“Suppose the haunting is all in my mind.”
Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris) joins a group of amateur sleuths at Hill House to see if they can capture evidence of paranormal activity. Not long after their arrival, the group starts to experience some horrific events, but the house has a special hold on Eleanor, in particular.
She’s recovering from the death of her mother and living with her terrible sister and brother-in-law. The woman is under immense stress and all but steals a car (that is half hers) to go on this ghostly getaway to Hill House. Most of the story, including the book of its origin, is told from Eleanor’s head, and her head is not a trustworthy one.
A combination mood disorder and schizophrenia, this disorder is a solid foundation on which Eleanor’s psychosis could rest.
- Ordinary Events have Special Meaning
Eleanor insists she must stay at Hill House long past her welcome. She reminds herself repeatedly, “This is the only time anything has ever happened to me.”
- Mood Swings
One minute, she is fighting with Theo (Claire Bloom) and the next, they are laughing like old friends. Eleanor is not stable and her outbursts make others’ relationships with her shaky at best.
After she sees the writing on the wall – literally – Eleanor thinks the others are all making fun of her. Likely, Eleanor is acting out unresolved issues with her mother by attacking her colleagues at Hill House. She admits as much to Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson) when Eleanor reveals that she, like the original inhabitant of Hill House, failed to go to her sick mother when she was called, an action that resulted in the death of Eleanor’s mother.
Subconsciously, Eleanor’s behavior in Hill House might be her way of making amends to her deceased mom. Perhaps the haunting really is all in Eleanor’s head. It is possible that Eleanor is responsible for the wall scrawl, but other events are harder to explain.
It is possible that this is all in Eleanor’s head, but then why do the others placate her fantasies? Perhaps the doctor in charge of the investigation is to blame for the apparently haunted events at Hill House.
Once Dr. Markway develops a crush on Eleanor, things get complicated. On the arrival of his wife, the doctor encourages the idea that Eleanor needs to leave the house because of its “hold” on her; surely a doctor would not feed into a psychotic woman’s hallucinations. Instead, the haunting appears to stem from Dr. Markway’s extramarital predicament. A doctor might have access to hallucinogens or other drugs that could put Eleanor in a manic state at the end of the story and do the same to his wife. If one subscribes to the theory that Dr. Markway is the puppet master and the women his strings, this is a more attractive prospect when we realize that both Theo and Luke (Russ Tamblyn) remain level-headed during the whole Hill House affair.