “came with the house” and while Mrs. Dudley appears to be a housekeeper and her husband Mr. Dudley the groundskeeper/maintenance man, their relationship to the house and their role in the events to come remains a mystery for most of the season. This is made all the more intriguing with the reveal that they staunchly refuse to be on the property after dark.

What’s in the Red Room?

The central plot mystery and the beginning of the Crain’s story, the children discover a locked red door in the house that they remain unable to open throughout their stay there. It becomes an obsession to some of the children and only when it all comes together do you realize just how much of a role that red room played in every single character’s story.

Who is the Bent-Neck Lady?

This is another mystery that's solved halfway through the series but that doesn’t make the reveal any less heart stopping. As mentioned above, the Bent-Neck Lady is a ghost who terrorizes Nellie through her whole life, beginning when the family moves to Hill House. For a while it seems as though the Bent-Neck Lady is a ghostly harbinger of death, which turns out to be true… in a way.

How did Nellie Die?

The big one, the incident that kicks off the events of the show: the suspicious and untimely death of Eleanor Crain. Due to Nellie’s mental health problems and history of trauma, the family is devastated if not surprised at the news and Theo, Shirley, and Steven accept the suicide explanation at first. Hugh and Luke however, have a hunch that may not be the case, Luke due to twin intuition and Hugh because of what he knows about the house but has never shared with the kids.

Victoria Pedretti in The Haunting of Bly Manor.

Victoria Pedretti in The Haunting of Bly Manor.

What's next?

Season two of the show fans are tentatively calling The Haunting Of… series will return on October 9th with an adaptation of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James called The Haunting of Bly Manor. Victoria Pedretti, who starred as Nellie in Hill House, will play a governess hired to work in a haunted estate. She'll be returning along with other season one favorites Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Kate Siegel, and Henry Thomas.

© 2020 Riss Drumgool

Comments

Tajwer Shakir on October 02, 2020:

I liked your article and the detailed analysis of this horror show.