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Differences Between The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting

Updated on August 7, 2012


There are many variations between The Haunting, the movie directed by Robert Wise in 1963 and The Haunting of Hill House, the novel written by Shirley Jackson and published in 1959. Some of the differences are minor, but easy to spot, such as the changing of Jackson’s Dr. Montague to Wise’s Dr. Markway. This type of change has no effect on the translation of book to film, and does nothing to detract from the plot. Other changes, however, are much more radical, and yet still don’t change the entire fabric of the plot, including the change of the number of wives that Hugh Crain had (3 in the book, 2 in the movie) and the number of children (2 in the book, 1 in the movie). The basic premise is the same, yet some of the differences change the experience.

None of the characters are portrayed exactly the same in both book and movie. In some cases the changes are for the good, in others for the bad, and in both cases, the changes may help or hurt the character’s credibility.

The Doctor (Montague/Markway) is not the same. While Jackson creates Dr. Montague as a round, rosy, and bearded fellow, Wise has the tall, dark, and handsome Dr. Markway. Both Doctors act very similarly by lecturing their “students” and helping move the plot along by explaining what’s going on, but Dr. Montague is not a love interest, while Dr. Markway is. This change removes Luke from the role he plays in the book, and changes him from a central character to mere comic relief in the movie.

Luke’s movie persona is extremely minimal, and when watching the movie, it is unclear why he’s even present. He is such a minor role that he could easily be removed. Jackson uses him much more wisely by letting him drive a wedge between the women, not just act like a chauvinist and make witty comments.

Theodora’s movie character is close to the book, but not quite close enough. The Theodora in the book is concerned about being the center of attention, but she is also sensitive. The closeness that Eleanor and Theo share in the beginning of the book is used to heighten the changes that take over Eleanor, showing that while Theo has not changed too much, Eleanor sees her as petty, which may not be the case. In the movie, there is no question that Theo is mean and petty, denigrating Eleanor to keep her away from the center of Dr. Markway’s attention, where Theo herself seems to feel she belongs. The exaggerated faults of Theo damage her character, and make some scenes seem completely out of character, such as when Theo is worried about Eleanor at the top of the circular stairs. In the book, we see that as the true Theo, the one that Eleanor has masked behind her own twisted outlook, but in the movie, the scene makes no sense as Theo should just be angry at Eleanor for taking Dr. Markway’s attention away from her.

The Doctor’s wife, Grace, has a huge change in her attitude from book to movie. In the book, she believes in what her husband is doing and meddles in it, while in the movie she does not believe in what he is doing, but manages to meddle in it nonetheless. In both book and movie, she is in the way, causing trouble, and attacking her husband’s beliefs, either yelling at him for wasting his time by believing in the unknown, or yelling at him for investigating improperly and not understanding the spirits. Her book character helps to add to the plot by showing us that indeed something is happening -- her automatic writing with planchette reveals messages from Hill House (or Eleanor), while her movie persona makes Eleanor’s death an accident as opposed to a murder.

Arthur, Mrs. Montague’s assistant, only appears in the book, which makes sense as his character is merely there to bolster her own meddling. Further, to put him in the movie might imply that Grace had her own toy on the side, which would give Dr. Markway an excuse to take up with one of the women, something that would have damaged the plot as Dr. Markway was used as an “unattainable” love interest.

The Dudleys were well represented in the movie. They were true to character, and Mrs. Dudley could not have been better cast.

Finally, there’s Eleanor. In the movie, she is portrayed as unbalanced from the start. Her sister and brother-in-law bring up her nerves as a problem, and even her niece makes fun of her because of them. The book shows her in a different light. While she is definitely sheltered and lonely, she seems fairly sane, or at least as sane as anyone can be after caring for a dying mother for 11 years. The Eleanor of the book slowly slips into the house, going insane, while the Eleanor of the movie starts out insane, and her integration into the house is quicker and easier.

Overall, the plot is amazingly similar. The changes that were made were more cosmetic than anything, but there were a large number of them. Some of the more major changes are listed below. (To list them all would turn this answer into a 10 page paper.)

From the very beginning, the journey is different. There’s an entire scene cut from the movie in which Eleanor encounters an old woman. Eleanor accidentally knocks the woman down, and feels she has to make amends for knocking her food from her hands, so pays for a cab. The movie replaces this scene with one in which Eleanor is forced to justify her taking the car from its garage. Neither scene is vital to the plot, but helps to define the journey’s beginning.

Once she’s on the road, there are more differences. The movie tells her to take US 50 to Route 238, while her directions in the book tell her to take Route 39 to Route 5, through Hillsdale, turn at an unnamed street, and travel 6 miles from the town to find Hill House. The Eleanor in the movie doesn’t seem to make any stops, although the thinking process seems to be similar to her thoughts in the book. Within the book, Eleanor stops twice. First, she eats her lunch. During that stop, Eleanor encounters a small girl who won’t drink her milk without her “cup of stars.” Eleanor mentally encourages the girl to refuse to drink it, and the girl looks at her and smiles. This scene is actually quite important, as it implies that Eleanor might have some psychic ability. The movie, however, does not include it. Another stop is in Hillsdale itself. There, Eleanor stops for a coffee to sound out the locals. This scene is not in the movie, but it doesn’t seem to matter much, as all it shows us is that that town is rather unpleasant itself, which seems to be from the influence of Hill House.

After arriving at Hill House and meeting Theodora, there is a scene in the book where Theo and Eleanor go exploring outside. This is completely stripped from the movie, which is a shame as it helps to establish the fact that the power of the house seems to extend beyond the house itself.

The meeting of the principle players is not the same, yet none of the differences are major enough to warrant further discussion as the differences in the characters themselves were already noted. The largest changes are in the story about the house itself, and those are due to the fact that for the movie the story was simplified, and some of the people were not included, such as the second Crain daughter and the third wife. The first experience with the house goes to Eleanor in the movie, but Dr. Montague in the book. Within the movie, Eleanor thinks she feels the house breathing while she’s still with Theodora at the very beginning, and then she spills coffee on herself, and when going to clean it up feels the house watching her, so she screams. Within the book, Dr. Montague goes looking for a chess set and experiences something -- we don’t know what -- but we know it has something to do with feeling that the house is watching him.

In the book, they spend one quiet night, but that respite is gone from the movie, in which it seems to be their first night that knocking and noise starts.

One item missing from the movie is the kitchen of the house. I feel it adds to the sense of wrongness in the house to have the kitchen have 3 doors, but it does not greatly impact the plot, and might have been hard to work into the movie easily.

There are two major scenes from the book missing from the movie. The first involves Theodora and Eleanor wandering off outside at night, where everything changes and they wind up fleeing in horror from a children’s picnic. Eleanor never sees what they are fleeing, but Theo tells her to run and she does. This scene probably could not have been well done because of the time. The other missing scene was probably cut for the same reason. It is when Theodora enters her room, only to find that there is blood everywhere, covering her clothes. There is more writing on the wall addressed to Eleanor, this time in the blood. Since this never happens in the movie, another device is added to the plot to make Eleanor and Theo share a room so that a vital scene (the one in which a child cries and Eleanor holds her own hand) can occur. Dr. Markway makes them bunk together to help Eleanor’s nerves after she almost falls off the veranda and he saves her, although in the book Luke is the one who does the saving. Another reason for this change is the change in love interests -- in the book, it is Luke, in the movie it is Dr. Markway.

Finally, the Doctor’s wife shows up. In the movie she claims that the Dudleys have been talking to reporters (not at all like the Dudleys in the book), and claims that her husband must stop the insanity and give up on his ghosts. She declares her intention to stay in the most haunted room, and Eleanor tells her to choose the nursery. (In the book, the Doctor himself makes the suggestion.) While the nursery had been well-explored in the book, in the movie the door has never been opened as it was locked with no key, but now it stands open, in readiness for the wife.

The conclusion of the book and movie are very different, but also very similar. Within the movie, the group spends the night in the parlor, but then the door slams shut and the haunting starts again. The noise is up near the nursery, and eventually they go running up to check on Grace, but she’s gone. Eleanor wanders off again, and winds up at the top of the stairs in the library. She won’t come down, so Dr. Markway goes up after her, saving her, but at the last minute she sees what she thinks is the dead woman up in the trapdoor. Eleanor is sent away that night, and she tells them that she can’t go, but they force her off. She starts driving, feel the house is making her drive, and then sees the “dead woman” run in front of her, and drives into the tree, killing herself. The official story is that Grace got lost and wandered around, eventually winding up in the attic (hence the sighting) and then outside. Finally, all the members are afraid of the house.

The book has a few differences. First, Grace uses her planchette and gets the message from the House/Eleanor. The Doctor, Luke, Eleanor, and Theo wind up spending the night hiding in Dr. Montague’s room, avoiding Arthur and his gun. The door slams shut, just like in the movie, but what happens next is different. No one goes running to check on Grace, and she and Arthur actually say they’ve slept well the next morning. Eleanor leaves the room she shares the Theo the next day, claiming to herself that she needs a book from the library, but instead winds up climbing the stairs after running through the house and making noise, waking everyone else up. Luke rescues her from the stairs, and it’s not until the next morning when she’s sent away. This time, driving into the tree cannot be blamed on an accident.

The changes (and more) make the book and movie different enough, yet at the same time it is still easy to confuse the two as the basic plot and premise do not change.

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    • Charito1962 profile image

      Charito Maranan-Montecillo 2 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      Hi, Katherine. I've seen the 1999 version of "The Haunting" directed by Jan de Bont. In this version, Liam Neeson plays Dr. David Marrow.

      Honestly, I like this production which I watch every Halloween.

      I have yet to see the 1963 version.

      Thanks for sharing!