Mike Flanagan’s HAUNTING Series Gets a Double Bill Blu-ray Release

The Hauntings of Hill House AND Bly Manor together in one set

Not too long ago, writer/director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Ouija: Origin of Evil) dropped his latest opus, Midnight Mass. A slow-burn treatise on guilt, grief, and faith that is one of the most compelling things to hit the small screen in this, or indeed any year. Moments, memories and monologues, expertly crafted, that feel like a progression (and cumulation) of his earlier works, most pertinent the Haunting of… shows. Now available together for the first time on home video.

The Haunting of Hill House

Flanagan took Shirley Jackson’s original 1959 novel and reimagines its original premise, that of paranormal investigators looking to prove the existence of ghosts, with something far more intimate and affecting. It’s a tale of the Crain family, devastated and divided by a traumatic loss within the walls of a cursed manor house. Their lives are forever tinged by the incident, shaping the adults they become, whereupon they are forced to return and confront what once tore them apart. Juxtaposing the past and present, Flanagan renders a rich and nuanced tale where family drama collides with heartbreaking horror.

Back in the early ’90s, designers Hugh (Timothy Hutton) and Olivia (Carla Gugino) Crain gather up their five kids, Steven (Paxton Singleton), Shirley (Lulu Wilson), Luke (Julian Hilliard), Theo (Mckenna Grace), and Nell (Violet McGraw) for a move. The intent is to take up residence at Hill House, a neglected estate, with plans to renovate, flip, and use the proceeds to build the long planned dream home for the family. While their work begins, and the children explore their new surroundings, the mental illness that has long plagued Olivia resurfaces, the house triggering and exacerbating her condition. The children are also tormented by unusual encounters that most agree are the result of far more than an overactive imagination. It all comes to a head with Olivia taking her own life and the family leaving the house heartbroken and forever scarred.

Years later, the Crains find that their pain has affected their path. Each is dealing with the loss of their mother, as well as what they saw (or refuse to accept they saw) in the house. Stephen (Michael Huisman)is now an author, having written about their experiences and alienating his siblings. Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser) has adopted the mother figure role and also pursued a career as a mortician, forever immersed in death. Theo (Kate Siegel) struggles with intimacy, largely from a psychic empathy inherited from her mother, but uses her gifts as a child psychologist.The twins Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and Nell (Victoria Pedretti) seem to have come off the worst, the youngest bearing the brunt of their mother’s condition, with the former endlessly struggling with drug addiction, while Nell is tormented by sleep paralysis and a deep psychosis. Their father (Timothy Hutton) mourns his lost wife and the loss of connection with his children. This fragmented family unit ends up being pulled back together after yet another tragic incident that occurs at the Hill House.

Flanagan has previously shown his knack for telling tales of being exposed and vulnerable (Hush and Gerald’s Game), not to mention the trauma children can carry into adulthood (Ouija). But his work here is on another level. The episodic nature allows him to afford breathing room to the story and characters. It’s never indulgent nor does it flag; every minute adds richness or purpose. Beyond the narrative, the show is impressively constructed, a long one-take sequence in Two Storms being a standout jaw dropper, along with some delectable production design and genuinely unnerving work in terms of conception and execution of some of the supernatural elements. Hill House isn’t just about scares, but the long lasting effects of them, a deep reflection on terror and trauma.

Hill House Extra Features

The release presents all 10 episodes across three Blu-ray discs, with extras limited to extended versions of three of the episodes, along with some superb commentaries for four episodes from creative force/director Mike Flanagan. They really are worth a listen, and offer much in the way of appreciation not only how he adapted the story, but also the technique deployed in executing his vision. It’s a shame he didn’t record one for every episode.

  • Extended Episode with Commentary — “Steven Sees a Ghost Director Mike Flanagan.
  • Extended Episode with Commentary — The Bent-Neck Lady Director Mike Flanagan.
  • Audio Commentary for “Two Storms” Director Mike Flanagan.
  • Extended Episode with Commentary — Silence Lay Steadily Director Mike Flanagan.

The Haunting of Bly Manor

Flanagan’s follow up was similarly inspired by a gothic work of fiction, in this case Henry James’ 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw. Adapted for a tale in the 80s, the series also saw some of his players return, albeit in new roles. Another tale of a large, stately manor, full of secrets and spirits. Where Hill House about a family unit, Bly Manor is about different people bringing their own trauma to a place already enveloped by a haunting sadness.

In need of help to care for his recently orphaned niece Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and nephew Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth). Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas) hires Dani (Victoria Pedretti) to serve as an au pair. Arriving at the family estate of Bly Manor, the young American meets the other inhabitants. Chef Owen (Rahul Kohli), groundskeeper Jamie (Amelia Eve) and housekeeper, Mrs. Grose (T’Nia Miller). The children act strange, but that’s not unexpected given the circumstances. Other little clues and later more those more overt, add up to suggest that something just isn’t right in this place. A sighting of Wingrave’s long missing former assistant Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is also cause for concern, given his disappearance coinciding with the death of the children’s first nanny Rebecca (Tahirah Sharif). On top of all this, there’s also the small matter of the terrifying visage that Dani sees whenever she looks in a mirror…

Interweaving several plot strands and characters, the series is more episodic in nature. Each a fragment of a puzzle, fitting into a overarching story that entwines with a supernatural presence that stalks the halls of Bly Manor, a deep well of sadness being drawn from and poured into. Similar to Hill House, there sees some switching between the past and the present, often for perspective flips and dramatic effect. Bly Manor is undoubtedly more deliberately paced than its predecessor, pulling back on jump scares and startling imagery, seemingly for fear of disrupting emotional investment. Implied horror rather than fully realized, such as the fear on a child’s face when a doll is out of place, or a her fear of being outside her room at night, both deemed to incur the wrath of a ghostly presence. There are still moments that unnerve though, and I’m not just referring to some of the pretty dubious English accents.

These disparate tales of guilt and grief coalesce into something beautiful. Wonderful writing married to similarly impressive performances from a cast who tackle their roles with a clear passion and commitment. Pedretti especially is mesmerizing, while the chemistry between Miller and Kohli warm and wreck the heart in equal measure. It doesn’t have the deep, heart breaking edge of Hill House, but Bly Manor is a a deeply soulful and moving companion piece.

Bly Manor Extra Features

In addition to all 9 episodes, the release also includes several extra features:

  • Audio Commentary: Episode 1: The Great Good Place, by Mike Flanagan
  • Audio Commentary: Episode 5: The Altar of the Dead, by director Liam Gavin
  • Audio Commentary: Episode 8: The Romance of Certain Old Clothes, by director Axelle Carolyn
  • Home For The Haunted — The Ghosts Of Bly Manor: Just over 10 minutes in length, Flanagan talks about his concept of what a ghost story is, and how Bly Manor relates to that, as well as the other themes he works into the sow. He also fleshes out some information on characters and events, and some of the technical aspects of the production
  • Welcome To Bly Manor: A similarly short, but pretty stuffed segment where Flanagan talks about the origins of the tale, how he developed the idea, characters, plot and even the look of the show

The Bottom Line

The Haunting of Hill House is a deeply moving and melancholic family drama unfolding within the midst of a genuinely unnerving addition to the haunted house genre. Bly Manor more patient and melancholic, investing in moments to craft a deeply soulful venture. It’s not often Netflix puts out physical media, and Blu-ray really highlights the hidden details of Flanagan’s richly crafted work.

The Haunting collection is available on Blu-ray now

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