Mike Flanagan Initially Thought The Haunting Of Hill House Would Be Impossible To Adapt

Mike Flanagan's hit Netflix horror series "The Haunting of Hill House" delivers scares and a visceral ghost story — despite not being faithful to its source material. Adapted from Shirley Jackson's 1950 gothic horror novel of the same name, the 10-part series is centered on a family whose lives have been impacted by their traumatic childhood experience living in a haunted house. It heavily relies on psychological tension and its characters' emotional psyches, but it's devastatingly scary — the story remains with you for a long time after the credits roll.

Jackson's novel is famously considered one of the greatest literary ghost stories of all time, despite not featuring any ghosts. Adapting such an acclaimed, beloved novel is no easy feat, which is why creator Mike Flanagan initially believed it was impossible to adapt. There had already been a revered film adaptation from late filmmaker Robert Wise, and Flanagan had no intention of trying to "out-adapt" him.

'It doesn't fit a ten-hour format'

The ghosts in Jackson's novel are written to be interpreted as the manifestations of its protagonist's troubled psyche, but the Netflix series overtly features ghosts, along with depicting how the characters' anxieties haunt them. It's psychological, but it's also very real, and the series does a great job of analyzing the relationship between the paranormal and what's going on in your head. Mike Flanagan wasn't convinced that the book could fit a 10-hour format, and he had no interest in trying to modernize a story that Robert Wise had so faithfully recreated in his 1963 film adaptation.

Talking to Den Of Geek, Flanagan recounted how he initially wanted to turn Amblin Partners down when they reached out to him about the project. He had been familiar with the book since he was a child, and didn't think a television adaptation was the right way to go:

"My first response was that you couldn't do it. It doesn't fit a ten-hour format. My second response was, Robert Wise already did it just about perfectly. I didn't necessarily think there was any upside in trying to out-adapt Robert Wise."

Flanagan describes the show as a remix

When Flanagan was tasked with thinking about how the story could be expanded into a television series, the filmmaker decided to work with the themes and characters that fascinated him and rearranged the story. It's why the show is so different from the book — Flanagan describes it as a "remix" more than an adaptation:

"As I was tasked to go off and think about how this could be expanded into a series, for me it was more interesting to break down the book and pull out the characters and the themes and individual moments and pieces of prose, even, that had really stuck with me, and try to rearrange it."

The creator added, "Look at it as a remix, because I didn't know how else we could ever, because it fits so perfectly into a feature film format. There's just enough material in the book to make an amazing movie."

'The show was made by people that love Shirley Jackson'

Flanagan wanted to build an adaptation that, despite being so different, captured the novel's essence. He soon discovered that it could be a love letter to fans of Jackson's book, and reinventing Wise's work was probably not the way to go. He needed a story to seamlessly fit in Netflix's 10-hour format and make it with respect for Jackson's work:

"I thought that with the show, if we didn't do something expansive, it would never have held up for ten hours. So that was the thinking at first and then it became more of a challenge to try not to infuriate the fans of the book while knowing that we were walking head first into an adaptation that was way more of a riff than it was an adaptation. And I don't know how that will go. I'm curious to see how everybody feels about it."

"The Haunting of Hill House" was released in 2018 and was met with glowing reviews from fans and critics alike. The series has since become part of Flanagan's horror anthology and was followed by "The Haunting of Bly Manor," an adaptation of Henry James' 1898 novella "The Turn of the Screw." Both series are currently streaming on Netflix.