If you haven't heard yet, The Haunting of Hill House is Netflix's latest two-fer of a critically acclaimed original series that also has the timeline lit up like airport delayed board on Christmas. Compulsively binge-able, with a creepy atmosphere to hook you in and emotional family trauma rich enough to make you stay, Hill House is another pleasant surprise from a company that loves to pop up with an out-of-nowhere hit like a bent-neck ghost in an SUV's backseat.
One of the show's chief delights, aside from being populated with a cast of thoroughly sketched, lived-in characters? It's actually scary! This is a novelty. Horror's having a field day on the silver screen for sure. The tube's a different story—your mileage may vary on when American Horror Story fell off but I think we can all agree it was never "scary." Fucked-up shit designed to draw winces and tweets isn't the same thing as pure, eager-to-watch-this-shit-with-the-lights-off dread. From its pilot onward, Hill House maintains a dedication to ramping up that creepy atmosphere and then paying it off with real scares even the most jaded, seen-every-slasher-and-Stephen-King-adaptation among us would have to tip our hats too.
On Halloweek, whether it's your first watch or a rewatch, Hill House's timing couldn't be better. Here are the series top moments that either unsettled, or made us full-on rush to cut the lights on, ranked.
[Ed. Note: It should go without question that if you haven't finished The Haunting of Hill House, tread lightly. Spoilers abound!]
11. Shirley's kitten "comes back to life" (Episode 2, "Open Casket")
Poor Shirley. Elizabeth Reaser did her thing but I think we can all agree that, objectively, the two oldest Crain kids have a bit of Wet Blanket Syndrome. But, as Shirley's spotlight in the second episode helpfully lays out, you really can't blame her. Every kid has to have their first brush with death at some point; Shirley's was so devastating it's emotionally scarring to almost laughable proportions.
A box of cute dead cats in your bedroom will make anyone a little brittle going forward. The experience teaches us a lot about Shirley, and the fakeout that one cat is stirring and actually still alive—OH NO WAIT, IT'S JUST A DEAD DEMON BEETLE CRAWLING INSIDE OF IT—teaches us a lot about what to expect from this show. Optimism is for suckers. —Frazier Tharpe
10. Nellie visits her brother (Episode 1, "Steven Sees a Ghost")
Anyone who's seen one to three horror movies before in life will likely know what's up with Nell as soon as Steven walks into his laughably bare estranged pad. That doesn't rob the moment of its power though, both emotionally and viscerally. This is the tone with which the series needed to set firmly and establish itself, and it lands on all levels. Where has the game been hiding Victoria Pedretti? —Frazier Tharpe
9. Theo's touch overload (Episode 10, "Silence Lay Steadily")
In great horror, there's the jump-scare and then there's the dread-inducing squirm. Hill House is so effective because it doesn't mind piling on the latter and saving a good jump for when you're truly least expecting it. With most of us still clutching our chests after Nell's backseat freestyle a whole episode-and-a-half prior, a lot of the Red Room shenanigans go for mounting dread than scares and you know what? That image of every extra from the "Thriller" video slowly but surely using Theo's body for hand warmers is going to stick with me far longer than if one just lunged out at her would. —Frazier Tharpe
8. Shirley takes a picture (Episode 2, "Open Casket")
We all know it: that moment in any good horror when you see something, you’re not quite sure what, but even if it turns out to be nothing, the dread is enough to ensure you won't sleep well tonight. We got one of those early on in episode two of Hill House.
Like a field trip to the farm or an excerpt from BBC's Earth, young Shirley got treated to a valuable lesson about a mask and some hipster wasps. Yet even if Papa Crain and the ever-creepy Mr. Dudley’s folksy wisdom were to be dubbed over with the velvety voice of Sir David Attenborough himself, that knot in my stomach would still bubble up with every re-watch of this hellish nature scene. —Nate Houston
7. Luke gets a hand at Nell's funeral (Episode 7, "Eulogy")
Yea, this made me fall off of my couch. But I also had to laugh because it's just so fiendishly clever. Like, an open grave? The obviousness is beautiful. This deserved to happen to Steve's wack, exploitative ass instead of Luke though, who by this point, had already been through more than enough. —Frazier Tharpe
6. The Bent-Neck Lady drops in for a visit (Episode 5, "The Bent-Neck Lady")
That goddamn Bent-Neck Lady took Nell's childhood, her man, a good chunk of her sanity and has now driven the dearest, youngest Crain back to the rat-trap motel from the worst (or second, shout out Arthur again) day of her life. Yet even after allllll of that, true to her stalker-spirit ways, ole-bent-bitch still manages to find a way to scare the water right out of you—literally.
You know it’s coming. Even if you’re not a ride-or-die for the genre, there are rules we all understand: 1. Don’t go anywhere alone. 2. Don’t go in any basement/alley/dead end. 3. If the lights go out, you GET OUT. But that’s what makes BNL the MVP. Even when you know it’s coming, she still finds a way to scare. This scene just locks her spot as the GOAT ghost. Sorry Nell. —Nate Houston
5. Mama Crain visits (Episode 7, "Eulogy")
The rules of good television pacing inherently inform everything, as do the rules of any given genre. So, come, say the seventh episode of a 10-part horror series, you’re well versed in the rules of the universe and by this point, no "OH SHIT" moment is going to truly catch you off guard. But that’s why this scene’s earned its ink as one of the many reasons Hill House succeeds in terrifying where others barely titillate.
A creature from the house, outside the house, during the day, appearing in front of two people at once. That’s not just a rule broken. That’s like EVERY rule broken. And this flip of the table wasn’t wasted on some white linen ghost either. Nope, this was a green-eyed, gelatinous zombie with no legs coming for probably the two most steady-handed characters like it had business with both. Also, anything that only has hands, and still wants to throw them…way more terrifying. —Nate Houston
4. Luke's late-night encounter (Episode 4, "The Twin Thing")
The championship belt for Best Crain Kid is a prizefight between Young Luke and Young Nell (and definitely not between Shirley or Steven, and that goes for adults, too, LMAO). As the precocious, eternally spooked-out Nell, Violet McGraw definitely has an Emmy and/or Oscar in her future a decade down the road, but on this show? I might be inclined to give it to Luke off the shrieks alone. Even a moment that maybe shouldn't scare a grown ass man lands when that kid gets to wailing. The Cane Ghost's bedtime sweep is an exercise in building tension...the crescendo is so inevitable that it should fall flat because of that. But damn if Lil Julian didn't make our blood curdle regardless! —Frazier Tharpe
3. Nell's Backseat Freestyle (Episode 8, "Witness Marks")
The back half of Hill House is all about waiting for the gloves to come off. We know skittish ass Hugh is completely hip to what the house is really up to. Nell was a believer, and Luke was so shook that he ran to drugs. That just leaves the three older siblings to finally have some brushes with death, and for the ghosts themselves to shift gears from quaint scares they can waive off as mind tricks to the full-on unavoidable haunting promised in the title. Nell smash-crashing into frame to silence her big sisters' squabbling is exactly the kind of no-space-is-safe-anymore moment needed to keep us off kilter and a genuine jump scare. —Frazier Tharpe
2. Luke vs. the Dumbwaiter (Episode 3, "Touch")
For anyone that’s watched Hill House in its entirety (and if you haven’t, why are you reading this?) it should comes as no shock that this scene crawled its way to the top. Up until this point the occasional gasp and a steady set of goosebumps allowed for even the horror-hesitant to enjoy the ride while sitting home alone with the lights off like you were built for this shit. Yeah, turns out you weren’t.
With Julian Hilliard’s bone-chilling shrieks, a masterclass in tension build-up and one of the fastest-moving legless zombies ever (seriously, WTF), the now-classic dumbwaiter scene quickly exposes the daytime-watchers and reminds us all what it was like to be a child and truly terrified. —Nate Houston