The Haunting of Hill House and the Fun of a Good Scare

The Haunting of Hill House and the Fun of a Good Scare

Yes, I know it’s Thanksgiving and here I am writing about scary stuff. I’ve never been much for timing, so consider this in line with my usual habits.

A couple of nights ago, the wife and I watched the first episode of Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House. It’s one of a newish genre, that of a serialized horror experience where the scares and thrills are drawn out far beyond the 100 minutes of intensity most of the movies strive for. Whether the show will succeed in keeping us captivated for all its episodes is a question that’s going to take us time to answer, as we haven’t built up the energy to tackle episode 2 yet.

That’s because, other than a well-done, emotionally intense drama, horror is the most draining exercise in visual entertainment. For almost the duration of the experience, you, the viewer, are caught up in a cascade of increasingly stressful moments. Often, as is the case with this series, those moments are punctuated by jump-scare releases that get you jerking but also bring relief, the knowledge that the next scare is probably a little ways off yet.

After an hour or more of riding this wave, and experiencing an ending that almost always brings one last boogeyman out to play – be it a last jump scare or an ominous farewell stealing the apparent victory away – I’m left shaking my head and searching for lighter fare. A book, maybe, or a quick episode of a comedy (we chose Parks and Rec). Something, anything to remind the soul that the rest of its life isn’t going to be spent with a steadily growing chorus of violins and shifting shadows.

But! In the moment, those scares and the creeping dread that comes with them provides a life-affirming sensation unlike any other found in entertainment. The best horror gets you so involved in the story, so wrapped up in the atmosphere and the characters that you’re not seeing someone dodge a slashing knife on screen – you are the person dodging that knife. When the protagonist inevitably makes the decision to go down into the dark basement, you’re walking there with them, both secure in the knowledge that you, personally, are not really at risk and yet willing to put that fact aside just to dally with the diabolic.

And that’s why Nicole and I turned on the show on Monday night and why we’ll go back to it soon – the frights on offer twist and turn our nerves, get us closer on the couch, and make us grip our cats so tight they can’t escape. It’s an experience unlike any other, and while I wouldn’t want the feeling all the time, I’m enjoying it now.

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