A Scaredy-Cat Watches The Haunting of Hill House

I’m a scaredy-cat. Legitimately terrified of scary movies. To give you some context, I watched Paranormal Activity when I was younger and didn’t sleep until the sun came up for three weeks afterwards. I am very easily startled, so jump scares are the enemy, but I am chill with monsters thanks to years of watching Supernatural. So when Gin said she was watching The Haunting of Hill House, and asked me if I wanted to watch it too, my answer was a resounding, “Hell No.” 

But, inspired by Gimlet’s The Scaredy Cats Horror Show podcast, Gin decided I had to watch the show and write about it. The podcast is about PJ Vogt trying to get over his fear of scary movies by watching horror movies, like The Exorcist and Hereditary, all building up so he can watch Get Out. I think it’s going to be a little bit anticlimactic for PJ, because, from one scaredy-cat to another, I’ve seen Get Out and I didn’t think it was that scary.

But back to my own horror show. The rules were simple: I couldn’t look at my phone or pause the show; I could watch it at any time of day; and I wasn’t allowed to close my eyes. I put it off for as long as I could, but finally sat down to watch The Haunting of Hill House.

I didn’t handle the first episode very well…

I watched the first episode in the evening, with the sun still shining bright outside, and I think I watched at least 45% of it through my fingers (a loophole I was glad to exploit). It was not a super pleasant experience. I jumped about a foot off my couch for every jump scare and was thoroughly creeped out afterwards. But, I was also intrigued; the show is well written and snagged my interest. 

I watched the second episode the next day, and found it a little less unpleasant; I was able to watch most of it without feeling like I was going to die at any moment. It was also around this time that I remembered that, not only had I read the original book, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, but that I actually own it. It’s tucked away on a shelf with my other “smart” books I bought for university classes. I read a quick Wikipedia summary to refresh the memory and set about watching the rest of the series.

Now here’s the weird thing: I actually didn’t find the rest of the episodes that scary. Sure there were moments that were creepy (I think I almost hit the ceiling when Nell’s ghost screamed at Theo and Shirley in the car), but I found I actually enjoyed the story and binged the last eight episodes in two more sittings. Even in the last few episodes, where there are ghosts galore, I didn’t hide behind my fingers or clutch my blanket close. Does this mean I’m cured of my scary movie phobia? No, I don’t think so.

There’s something different about watching a scary movie versus watching a serialized show. A movie is shorter; there’s less time to adapt, your heart rate is elevated for longer periods because there’s no breaks between episodes. I think I became used to Hill House’s brand of scary, especially after remembering what happened in the book, so I was better prepared for the horror that was coming. There was less of the unknown, I had a good idea of where the story was going and I had already seen the ghosts. The scariest thing for me is the suspense, the sense of something terrible about to happen. 

There is a simple way for me to test this hypothesis, and maybe if I’m feeling brave, I’ll choose to watch a few more scary movies and TV shows to see if I’m right. I think I’ll even watch the next series in the anthology, The Haunting of Bly House. But, it’s probably more likely I’ll just keep watching Community to see if Jeff and Annie end up together (don’t you dare spoil it!).

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