All of The Haunting of Hill House Theories and Hidden Ghosts We Can't Stop Obsessing Over

Netflix's 10 episode horror show is the talk of the Internet...for good reason. We're breaking down all of the nods to the original novel and more

By Tierney Bricker Oct 25, 2018 7:04 PMTags
The Haunting of Hill HouseNetflix

Someone call the Ghostbusters because we'd like to report a haunting.

Confession: We can't stop thinking or talking about The Haunting of Hill House since quickly binge-watching the new Netflix horror show—and it seems like we're not alone as the Internet seems just as haunted as we are. 

Using Shirley Jackson's 1959 novel of the same name as its inspiration, the show follows the Crain family's somewhat estranged siblings as adults still struggling (or avoiding) with that happened to them when they moved into an old mansion back in 1992, the Hill House. Seamlessly combining the past and the present, The Haunting Hill House is far more than just a scary TV show; it's a rich family study showing the psychological impact our childhood can have on us as adults, whether we're conscious of it or not, as well as in death and loss and grief and all of that not-so-fun stuff. See, sometimes the aftermath of a tragedy can be just as haunting as the event itself. (So yeah, think This Is Us in a haunted house.)

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Of course, given that it's also a show about a haunted house, there are plenty of scares and moments that will have you covering your eyes...which is a little unfortunate, because there are so many hidden ghosts sprinkled throughout the 10 episodes that you probably missed. Fortunately, some Internet sleuths far braver than we are documented all of their findings, which is exactly what the Hill House creative team was hoping for. 

"We actually hid dozens of ghosts throughout the series, in plain sight, in the deep background of shots. We don't call any attention to them, but they're there," series creator and director Mike Flanagan told Vulture. "If you look in a door frame, or under the piano, or behind a curtain in a lot of otherwise ordinary scenes, you'll see someone there."

He is not lying, as it's downright chilling once you realize just how often a ghost was lingering in the background, barely in the shot. (Episode 3 has nine hidden ghosts.)

IGN compiled a list of 40 (and likely counting) sightings. Here are a few major ones you might have missed: 

Episode 1

In the opening minute of the show, we have our first sighting: look at that face between the rails. 

Episode 1

As Hugh and Steve run out of the house, a figure is standing to the left of the staircase.

Episode 3

Look behind ya, Hugh!

Episode 3

See that face in the glass? Chills!

Episode 3

Addams Family homage with the Uncle Fester look-alike back there?

Episode 4

Look at the back window. 

Episode 5

One of the creeper ghosts, this one is hiding under the piano and is likely responsible for the writing on the wall that Nell got in trouble for. 

Episode 7

We wonder what hair growth supplements she takes. 

Episode 9

Creeper in the archway alert. 

Episode 9

One of the more obvious and visible of the hidden ghosts TBH. 

Episode 10

Believe in ghosts now, Steve? This was the finale's only hidden ghost (it seems), with a figure standing behind the eldest sibling. 

Now, for a theory that'll probably blow your mind and/or make you well up, Tumblr user cagedbirdsong posted a storytelling device that isn't immediately obvious: The five Crain siblings symbolize the five stages of grief.

Steve (Michiel Huisman) is denial, seeing as how he refuses to believe in ghosts. Taking up anger is Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser), the sister who just seems mad at everyone for everything. Theo (Kate Siegel), the middle child, is bargaining, using her touch to try and rationalize what is happening around her. Heroin addict Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is clearly depression. Finally, Luke's twin sister Nell (Victoria Pedretti), the youngest of the siblings, represents acceptance as she is the first Crain child to accept her fate.

Another Tumblr user shelbobaggins noticed that "they are in order of how they are born." Flanagan was impressed by the finding, calling it a "good catch" on Twitter.

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Now, for fans of Jackson's iconic novel, Flanagan made sure to include plenty of Easter eggs. The biggest one? Adding in a character that wasn't in the books named after the author herself: Shirley Crain. Another major nod to the author comes in episode two, when young Theo is reading The Lottery, another book written by Jackson.

Steven is also a new character introduced, with some believing his name (and occupation as an author) is an homage to Stephen King. However, Flanagan revealed it's a tribute to Steven Spielberg, whose company Ambin Partners brought the project to him. (Nell, Lucas and Theodora were all character names in the novel.)

Another quick nod was Nell marrying a man named Arthur Vance, which gives the character her full name from the novel: Eleanor Vance. Another name-check with a twist is Nell's psychiatrist Nell, who is named Dr. Montague. In the novel, he's the scientist who comes up with the idea to investigate Hill House, which confirms he sucks both on screen and on the page! (Fun fact: The actor who plays the doctor is Russ Tamblyn aka the the actor who played Luke in The Haunting, the 1963 film adaptation of the novel.)

In episode 4, we learn Luke's rehab center is called Sanderson Center, which is the character's last name in the book.

And in the novel, Hugh Crain was the name of the man who actually built Hill House; here, of course, he is now the Crain family patriarch, played by Timothy Hutton in the present-day and Henry Thomas in the past. Yes, Elliott from E.T. is officially all grown up, and yes, we feel old. 

There is a quick nod to the classic 1982 film as we see young Luke has an E.T. lunchbox in one episode.

Kimberley French/Imprint Entertainment/Entertainment Pictures/

There's also a quick Twilight reference that you may not have picked up on right away, as it's super subtle. Reaser, who played Edward Cullen's mother Esme in the hit vampire film, plays eldest Crain sister Shirley, who is a morgue technician. After Nell's suicide, Shirley is insisting on handling her preparations for the funeral, with her husband trying to get her to change her mind. His suggestion is, "Why not send her to Carlisle?" Any Twilight fan knows Carlisle was the name of Esme's husband, played by Peter Facinelli, in the Twilight franchise. 

Hill House also pays homage to Doctor Who in the first season, even lifting a direction line: "When we die, we turn into stories," Olivia (Carla Gugino) says to a young Shirley. "And every time someone tells one of those stories, it's like we're still here, for them. We're all stories in the end."

Back when Matt Smith was the Doctor in 2010, he once said, "I'll be a story in your head. But that's okay. We're all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?"

Flanagan, a huge Doctor Who fan, confirmed on Twitter that "it's absolutely a deliberate tribute."

The Haunting of Hill House season one is available to stream on Netflix.