But what if The Haunting of Hill House was based on real events? Unthinkable, right? Except, a lot of elements in the show are real-life documented phenomena. Here are all the terrifying things from Hill House that might actually be real.
Sleep Paralysis Demons
Sleep paralysis is explained in the show by Arthur. "During the night," he tells Nell, "you cycle through different stages of sleep. In the deepest state, your brain switches off the muscles to stop you from acting out your dreams. Some people just come out of that stage quicker than others.”
He goes on to explain that the condition can cause ghostly hallucinations "because of the disrupted boundary between your dream state and your wakefulness." Nice try, Arthur, but WebMD confirms that "people in countries as diverse as China, East Africa, Mexico, Newfoundland, and the United States have long believed that sleep paralysis is caused by demons." The Chinese phrase for sleep paralysis means "ghost pressing on body." The Vietnamese call it "ma đè" which means "held down by a ghost." In Pakistan, sleep paralysis is literally considered to be a visit from Satan. In Thailand, they believe it's a ghost named Phi Am.
Nell is being visited by a ghost and maybe, just maybe, so is everyone else with sleep paralysis.
Time Moving in Reverse
In childhood, Nell is haunted by a terrifying entity she calls "Bent Neck Lady." When the house eventually tricks her into hanging herself, we see Nell slipping back through time and space in reverse, popping up at various points in her own life. It's clear then that she herself is the Bent Neck Lady. In essence, Nell's future death literally haunts her whole life.
In the finale, Hugh tells his children: “I thought that time was laid out like a line ... It’s not like that at all. Our moments fall around us like rain." Remarkably, some people theorize that this is possible. “The Ancients had an idea of teleological causation," author Eric Wargo tells The Paranormal Podcast with Jim Harold. "That is to say things in the future causing things in the past. Or events in the future drawing them towards us in some way. That idea is perfectly legitimate in the higher echelons of quantum physics.”
Wargo goes on to discuss the pre-cognitive abilities of Philip K. Dick, Normal Mailer and Morgan Robertson. Robertson, for example, wrote a story called Futility, which described the sinking of the Titanic (though he called it "The Titan") in detail, a full 14 years before it happened. Scared yet?
Theo's ability to psychically read people and locations by touch disturbs her to such a degree that she wears gloves almost all of the time. In real life, this particular skill—known as Psychometry—has a long and storied history. In 1961, a Dutchman named Gerard Croiset, who assisted in multiple criminal investigations, was able to locate the body of a kidnapped child in Brooklyn, using a picture, map and clothes. In World War II, a Russian psychic named Stephan Ossowiecki helped people locate missing loved ones by holding photographs of them. Self-described "psychic detective" Noreen Renier has successfully assisted British police on multiple occasions, using objects belonging to missing persons for guidance.
Storm-Related Paranormal Activity
Any time the Hill House finds itself in the center of a storm, the paranormal activity kicks up. Like the night Nell becomes invisible to the rest of her family. Or when the blackout introduces spirits that nobody had met yet. (Who was that guy in the wheelchair?) And it's not all that far-fetched. Investigators have long held a theory that storms increase paranormal activity, and there are reports to support it. After Hurricane Katrina, a National Guardsman named Sgt. Robin Hairston told KPIX he had seen the ghost of a little girl. Two of his colleagues also reported encountering apparitions. In Joplin, Missouri, so many people reported seeing "Butterfly people" during a 2011 tornado, the town now has a mural honoring the ethereal creatures.
In Hill House, twins Nell and Luke can sense when the other is in danger or pain. Stories about twin telepathy have been in the public psyche for hundreds of years, but tales continue to emerge. In 2009, Gemma Houghton rescued her twin Leanne after the latter had a seizure in the bath and fell under the water, unconscious. Gemma sensed something bad was happening and checked on Leanne in the nick of time. Other documented incidents include a twin experiencing chest pains as his brother had a heart attack thousands of miles away, and a twin developing swelling in an uninjured ankle after her sister broke hers.
"Mom says that a house is like a body and that every house has eyes and bones and skin and a face." So says Hugh Crane of the vortex of doom they moved into. Cursed houses are indeed a rare but documented problem. Paranormal investigator Zac Bagans found the so-called "Demon House" in Gary, Indiana so overwhelming a place, he wound up demolishing it even though he owned it at the time.
Summerwind in Wisconsin also had issues from day one. The original owner once fired a gun at an apparition, thinking it was an intruder. After he left, the house changed hands multiple times, and quickly. One family who stuck it out for six months described it as "severely haunted." While residing there, the father had a mental breakdown, the mother attempted suicide and their six children were constantly bothered by phantom voices and doors opening and closing. Eventually, in 1986, the house was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Good!
Happy Halloween, everybody!
Care about what’s happening in Bay Area arts? Stay informed with one email every other week—right to your inbox.