Part 1: The Haunting
An evil old house, the kind some people call haunted, is like an undiscovered country waiting to be explored.
Hill House had stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more.
Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House.
And whatever walked there, walked alone.
These words are spoken calmly by a man with a British accent over a static image—the silhouette of a large house looming in the darkness—while soft, eerie music plays in the background. When he stops speaking, there’s a crescendo as the title of the movie comes into focus. Then the music changes to a lovely, romantic tune while the opening credits roll, morphing into a quietly threatening melody as they come to an and we’re gradually introduced to the full detail of the front of the house. (You can watch the opening titles here.)
Thus begins my all-time favorite horror movie, the original 1963 version of The Haunting, based on Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House. An appalling re-make by the same name was released in 1999, committing the most blasphemous of all sins (along with many other lesser ones) by altering the very core of the story—demoting it to the category of “just another haunted house story.” In 2018, Netflix released the series The Haunting of Hill House, an admirable attempt at reimagining the tale that was thrilling to watch, especially as a fan of the novel and the original movie. It was exciting to catch all the subtle nods to both scattered throughout, and because it wasn’t meant to be an exact interpretation of the source material I was happy to give it room play with the narrative. I enjoyed it a great deal—the hits and misses cancelled each other out for the most part—though I’d argue its conclusion wasn’t consistent with that of either the book or movie, which irritated me. It took a unique finale and warped it into something soothing and pretty to make the audience feel better; the original works had far bleaker (and distinctive) endings.
I should admit that I’ve written about all this before. First, I wrote about the movie as part of my 31 Days of Horror series last year (and I’ll do it again this year because The Haunting is one of my must watched films of the season), and a couple of months later I wrote about the series for one of my Tardy for the Party articles.
At this point you might be wondering what else could I possibly have to say about this particular topic. Haven’t I been properly Haunting-ed out by now?
And just when you think I’ve run my obsession to the brink, trapped myself on the edge of a precipice with nowhere else to go, I did the only thing left to do. I jumped.
In this case, the metaphorical jump involved a plane ride, some careful planning, enough money to indulge in a pricier-than-usual hotel room and dinner, and a dream that began the day I discovered the building they used for exterior shots of Hill House actually exists—in real life it’s the Ettington Park Hotel in the outskirts of Stratford-upon-Avon, England. And I had the pleasure of staying there overnight this summer as part of a two week English holiday.
I posted pictures of my trip on Facebook daily, and when Geekade’s own Karan Randazzo perused the images of this particular part of my excursion, she suggested I write about my experience visiting the hotel (a brilliant idea—thanks, Karen!). But when I finally sat down and started working on it, I discovered that I had an enormous amount of material to share with my readers. Ettington Park is more than just the forbidding face of an “evil old house,” it has a rich, fascinating history in addition to being a damn fine hotel; with too much information to convey in a single article, I decided to break it up into three segments.
In this installment of my Ettington Park trilogy, I’ll be focusing on the parts of the building/grounds specifically used in the movie, as well as one feature that pays homage to a structure that plays a key role in the movie. The second installment will cover the rest of the building/grounds as well as its history, while the third will detail what it was actually like to be a guest in a fancy hotel.
Now that you know where we are and where we’re going, it’s time to get on with it.
Let’s begin at the beginning—here’s the front of the building in all its glory, a modern photograph similar to our introduction to the house at the end of the opening credits:
Unfortunately I was unable to get the exact same shot as the movie, though I can’t remember why (I suspect it had something to do with the locations of a few trees). Here’s another image that shows the rest of the front:
In the movie, after that initial view of the house we don’t see it again until Eleanor Lance arrives in her car. The dirt road she took approaches the house head-on, the remnants of which has been overgrown with grass and become one of the many paths visitors can use to explore the grounds. The present driveway is paved and approaches from the side (from the left of the image above); it’s long and grand and impressive.
Below are current shots of the road Eleanor took to Hill House.
In this one you can barely make out the entrance to the building near the center, just past the trees:
And in this one we’ve almost arrived at our destination:
What’s notable about the scene where Eleanor first sees the house is the fact that her view implies that she’s driving in from an angle, when she actually arrives straight-on (the movie reuses the same shot as the second black and white image from the beginning of this article).
In the movie, the only real image of the road itself is from above. Here’s a screenshot:
As she examines the house, there’s a close-up of some of the carvings around the left, circular part of the building. Here they are, then and now:
It’s not quite the same angle as the screenshot, but you can see scenes depicted are the same:
Eleanor muses that the house is staring at her, which is not an altogether crazy thought, considering the fact that the windows do resemble eyes:
This is where the movie shifts from filming on location to filming on a set. Although the entrance hall in the movie is strikingly similar to the real thing, there are some notable differences between what we see on the screen and what Ettington Park actually looks like.
Here’s Eleanor walking through the hall to the front doors:
There are several points of interest to consider. Though the pattern on the floor is similar, it’s not an exact match for what the floor really looks like; the columns by the front door are wrong; the pattern around the doorframe shouldn’t exist, and the doors themselves are completely wrong (first of all, there’s a double door in the movie, and secondly, though you can’t tell from the screencap above, that doorframe is rectangular, while the real one only has enough room for a single door and the doorframe clearly has a clover-shaped top).
Here’s a look at the real thing so you can compare the floor, columns, and inner doorframe:
Also, as Eleanor enters the house, we can see some of the beautiful ironwork on the windows behind her…like the floor tiles, it’s close but it’s not quite as intricate as what’s on the actual building. And the clover-shaped cutouts over the windows are angled differently in the two images. (Note: I took my photograph from the outside, while the screenshot was taken from the inside, so any differences in the details surrounding the windows should be discounted.)
After that, the action remains inside on sets built in a studio for a while, until we get this creepy establishing shot of the front of the house at night:
I ventured out into the darkness to get my own matching creepy night shot:
This next part is particularly interesting, because it’s an impossible scene. Some of the parts of the building they used don’t actually exist. Let’s begin with this shot—the building behind her is real, but there’s no way she could be standing in that particular spot.
I’m assuming the implication is that she’s standing on the roof of the entrance hall, based on the angle and the hint of the top of entryway to the left. But even if this is supposed to be case, it still doesn’t quite line up properly with the layout of the building—if she was standing on the roof of the entrance hall, you shouldn’t be able to see the top of the entryway from this perspective.
Below, the top picture shows how the entryway juts out in front of the entrance hall, and therefore couldn’t be where it is in the image above. And if you look near the top of the second image, you’ll notice that the ceiling of the entrance hall is composed of glass panes, so she wouldn’t be able to walk out over it.
Perhaps even more intriguing is this shot looking down at Eleanor from the tower:
Everything about this shot is wrong—we should be able to see the road/driveway in the background as well as the top of the entrance hall from here, and that arch shouldn’t be all bricked up, per the evidence below (a photograph taken through the sides of the entryway):
I submit, ladies and gentlemen, that the shot looking down at her is a set. There is no such balcony/veranda/whatever feature at Ettington Park. I suspect they built some kind of temporary structure for her to stand on for the earlier shot of her looking up at the tower because there really is nowhere on the building she could logically be. It would also explain why you could see the top of the entryway (if they placed the structure in front of the entire building, including the entryway, it’d end up in the shot). The scenes directly following this also must be a set, though they’ve been carefully designed to look like the exterior of the house. The following veranda doesn’t exist. Not at Ettington Park, in any case:
Moving on, the next image of the actual building is when another character arrives at night. I know the screenshot isn’t great, but it’s the best I could manage. Here’s a bit of a compare/contrast for you:
That brings me to one of my favorite features of both the movie and the hotel—the metal spiral staircase. In the movie it’s found in the library and ends at the top with a small balcony. It’s old and hasn’t been properly cared for throughout the years, so the entire structure wobbles dangerously when someone tries to climb it. Ettington Park’s spiral staircase is located in the small courtyard you have to walk across to get to the pool. This one leads up to a door that claims it’s an “employees only” section of the hotel, probably offices of some sort. I climbed said staircase and took pictures on it, not knowing if I was allowed to or not. Here are images of both staircases:
The hotel’s porter claimed that the spiral staircase in the courtyard was the same one that was in the movie, and though he was very knowledgeable about the rest of the hotel/grounds, I doubted him on this particular point. I found it difficult to believe a prop staircase used on a set was brought who knows how far in order for it to be made into a proper, usable staircase. On the other hand, the presence of a similar-looking staircase couldn’t be a coincidence, could it? I’d like to think that someone higher up in the company that owns the hotel decided to add the spiral staircase years later, as a tribute to the movie. Maybe they needed to replace an old, rickety fire escape or add an extra fire exit where one hadn’t existed before and someone said, “Hey! What if we installed a spiral staircase like the one in The Haunting?”
Regardless of how the mysterious doppelganger staircase came to be, it certainly isn’t the original, as you can tell from the comparison below:
And that brings us to the end of our journey. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning all about Ettington Park’s relationship with The Haunting, and that you’ll join me for part two of the series. I’ll be taking a look at the sections of the exterior of the building that weren’t used for filming, the church ruins, the remnants of a graveyard, and the absolutely gorgeous grounds. Along the way I’ll regale you with the more remarkable parts of the property’s history (like the anecdote about the frog that was accidentally walled in without food and water, miraculously found alive over 100 years later).
Until then, I’ll leave you with one final shot, the last photograph I took before leaving—a view of what’s left of the original road, the one Eleanor drives up towards the house, from just inside the entryway: