Contemporary television has seen both a rise in what might be deemed as 'quality' drama content, and of horror content. The cultural prestige of Gothic literature adaptations feeds into the notion of quality television. But what happens when the perceived cultural legitimacy of the Gothic, and its suggestive and atmospheric attitude to terror, meets a more visual approach to horror? The clip presents us with clear codes and iconography from the Gothic. But the hanging sequence is unequivocally and terrifyingly horror. It melds the Gothic sublime with the visual manifestation of the horror event, the repetitive hanging of Nell.
To look at the Gothic, Nell ascends the spiral staircase serving as a manifestation of her disorientation. Olivia hands over the locket to her daughter, passing on her madness and suicidal tendencies. As Nell grasps her neck she understands her own actions, and finds herself on the wrong side of the banister. The child in Nell once more calls to her “mommy,” who administers a kiss of death. Nell drops and her neck snaps. Nell is still aware, she drops and snaps again and again, traveling in a backwards chronology of her own previous visions of the Bent Neck Lady. Nell realises that she is the Bent Neck Lady and has been haunting herself all these years.
This relentless and tragic suicide by hanging is opposed to the traditionally suggestive nature of the Gothic text. Instead of hinting at the terror of Nell haunting herself, Hill House is instead explicit in the visual manifestation of driving this home. That such a visual scare erupts from this tragic scene demonstrates shifts between horror and perceptions of quality. The Gothic and associated conventions are combined with a feeling of freefall felt by the viewer, as the rope repeatedly strains and the neck repeatedly snaps. The base pleasures of horror (fear, shock and physical response) meet head to head with the more cerebral, ‘quality’ Gothic. In The Haunting of Hill House, the Gothic turns gruesome and truly horrific.