Haunted House as Mother


Crane Mansion (The Haunting of Hill House) and the Bates Motel (Psycho) made within three years of each other, have a myriad of similarities, but the most obvious, a hate crush on pretty young women. (In the films, of the light-haired variety.) Unlike Psycho the women in The Haunting are largely unlikable. A fact that perhaps only another woman, the author Shirley Jackson, could get away with.

The first supernatural experience  Eleanor, or Nel has at Hill House is waking up in the middle of the night to a loud thumping on the walls. She mistakes this as her late mother, thumping on the wall for Eleanor’s help. Is the house impersonating her dead mother? Like Norman Bates she was a life-long caretaker to her ailing mother. In both cases Mother will not be pushed aside, or ignored. 

Unlike Norman, Eleanor has companions. Her roommate at Hill House is the glamorous psychic Theo. (Though you have to wonder, with friends like these?) Theo slinks around Hill House dressed in sexy black, a stark contrast to Eleanor’s spinster ‘tweeds.’ Theo is shacked up with her lover back home. Mothers/haunted houses don’t like tramps. Hill House likes good girls like Eleanor and rewards her by lavishing ‘haunting’ attention on Nel. This doesn’t go over well with the beautiful and talented psychic Theo. She lashes out, punishing Eleanor for this insult every chance she gets.

     “Marion and Norman finally meet. Norman comes down from the vertical “California gothic” house (the mother’s womb), along the serpentine steps (the umbilical cord) to the long horizontal motel (which has phallic connotations … They face each other, two friendly people with secrets, false identities, guilt and paranoia, crimes in their pasts… We understand how this woman named Crane came to this taxidermist, to her executioner. After committing her crime, she entered hell, Norman’s permanent home, and he was waiting with (a) room enough for her. (There is no such thing as a purifying shower in hell.)”

Danny Peary, Cult Movies




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