Archive for June, 2020

IMG_20200619_125120By James Herbert

The unthinkable has happened. World War Three has broken out and nuclear missiles have exploded over London. Millions are killed, and pilot Steve Culver might have been one of them, except he fortuitously crosses paths with man from the ministry Alex Dealey, who’s on his way to a government shelter and, along with fellow survivor Kate, they battle through the underground to some semblance of safety, but for the survivors there’s more to worry about than radioactive fallout. Humanity thought they’d vanquished the mutant black rats, but they were merely hiding. Now they sense humanity is vulnerable, and claw their way out of the dark to claim London as their domain!

Given I grew up in the shadow of the Cold War, and given my predilection as a teenager for both James Herbert novels and apocalyptic fiction, it’s perhaps no great surprise that this 1984 novel was a firm favourite from my very first read, and I’ve read it many times since (as you can no doubt tell from the photo) though not for years.

The final, and in my opinion best, Rats novel (though there is a 1993 graphic novel) this sees Herbert go all out by killing millions in the opening chapters, and his evocation of nuclear annihilation and a ruined London is superbly done, playing on his usual trick of providing potted biographies for characters, just enough for us to empathise with them before killing them off. There’ll be rat related deaths aplenty later, but early doors the main causes of death aren’t teeth, it’s heat and the shockwaves burning up bodies and demolishing buildings.

He shifts to a second act focusing on the emotional impact of survival. Those in the shelter may be safe, but they’re still traumatised. Suicide is prevalent, and so is the risk of mutiny. Some don’t see why Dealey should be in charge just because he held a position of minor authority before the world ended.

There’s a grim recon mission to the surface featuring a wince inducing encounter with a rabid dog, but soon the survivors are faced with a triple whammy of threats; insurrection, flooding and rats!

This is a high concept novel. Bringing back the rats after a dull second outing and partnering them up with nuclear war, a subject on everyone’s minds in the 1980s. Herbert is disparaging towards authority in this, and the fate that befalls the main government shelter suitably ironic, yet much like his hero, he can’t quite bring himself to choose a side. Culver’s a standard Herbert stand-in; a loner in jeans and a leather jacket, a reluctant hero. A nonconformist who has little time for Dealey, yet seems equally sniffy about the potential mutineers. Dealey is a two-dimensional civil servant, a man who’s fallen back on bureaucracy because that’s all he has left. Herbert suggests Kate’s a strong female character, but really she’s just a damsel in distress for Culver to rescue and fall in love with. It’s a shame Herbert dispenses with a far more interesting female character early on.

A product of its time, women don’t far well, and whilst nowhere near as bad as I’d expected, persons of colour aren’t portrayed too glowingly either, aside from Jackson, who Herbert feels the need to constantly remind us is black which seems to be his only defining character trait, but he isn’t alone here and many people in the vignettes are more fleshed out that some of the recurring characters!

From a great concept the book goes downhill in the final third There’s the fairly predictable apocalyptic trope of the outlaw gang, and by the time we get to the finale there are just too few characters left to make for a final bloodbath, and it has to be said, there’s only so many rat attacks you can read before they all blur into one, and several of the grim interludes Herbert peppers the book with are a trifle samey. That said some other (non-rat related) interludes are nicely done.

He also annoys me by having characters use automatic weapons that appear to carry a ludicrous number of bullets!

A product of it’s time, this is still a very enjoyable read and definitely one of Hebert’s better books. It’s a trifle long and some of the underground scenes, especially late on, drag, but still a damn fine example of 80s’ post-apocalyptic fiction, and still a heck of a concept.


The Living Daylights (1987)

Posted: June 16, 2020 in James Bond


And so for the first time since 1971 we get a canon Bond film that doesn’t star Roger Moore, and by all rights it shouldn’t be Timothy Dalton parachuting into Gibraltar, it should have been Pierce Brosnan, but he couldn’t get out of his contract for Remington Steele and so Eon signed up Dalton. Was he their only option? Probably not, after all you can watch Sam Neil’s screentest! Was he always on their radar, possibly. Supposedly he was approached in 1968 and 1971, though given he’d have been in his early twenties it seems unlikely he was a serious contender.

In the end it doesn’t matter how Dalton ended up as James Bond, it only matters that he was Bond, and he was bloody fantastic.

Yeah, my feelings about Dalton are no secret, and The Living Daylights is one of my favourite Bond films (some Starkey trivia here, this was the first Bond film I saw on the big screen).

It had been a while since I’d seen it though and, much as I loved it, there were some weak elements…

Would I still feel the same?


Of course I would!

From the get-go this is a very different kind of Bond film. The pre-title sequence is gritty and devoid of humour (comedy paintball moments aside). There’s no Beach Boys soundtrack here, no horse’s arse lifting to reveal a plane (though ironically there will be a horse’s arse later). Three 00 agents parachute into Gibraltar as part of an exercise, the SAS, armed with paint guns, are waiting for them. After one 00 is murdered it’s time for Dalton to enter the fray. It’s a nice intro and what follows is a thrilling set piece featuring Bond atop a moving vehicle. Hard to see Roger pulling this off, but it’s clear Dalton did a decent amount of his own stunts, and if proof were needed that this isn’t Roger’s 007, Bond headbutts the assassin. I mean, technically I think Roger tried to headbutt Jaws but realistically Tim’s the first Bond to successfully deploy this. Thankfully he repacked his parachute (and finally a pre-title sequence where it makes sense for him to have a parachute!)

Check out his acrobatic roll onto the boat as well, but he’s still Bond and still has an eye for the ladies.

Cue A-ha with a tune that isn’t as good as Duran Duran’s, but is still catchy.

Next stop Bratislava where Bond’s tasked with taking out a KGB sniper, thus allowing Soviet general Georgi Koskov to defect. The op’s being run by prissy MI6 agent Saunders, who has no time for Bond turning up in a dinner jacket and even less when Bond only wounds the KGB sniper. He’s even more pissed off when Bond takes over and gets Koskov out of Czechoslovakia his own way, which involves Julie T Wallace’s bosom. This scene was way more fun than I remembered it, and I do wonder if this was supposed to be the pre title sequence, given Bond’s “I must have scared the living daylights out of her” line.


Koskov tells MI6 he defected because of a new directive by General Pushkin to start killing western agents, and that poor unfortunate 00 was just the first. Before the Brits can get much more out of Koskov, he’s kidnapped by the milkman! Seriously though, Necros’ attack on the safe house is wonderful, and his fight in the kitchen arguably one of the best in the franchise, and 007 isn’t even there!

M orders Bond to kill Pushkin, but Bond’s not so sure and takes a detour back to Czechoslovakia where he discovers the so called sniper is a cellist named Kara, Koskov’s girlfriend, whose gun was loaded with blanks to make the defection look real. Bond persuades her he’s Koskov’s friend and plans to get her to Austria, easier said than done with the police and army after them. Luckily Bond’s Aston Martin has a few optional extras installed. 007 may no longer be Moore but he still has a reckless disregard for Q Branch’s toys, so the Aston’s soon a smoking wreck and Bond and Kara slide into Austria via a very unorthodox form of transport.


After a romantic interlude in Vienna, Bond’s pushed back into going after Pushkin by Saunders’ murder, but Bond’s no fool and quickly he and Pushkin team up to reveal what’s really going on. Koskov is in league with arms dealer Brad Whitaker. The pair plan to make millions using Russian money to buy drugs in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, Koskov convinces Kara that Bond’s a wrong’un and the two wind up prisoners in a Russian airbase in Afghanistan. Bond being Bond they don’t stay there long.

After a fortuitous meeting with the mujahedeen Bond plots to blow up the plane carrying the drugs, but has to change his plans when Koskov spots him. Cue a mujahedeen attack on the airbase and Bond and Kara are forced take off in a plane carrying a bomb, and to make matters worse, a Necros as well!

After one final mission to take out Whitaker Bond can finally relax with some classical music, well with a classical cellist at least.

I know I’m biased but even so, this is a great film.

Let’s talk Dalton. He has the piecing eyes of a killer (the whole scene in Pushkin’s hotel room is just fantastic; “If I believed Koskov we wouldn’t be talking” “You should have bought lilies”) the cold rage of a man you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of (check out his expression upon finding Saunders’ body!) and yet he has the looks of a matinee idol, and is perhaps the most convincing romantic lead of any Bond. His seduction of Kara isn’t remotely creepy, it feels genuine, feels like they could fall in love.


People will say he can’t do humour, but people are wrong. Just watch Hot Fuzz for further details. He isn’t Moore or Brosnan, but much like Craig he’s dryly humours given the right material. “Are you calling me a hose’s arse?”

Finally, there’s the physicality. I love Rog, always will, but Tim convinces in a fight in a way Roger rarely did, not even in the early days. Maybe at the time it was too radical a shift for some people, but for me Tim will always epitomise the character, closer to Fleming’s creation than anyone else, even Craig or Connery, and unlike Craig’s Bond, who hates what he does and gets depressed about it, Dalton hates what he does and covers this up by embracing the hedonism.

I fell a little in love with Maryam d’Abo back in 1987, and she’ll always be one of my favourite Bond girls. She isn’t a super spy or a scientist, isn’t that horrible phrase ‘Bond’s equal’ and yet I still think she’s a good Bond girl. Yes she’s manipulated by Koskov, and let’s be honest here, by James as well, but she still has agency, and I love the scene where she guilt trips the Mujahedeen into attacking the airbase by leading the charge. She isn’t superhuman, but she is believable. People are snarky about her flying ability, but for goodness sake she’s a cellist, and given she’s grown up behind the iron curtain she probably hasn’t seem a million Hollywood action films either! Give her a break.


The bad guys are a trifle weak, though not as weak as some would argue. I actually like Jeroen Krabbé as Koskov, he’s wonderfully slimy and the fact that Bond doesn’t kill him in the end is perfect. I hope he isn’t executed and instead winds up in the same Siberian gulag he taunted Kara with.  He and Bond share some lovely snarky dialogue.

Joe Don Baker’s Whitaker isn’t exactly memorable, although oddly he’s probably got more relevant as time has passed. Let’s be honest here, there’s something Trumpian about him isn’t there?  Baker must have done something right however, as he’ll be back in two film’s time!

The best villain of the bunch is probably Andreas Wisniewski’s Necros. For saying he’s a monosyllabic henchman who doesn’t even have a prosthetic arm, or metal teeth, he’s incredibly effective, thanks to a script that showcases how dangerous he is before he ever meets 007. His one-man attack on the safehouse marks him out as a deadly foe, so when he and Bond finally come to blows, we know he’s a threat. It’d be wrong to put him in the same category as Red Grant, but compare him to the similar, but nowhere near as effective, Stamper in Tomorrow Never Dies, or even the woefully underused Dave Bautista as Hinx. And a side note about Wisniewski, he’s the first Dalton/Die Hard connection, stay tuned for two more in Licence to Kill!


Robert Brown is back as M, and while he is the weakest M, he’s effective. Desmond Llewelyn doesn’t get a lot to do as Q but Rhys-Davies is wonderful as Pushkin, though if Walter Gotell had been in better health presumably it would have been Gogol in this role. I like Thomas Wheatley’s Saunders, who goes from dick to useful ally just in time to be horribly murdered.

There are some missteps though. Caroline Bliss gets the thankless task of replacing Lois Maxwell, and given terrible dialogue into the bargain (“Any time you fancy listening to my Barry Manilow collection”). Not her fault but she’s the worst Moneypenny by far, and John Terry makes for a weak Felix, shame given he was Hawk the bloody Slayer (which isn’t rubbish).

The plot is tight, and not at all fantastical which works well in a more grounded Bond film, and the scenes in Czechoslovakia (really Austria) lend a nice touch to this, the last Cold War themed Bond film (setting aside Goldeneye’s pre-title sequence), and Bond gets to act the detective which is always nice to see and there are some great set pieces. The pre-title sequence and Necros’ attack of course, but also the chase into Austria, starting off with a fully tricked out Aston Martin (the first Aston since 1969!) and ending up with our hero and the girl sliding down the mountain in a cello case which is the kind of thing only Bond can really get away with. The attack on the Russian airbase is full on and Bond’s fight with Necros on the cargo net is superb, with a nice ticking time bomb thrown in for good measure, which means even after Necros gets the boot, Bond can’t relax. Yeah the final showdown with Whitaker is lame (stop shooting at the bulletproof screen, 007!) but it doesn’t go on too long and the wolf whistle denouncement is very JB.

Talking of JB this was to be John Barry’s swansong and he gives Dalton a great debut soundtrack, much as he did for Lazenby. He’ll be missed.

All in all a top drawer Bond film, jettisoning the silliness for a down to earth adventure that gives us a Bond we can believe in as an ice cold assassin yet keeps more than enough Bond tropes to keep all but the grumpiest Bond fan happy. I love it, Dalton and d’Abo and likely always will.


51qQMNkR-wL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_By Adrian Tchaikovsky

A little spoiler warning. Because this is a sequel, I will refer to events of Children of Time, so be warned! (And If you haven’t read Children of Time I heartily suggest you do!)

An earth terraforming project travelled many lightyears to a distant star, and a world they named Nod. They expected to find a blank slate upon which they could imprint a copy of Earth, but instead found a world teeming with alien life. While part of the terraforming team studied this world, others travelled to an ocean planet they named Damascus. Here they began to terraform, and began breeding octopuses using an experimental drug to uplift their intelligence. Soon Earth collapsed as the conflict there reached a terrible conclusion, and the terraformers were left all alone in the universe, or so they thought…

Thousands of years later the remains of humanity, along with their spider allies, travel to the worlds of Nod and Damascus, following fragmentary radio signals. They find an advanced race that can trace its roots back to old Earth, and, more terrifying, something truly alien that threatens them all.

* * *

Children of Time is probably the most enjoyable book I’ve read in the last ten years, so I was eagerly anticipating this sequel, and its fair to said Tchaikovsky didn’t disappoint. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t quite as good as Children of Time, but that novel was always going to be a hard act to follow, and the author deserves all the kudos imaginable for writing a follow up this enjoyable and it kept me gripped from the first page to the last.

The main issue is that the element of surprise is missing, but having said that, in doing for octopuses (octopi? Even Tchaikovsky doesn’t seem sure of the correct nomenclature) what he previously did for spiders, he once again showcases not only an incredible imagination, but also an in-depth knowledge of biology. More importantly he’s able to get that across in a way that the average reader can understand.

As with Children of Time, his world building is truly stupendous, but any indication that this is merely a carbon copy is quickly dispelled. What starts as sci-fi soon morphs into something far darker as he creates a species whose existence threatens the very nature of what it means to be an individual human (or spider, or octopus), and the repeated “We’re going on an adventure” line is incredibly unsettling (and would work equally well on screen if you ask me).

His prose is excellent, and as said his worldbuilding top drawer. If there’s a flaw I’d say that the some of the characters didn’t quite come alive for me, though I did really engage with the terraformers Senkovi and Baltiel, and also with Fabian, the male spider struggling in a female spider’s world.

As for Children of Time the ending wraps things up perhaps a little too neatly, but I am being really picky here because this is a superb book. Truly epic in scale, hopeful and with a wonderful evocation of deep time and evolutionary biology akin to the first book, with an added dose of body horror and a truly unusual alien species that only adds to the universe he’s created.

Highly recommended!

The Haunting, director Robert Wise’s 1963 adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel, is arguably my favourite film, one I’ve watched numerous times and one I always seem to get something new out of, but it was a long time until I read the source novel. A few years ago saw the release of Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House tv miniseries on Netflix. In the past nine months I’ve re-watched both the film and the tv series, and I’ve also reread Jackson’s novel, so it seemed a good time to examine all three.

This will be a fairly deep dive, so I will go into spoilerific detail. If you haven’t read/seen any of these and you’re worried about finding out how they end, maybe look away now, but if you’re a fan, or maybe if you don’t mind spoilers, why not take a trip with me to Hill House, which has stood for eighty years, and might stand for eighty more…


The Novel. The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson (1959)


Given its reputation as a true classic of literature, it is perhaps surprising that I’m not as enamoured of the source novel as many are. In part I think it’s the fact that I came to the party late, as it were, reading the book many years (and many repeat viewings) after seeing the film, which means there’s a lot that’s fixed in my mind, my image of the central characters for one. There’s also Jackson’s prose, which is at times superb and at others a little cold. The book isn’t that old yet feels a trifle old fashioned. That said you can’t argue with that opening paragraph:

“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 the 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.”

Just reading that last line makes me shudder.

The original story is slightly different than the film that followed. There’s no Dr Markway, distinguished and handsome potential love interest here, Dr Montague is a different figure altogether, only ever paternal, and Nell has no eyes for him, only for Luke but otherwise the dynamic fans of the film are familiar with is the same. Four intrepid investigators. The academic, the rich layabout, the bohemian extrovert and the guilt-ridden introvert.

The other big difference is that Jackson’s tale sprawls beyond the house, and many of the spookier elements take place outside. In particular Nell and Theo coming across a (clearly ghostly) family picnic is shudderingly written, most particularly because Jackson never tells us what is so wrong with it that prompts the pair to run, and for Theo to tell Nell not to look back. Later still Nell walks into the undergrowth believing Theo and Luke are following, only they aren’t… Brrr!!!

It seems likely there is a ghostly presence at Hill House in the novel. It isn’t impossible that it’s all Eleanor’s doing, her grief and guilt magnifying her psychic powers but I think even Jackson made it clear there’s something spooky afoot. The sense of dread regarding Nell as the book progresses has a horrible inevitability about it as well.

The one misstep I think, is the arrival of Mrs Montague and her curious companion. She’s too broad and overbearing and their inclusion does feel a bit jarring.

One can’t quibble with the story, and some truly wonderful prose however, and if it wasn’t for the novel, we wouldn’t have got…

The Film. The Haunting, directed by Robert Wise (1963)


It’s sometimes incredible to consider just how eclectic Wise’s career was. He directed everything, from musicals (West Side Story, The Sound of Music) to science fiction (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Andromeda Strain, Star Trek the Motion Picture) as well as Westerns, war movies, thrillers and of course horror (The Curse of the Cat People, The Haunting.) He directed his first film in 1944 and his last in 2000. Some have called him a journeyman, but I think that’s unfair, and The Haunting just shows how good he was. A technically perfect film featuring four wonderful performances and inventive camerawork to instil fear without ever really showing us anything.

Ostensibly it follows the beats of the novel, with a group of four intrepid researchers travelling to Hill House, although there are some changes. Dr Montague is replaced by Dr Markway, and it’s Markway rather than Luke who provides us with Nell’s unobtainable love interest, and while Mrs Markway does show up, she isn’t remotely as annoying, and doesn’t come complete with her own sidekick in this version.

Perhaps the biggest change is that Wise dispenses with the garden scenes, and whilst a few scenes take place outside—most notably the finale—for the most part he eschews the grounds in favour of bottling his characters up inside of Hill House. This is a great stylistic choice, emphasising the claustrophobia of the story, implying our heroes have been swallowed whole by the vile house that Hugh Crain built, and suggesting there’s no escape.


The choice to film in black and white is another masterstroke. The sets are superb, with an oppressive rococo style and claustrophobic feel. The statues and the library are wonderful. Wise utilised a revolutionary amorphic camera that was so new he had to sign an understanding that the lens was imperfect. Wise and his cinematographer keep the camera moving and utilise crazy angles, skewed shots and weird lenses—as well as utilising mirrors— to give the impression of an insane house that’s always watching, always waiting.

And of course, perhaps the best decision Wise made was to rely on unseen terrors, with the exception of curious shadows (the face in the grill) and of course the breathing door. There are sounds as well of course, the banging, and the ghostly voices of Hugh Crain and the distressed children, but for the most part he relied upon his actor’s reactions to the house, the most famous of course being Nell’s “But whose hand was I holding?”

Which brings us onto the actors. Setting aside Lois Maxwell (yes Moneypenny!) as Mrs Markway and Valentine Dyall and Rosalie Crutchley as the wonderfully creepy Mr and Mrs Dudley, and a few other minor players, this film revolves around the four leads who play off one another perfectly.


As Nell, Julie Harris is superb (why wasn’t she Oscar nominated?) fragile and frequently on the edge of hysteria, she’s a jittery mess of anxieties and guilt, a child in the body of a grown woman. With every tic and tremor Harris speaks volumes. By all accounts she was suffering with depression during filming, and isolated herself from the others further enhancing the character’s disconnection. She’s a pitiful, utterly empathetic character and you can’t help but feel for her.

As Theo, Claire Bloom is the polar opposite of Nell, experienced, confident and quite patently gay, even if it’s never explicitly stated, and her relationship with Nell is incredibly complex. At times friends, at times almost sisters, at times perhaps something more, is she interested in Nell? Theo clearly cares about Nell, yet can’t help sniping at her. It’s Theo after all who suggests Eleanor might be the one who wrote her name on the wall, and her throwaway “like sisters” line is heavy with meaning given we know how fractious Nell’s relationship with her own sister is. In weaker hands the relationship could have been flat and predictable, yet instead it’s vibrant, testament to Bloom and Harris’ acting. All the more amazing since they didn’t speak during the filming (though reconciled later).

As Markway Richard Johnson is cool, calm and collected, and quite debonair (in a slightly stuffy academic kinda way). Of the four his performance is the one that feels a little false at times, especially in the tenser segments, a little more theatrical should we say. I’m being harsh, because he’s still very good and as with the others it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role.

Finally we have former child star Russ Tamblyn as Luke. Young , hip and flippant it’s a performance that could have gone over the edge but Tamblyn carries it off perfectly , and in many ways he’s the reason the film works, going to sceptic to  believer over the course of the story. He’s the one after all who at the end says the house should be burned down and the ground sown with salt. He’s wonderful in this, playing off each of the others perfectly. And of course this won’t be the last time Tamblyn crosses paths with Hill House….


A superb film, a textbook example of creating tension without resorting to special effects. Claustrophobic and, pardon the pun, haunting, with wonderful characters at its heart, and that’s perhaps one of the main reasons it succeeds. Even if nothing supernatural happened at Hill House, you’d still enjoy watching these four characters interact. Or maybe that’s just me. I’ve watched this so many times they almost feel like old friends, and Nell’s death still hurts every time.

Anyway, let’s shift forward fifty odd—very odd—years to…

The TV series. The Haunting of Hill House, created and directed by Mike Flanagan (2018)


The arrival onto the scene of streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime has seen a whole slew of new TV shows, and when  it was announced that a 10 part series based on Jackson’s novel was in the works I was concerned, mainly off the back of the truly atrocious 1999 remake of The Haunting, an exemplar for how not to remake a classic that misunderstood everything about the story and which wastes a decent cast by surrounding them with terrible CGI, overexaggerating the plot, and by having Catherine Zeta-Jones play Theo with all the subtlety of a punch to the face. I saw it once at the cinema and I never plan to see it again.

But enough about 1999’s exercise in how not to make a Hill House story, let’s talk about 2018’s exercise in how to do things properly, because Flanagan’s series is really top drawer storytelling, pretty much every episode scared me at some point and at least two of them are stone cold classics. Sure, it all kinda falls apart at the end but I can forgive it because the journey getting there is So. Damn. Good.

It’d be wrong to say there’s no nuance in the story, but from the perspective of the supernatural it’s clearly real. There isn’t even the hint that what’s going on is in characters’ heads. And we see most of the horror full on, albeit this is done far more effectively than the 1999 film managed. Flanagan also takes liberties, lifting pieces of the story and rearranging them, or in many cases rewriting them completely, and yet the essence of the story and the more familiar characters remain.


The story is set in two timeframes. 1992 and 2018, with different actors playing child and adult versions of the Crain children, and in fact Hugh Crain himself. Back in 1992 the Crain family were renovating Hill House, until tragedy struck, a tragedy that left questions over what, exactly happened there, and a tragedy that’s informed each character’s life since. The eldest son Steven (Michael Huisman in the present day) used a fictional account of what happened to springboard his writing career, and now makes a living writing true ghost books. Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser) is ostensibly the most together of the Crain children, and she runs a mortuary. Living rent free in a guest house on her property is Theo (Kate Siegel) who works as a child psychologist. A sensitive, she wears gloves most of the time to keep her curse at bay, and has distanced herself from any emotional attachments.

This leaves the youngest, and perhaps most damaged Crain children. Twins Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) a man with a history of substance abuse, and Nell (Victoria Pedretti) haunted by sleep paralysis and recurring imagines of a particularly terrifying spectre.

There’s Henry Thomas and Timothy Hutton as the past and present versions of Hugh, and Carla Gugino as Olivia, the children’s mother.

Like all the best horror Flanagan’s tale is about something beyond scaring people. This isn’t some soulless fairground attraction, it’s a tale of guilt and loss and redemption, and above all else love and family. Even if there weren’t a possessed house involved, it’d be interesting due to the writing, the direction and the cast.


The Crain children think they’ve moved on with their lives, but the death of one of them will prove that, in many ways, they never left Hill House. The interweaving of timelines is exquisitely done, and not only between 1992 and 2018, even within the distinct timelines the story shifts back and forth as we see the same event from different characters’ perspectives.

In terms of frights there are some fantastic jump scares (a couple in particular had me literally screaming, even second time around when I knew they were coming) but beyond this there’s a palpable sense of dread, and many of the scares take their time, tension building as you wait for what you know is coming—take little Luke hiding under his bed as footsteps approach!!

By all accounts there are dozens of spectres in some scenes, hidden away in the shadows, though even on a second viewing I only spotted a couple of them. Two of the ghosts at the forefront are the most effective however. The tall man who menaces Luke (and there’s a Luke centric episode in the present that I’m sure Flanagan loaded with really tall extras so the ghost is subconsciously always on our minds) and the Bent Neck Lady who terrified Nell both as a child and an adult.

Which brings me to those two episodes. Episode 5 is named the Bent Neck Lady, a Nell focused episode that shows the full nightmare she experiences as she’s haunted by the titular phantom. It starts out utterly terrifying, but eventually morphs into something utterly heart-breaking. If you thought Nell’s fate in the book and the film were tragic you ain’t seen nothing yet, and by the end I was in pieces. One of the best episodes of television ever, in my not so humble opinion, and for a ghost story something that plays with time better than 99% of actual time travel sci-fi.

And then we get episode 6. Two Storms. A story that alternates between two thunderstorms, one in 1992 which the Crain family experienced in Hill House, the other in 2018 the night before Nell’s funeral as the family reconvene in the funeral home to talk about their sister, and old wounds will be reopened. The 1992 stuff is eerie, especially when one of the children goes missing, but it’s in the present day that the episode excels. The direction and cinematography, the script and the actors all combine to create (pardon the pun) a perfect storm of grief and anger captured in fluid tracking shots that show us spectres the family can’t see, and intercut between 2018 and 1992 seamlessly. It’s a heartrending episode where every single character’s wounds are raw. Again, strip out the horror and it’d still work.


There are so many other things I could mention; the return of Russ Tamblyn in a cameo as Nell’s psychiatrist, the cup of stars (missing from the film),  Luke’s imaginary friend who it turns out is anything but ghostly, the character names (Shirley for Shirley Jackson, Steven for King etc), the secret of the red room that’s been staring us in the face the whole time, the clock repairman, Mr Smiley Face, the elevation of the Dudley’s beyond just creepy two dimensional plot points…and of course the fact that the five Crain siblings represent the stages of grief: Steve is denial, Shirley is anger, Theo is bargaining, Luke is depression, and Nell is acceptance.

Nothing is ever perfect, and maybe it could have been an episode or two shorter, and maybe it does all wrap up a little too neatly in the end, and yes, Oliva as the crazy woman who wants to kill her kids in order to save them isn’t a great trope, but any flaws are minor, and if a second viewing taught me one thing, it’s this, much like the film, The Haunting of Hill House is a series I will return to again and again because I think there’ll always be something new to take from the story, and much as with The Haunting these are characters I enjoy spending time with, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what Flanagan does with The Haunting of Bly Manor, based on The Turn of the Screw.


In the final analysis this is a tale that’s stood the test of time for over sixty years, and might stand for sixty more, testament to the strength of Jackson’s original story. It’s been remade and reimagined, and even survived Jan de Bont and Liam Neeson! Nobody’s tearing this story down and sowing the ground with salt in a hurry!