Shirley Jackson’s definitive literary masterpiece is the short-story The Lottery—from which the recent Hunger Games derive from, somehow loosely though—. But in worldwide popular culture her most relevant influence is the Haunting of Hill House, a compact novel that inaugurated the template and basic rules for most future haunting stories and 90% of American movies about haunted houses.
Written in 1959 The Haunting of Hill House established several elements that will characterize haunted houses for the rest of the 20th Century. The shadow of Hill House is not just present in movies, but also in “real” haunted houses, as many of the events that occurred in the most famous US haunted house, Amityville, clearly derive from Jackson’s novel.
The following types of characters are set up in the novel and their prototype will prevail in numerous variations across Hollywood:
1. The sensitive woman, also shy, aged around its twenties, and with a difficult personality to carry on long relationships, including those with her ow family. Add up she is poltergeist sensitive person and suspects that maybe she is creating the haunting mess and hears voices inside her head before an event occurs. Meet Eleonor.
2. The academic paranormal researcher. PhD in Anthropology and over 50-years-old Professor Dr. Montague.
3. The medium that will make contact with the entity and will try to discern and solve what the hell is really happening. She is also the failed medium that misunderstands what is happening: Mrs. Montague.
4. The investigative paranormal team made go by wife and husband: Mr. and Mrs. Montague.
5. The unstable beautiful woman always in control of the situation who is going to be scared by the haunting: Theodore.
6. The handsome young man who does not really believe in ghosts or anything out of this world. He has a plus, as he is the heir of the mansion: Luke.
7. The strange and unfriendly house keeper that is always out of the house and advises every body to leave: Mr. Dudley.
8. The odd and not very obliging, mostly rude housekeeper. She is Mrs. Dudley.
9. The suspicious couple of house keepers that may seem to be involved in the haunting: Mr and Mrs Dudley.
10. The young, strong, and brave man that will defend everybody from the terrors of the house, even using a loaded gun: Arthur.
11. The mysterious house owner that will not have a presence on the story but kindly allowed the investigators to stay at the mansion: Mrs. Sanderson.
Jackson proposes for the first time a series of plot elements that perdure in the haunted house literature for years to come:
1. An invitation by a paranormal researcher to young persons to stay for some days at a house surrounded by the woods.
2. A haunted house located on the top of a hill 6-miles away from the town (a Scooby-Doo favorite).
3. A large house, full of rooms containing a veranda, an attic, a library, many entrances, and lots of rooms in the second floor distinguished by particular features.
4. A cold spot inside the house.
5. A series of hard knockings on dorm rooms not heard by everyone, but scaring a few to the bones.
6. A decoy without any influence on the plot. In this case a rabbit appearing on two occasions outside the house and a mysterious—possibly ghastly—dog chasing others inside the house.
7. Tons of blood coming from the walls and spoiling clothes and tapestry (Stephen King fell in love with this one).
8. Tons of blood disappearing at the presence of other crew members (King loves this too).
9. The use of a planchette—kind of ouija—to contact the house spirits (hollywood carries a romance with this element).
10. The use of the pun spirits, i.e.: ghosts and drinks, by the characters.
11. A sad family background story for the house that includes a mysterious suicide (The Conjuring favorite feat).
12. No telephone inside the haunted house.
13. The appearance of written sentences inside the house.
14. The appearance of sings asking for HELP, yep, written in capital letters.
15. The upsurge of atrocious smells without any reason.
16. Holding a hand of someone who is not there.
17. The confusion between a dream and reality.
18. Children’s verses sung by the characters.
19. Sudden darkening in the woods surrounding the house.
20. A weird mirage of a quite and sweet family scene shared by the characters.
21. A character sleep-walking towards the roof.
22. The signs of macho attitude, from men and women, against the woman that has the capabilities to understand what is really happening.
Besides all these features, my favorite element in the The Haunting of Hill House is that you cannot be sure if the house is really haunted.
By the way, expect this year (2018) a Netflix series of the novel and see if the 22 plot elements are on it.