Written by: Paula Haifley, CC2K Horror Chick
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone."
Thus begins Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, a haunted house story that has it’s place among, or perhaps presides over, other classics of the genre like Matheson’s Hell House and King’s The Shining. Specifically The Haunting is a work of psychological horror, in which the emphasis is on the protagonist’s perception of events. As such, the psychological haunted house story is an improvement on the simpler ghost stories of the Victorian era and can still scare readers today.
I’m a horror fan in general, but the psychological ghost story reigns supreme as my favorite kind of horror tale. It’s central metaphor, the mind as a haunted house, is one that for reasons of either upbringing or inclination I find to be particularly potent. A house is a place people dwell, and often can’t escape; the mind is also a place where one dwells, and sometimes to one’s torment, can’t escape. The twists and turns of a haunted house’s corridors, around which some unseen horror perpetually lies, can be likened to the folds and wrinkles of the cerebral matter. Both contain a potential for irrationality, and both may, cat-and-mouse-like, bar your escape just when you think you’re home free.
Like a lot of people, I was first introduced to Jackson’s work when I was assigned her short shocker The Lottery in junior high, but reading The Haunting some years later is what made me a fan of Shirley Jackson for life. I know few details about Jackson personally; apparently she suffered from various neuroses and psychosomatic illnesses throughout her life. For whatever reason, she was attracted as a writer to both the supernatural and to psychological horrors, and was masterful at depicting both. For me The Haunting is a reminder, often much needed after watching a crappy horror movie, of what the horror genre can be and why I’m attracted to it.
Jane Rose is an independent horror filmmaker and special effects make-up artist in New York. Shudder at her Lovecraftian short films at Jane-Rose.com.