This week I listened to The Haunting of Hill House on audiobook. I also watched The Haunting from both 1963 and 1999. Which one is better?
There is not one answer to that question. So I will go through the things I liked about each one.
The book has a really distinct narrative voice for Eleanor. It is a close 3rd person narrative voice. You are not in her head, but someone who is in her head is telling us about it. That is a strength of the book. The 3rd person point of view keeps us wondering if Eleanor is insane or haunted. If we were just in her head, there would not be the tension that we get. Also the close 3rd person keeps us wondering if the others have the same haunting experience in the house. So we are again in the tension of sanity or haunting. There are also many scenes outside in the book. So we get an idea that the land itself and not simply the house is the problem. In the beginning, we here about Eleanor's experience with the rocks falling on her house and we wonder about her causing the poltergeist activity. However, this thought is not developed much. That was disappointing. The introduction of Mrs. Montague and Arthur seemed pointless to me. The movies did a good job of making the wife relevant. The ending is a bit anti-climactic. The ending is less horror movie and more a question of sanity or haunting. So it makes sense considering the focus of the previous parts of the book.
The 1963 movie starts out in Eleanor's head. So we get a glimpse of that, but it does not continue, which disappointed me. The beginning also shows us Eleanor fighting with her sister and what that relationship looks like. Luke is a member of the family in this version, which is closer to the book and I like that. Luke is rather spoiled and snotty in this version, which I didn't get in the book. The professor's wife is annoying just like in the book, but not for the same reasons. However, her change of opinion towards the ideas of haunting is really effective for the movie. I like this ending. It is not a big dramatic supernatural ending,which is closer to the book. However, the ending does not leave us wondering about Eleanor's sanity or haunting. The doctor is more academic and nicer, which is also closer to the book. There are no scenes exploring outside like they do in the book, which was disappointing. This movie does begin by showing us what happened to Hugh Crain's wife,which is the same story as the book. This one also has Eleanor dancing with Hugh Crain's statue like the book. So even though the ending is different and there are a few different motivations for some characters, it stays close to the book.
The 1999 movie is almost never in Eleanor's head and is pretty far from the book. However, this is the one I saw as a teen when it first came out and it is still near and dear to my heart. This one is much more about the haunting. There are some indications of Eleanor's instability. However those are more about the others not believing what the audience knows to be true. Luke is not a member of the family that owns the house. The study in the house is not about the paranormal. It is supposedly about insomnia and the people don't know that it is really about group fear. This adds a layer of heartlessness to the doctor that was not in the book. This version also misses the mark in the exchange between Eleanor and the gardener at the beginning. It does get the crazy hallways part right. In the book, we hear about the disorienting angles and the crazy hallways. In the beginning when Eleanor first arrives and is looking for Mrs. Dudley, she wanders through a darkish crooked hallway. That was a great introduction to the house. The research assistants weren't in the book and didn't add anything to the movie. I understand what they were trying to do with those 2 characters, but I didn't think that was needed. In the book, Eleanor makes a big deal out of having a blue room. That is not the case in the movie. The change was made, so the room is more menacing. Again, I get why they did it, but I didn't love the decision. Instead of Eleanor wandering around the house at night, the house begins to attack her. It is much more dramatic and horror movie-esque. The story as to why the house is attacking her and why she is fighting it is taken from a small part of the book and greatly expanded. It makes for an interesting story and is a lot of fun to watch. However, it is far from the feel and direction that the book gives us.
So the 1999 movie is the best horror story. The 1963 movie follows the book with a more satisfying ending. The book is less horror and more tension between losing your mind without knowing it or an outside unseen force acting on you. They all have their high points and low points. I think you should check them all out.