Interview with Monika Nordland Yndestad

Monika Nordland Yndestad is a Norwegian writer and expert on mysteries surrounding her hometown Bergen. That city is home to one of the most enduring unsolved mysteries of all time: the case of the Isdal Woman, an unidentified female found dead in the middle of a rock formation on a mountain just outside Bergen in 1970. The case is still unsolved.

Monika has written a book called Drapsmysterier fra Bergensområdet (2005), the definitive book on Bergen’s strange history. 

Below is my interview with her. Thank you, Monika!


monika

1) Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself!

My name is Monika N. Yndestad and I live in Bergen. I wrote my first news story in 1987. In 2007, I took a four year break from the press to teach journalism. Then I started as a publisher in a magazine. In 2013, I became an author full time. I have released three crime books. The main character is journalist Alice Bratt. I have also released three non-fiction books, among them Drapsmysterier.

2) You wrote a book about the city of Bergen’s mysteries and crimes. What inspired you to write this book?

I have always been more than average interested in mysteries. Put simply, I was a big fan of true crime long before the term was invented. In Bergen there were several old murder cases that people still talked about, even after decades. But did they remember correctly?

I decided to investigate, and spent a lot of time in the archives, both public and in the newspaper archive. It was really exciting! The first case I wrote about in the newspaper Bergensavisen was a miscarriage of justice that occurred in 1906. A father and his son were convicted of killing the neighbor. The reason for the verdict was that a psychic woman supposedly “saw” the murder. It took 43 years before they were acquitted.

3) The most internationally well-known mystery in Bergen is the “Isdal Woman”. In your own words, what is this case of “The Isdal Woman”?

The Isdal Woman is our biggest mystery. No doubt about it.

Isdal Woman was found dead in Isdalen on Sunday, November 29, 1970, almost fifty years ago. It was a family on a Sunday trip that found her in the hillside; the first to see her was a twelve-year-old girl.

Isdal woman was found at the entrance of what is called “the valley of death”. The name comes from an accident in the early 1900s when a group of skiers on the top of Ulriken Mountain took the wrong path and fell to death.

It was a horrible sight. Isdal Woman was found lying on her back over a bonfire. The body had been exposed to intense but short-lived warmth. Her hair had burned up, but remains of a blue hair loop were found. The clothes were also just some remains. There was a men’s armband watch next to the body. The clockwork had stopped at 12.32.

In her stomach a fatal dose of Fenemal sleeping tablets was found. She had swallowed between 50 and 70 tablets. The cause of death was a combination of poisoning by sleep medicine and carbon dioxide, as well as combustion.

The investigation revealed that Isdal Woman had checked out from Hotel Hordaheimen in Bergen city center on Monday 23 November around eleven. There was smoke seen in Isdalen one and a half hours later, and it was believed that was when she died. But the time frame does not quite match: it is unlikely she may have managed to get so far in such a short time. She was also at the train station, where she placed her suitcases.

The investigation showed that Isdal Woman had traveled around Norway under several names. The last month she stayed at hotels in Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim under the names: Claudia Nielsen, Alexia Zarna-Merchez, Vera Jarle, Fenella Lorch and Elisabeth Leenhower. She spoke broken English but was steady in German. She was seen with men the police have never found the identity of.

Isdal Woman was 164 centimeter, 56 kilos, and probably around 30 years old. In her suitcases there where found notes written in code with letters and numbers, possibly an itinerary.

Isdal-Corpse

(body of the Isdal Woman. Police photo.)

4) What are the most widespread theories about her identity among the people of Bergen?

There are several theories. Last year, a documentary about her was issued claiming she was a prostitute. But there are not many who support that theory. Today, it’s mostly crime authors and journalists who care about the mystery. For most people, Isdal woman is just a term.

One possible theory is that she was an agent of Israel in search of old Nazis. This theory is used by the city’s most famous crime author, Gunnar Staalesen, in his trilogy Bergenstriologien. The books are translated into French.

Most people agree that Isdal Woman was affiliated with an organization of some kind, or was a criminal. Some believe she was a part of a fake coin league, but it is less likely than the agent theory. Remember, it was 1970. Probably the Norwegian authorities (PST) know much more than what has been revealed. The police concluded that she had committed suicide. Afterwards, only her identity has been investigated.

5) What is your own personal belief as to who she was?

I think she was an agent of some kind.

6) Some of the items related to the case are still in the police archives, such as her jawbone and personal belongings. Have you seen them personally? If so, what was it like seeing them?

No, those items were found quite recently and after I had released Drapsmysterier.

7) What is the area like where she was discovered? Is it far from downtown Bergen?

The area is about five kilometers from Bergen Railway Station, where she placed two suitcases for storage. The mountain side where she was found is steep and inaccessible and not a place for a tourist in November. Or in the summer, for that matter.

8) Do you think she intentionally walked there or was she taken there by someone else?

There are two mysteries here. Was Isdal Woman killed or did she really commit suicide alone on a mountain side? And who was she?

I do not think she committed suicide. She lived in a hotel and if the tablets really were hers, it’s illogical to leave the hotel bed, take the pills up in a mountain side and then lay on a fire.

Therefore, I do not think she was alone. She was taken into Isdalen by someone. And killed.

9) Is the police still actively investigating the case? Do you think it will be solved one day?

It is the press, including the BBC, which conducts investigations. Not the police. I do not think the case will be resolved ever, but she can still be identified. Isdal Woman is buried in a unmarked tomb. There was a police officer carrying her coffin to the grave, and a Catholic priest was used during the ceremony. Everything was documented with images that still exist. The police wanted to give the album to the family, but there was never anyone who claimed her. Now she belongs to Bergen.

isdal-woman-funeral

(Funeral for the Isdal woman.)

10) Another famous person in Bergen’s history is Varg Vikernes, notorious metal musician who murdered a colleague in the early 90s. Is he still famous around Bergen? Do locals still talk about him?

Varg Vikernes never returned to Bergen after the release. He lives in France and the case is little discussed.

But the church fires are not completely forgotten. Recently, two framed front pages of Bergens Tidende, which an individual had collected, sold for 14.000 NOK each. The front pages showed a picture of Varg Vikernes, who confessed to burning churches.

There were a total of 40 churches and church buildings that burned down in a few years.

varg1

(Varg Vikernes.)

11) How did the murder of Euronymous happen?

Varg Vikernes had had two comrades as an alibi that he was home in the apartment in Bergen. But instead he drove to Oslo, and on Tuesday, August 10, 1992, he killed Øystein Aarseth with 23 knife cuts. Afterwards, Greven said he did not regret the murder because it was about the survival of the strongest. And he was proud to be the strongest, the one who lived.

12) What do you think was the true reason behind it?

I look at it as a broken youth’s wrongdoing.

13) In your opinion, why did the Black Metal scene happen in Norway of all places?

In the 1990s there were many good bands and good producers in Bergen that contributed to the growth of black metal. It could probably have just happened somewhere else. But it was a little funny that especially Italian students at that time began to learn Norwegian because of black metal.

church

(Church arsons were a notorious feature of the Black Metal days. Adherents to BM believed Christianity was unlawfully planted into Norway, and burning a church was, therefore, a strike against the Christian establishment and a celebration of Norway’s pagan past.)

14) What other mysteries from Bergen would you like the readers of this blog to know about?

Many! Did you know, for example, that the lions in front of the Norwegian parliament, a symbol of democracy, were sculpted by a man convicted of a killing in Bergen? The assassination happened not far from the place Isdal Woman was found. But it’s 120 years that separates them in time.

15) What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on my fourth crime book in the series about journalist Alice Bratt; it is scheduled to be published in the autumn of 2019. In addition, I have just established the website monikayndestad.no There I talk about books and publish true crime news.

16) Any chance of your book being translated into English?

Who knows? Cappelen Damm Agency will hopefully sell my books abroad. Maybe to Finland? Then I wont be able to read my own book …

draps

(Monika with her book about Bergen’s mysteries. Photo: Bergens Tidende)

17) Anything I forgot to ask about that you would like to add?

Well, you can ask if it really rains as much in Bergen as people think. The answer is yes.

The Disappearance of Piia Ristikankare, Finland, 1988

1988. Rick Astley is rick rolling the world, and Bruce Willis is fighting bad guy in the Nakatomi building. The 1980s are coming close to their end, and the world has yet to see the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise and fall of Nirvana, and other curious incidents of the early 90s.

Far away from the red carpets of Hollywood and the secret dealing of the Kremlin, in a small town, a young girl disappears, leaving behind an enduring mystery that lives on after the last time she herself is ever seen.


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Piikkiö is the kind of town you pass by on your way somewhere else, most likely Turku, a bigger city about 20 kilometers away.

Home to about 7000 residents, walking down the streets there you can almost feel the gazes on your back as locals give you an extended glimpse when you pass them by, trying to guess who you are and which house you’re visiting. ”Is he the son of [enter name here], visiting from Helsinki? No, maybe it’s [insert name here] all grown up, visiting from Turku!” Having grown up in a small town myself, I understand this dynamic.

Near the town’s health center is a short street and on that street stands a grey house that gives the impression that it’s standing still in time. The exterior looks like it is not actively cared for, and the grass in the yard is overgrown. This is the home of a single dweller, an old man named Heikki Ristikankare, father of a young girl named Piia who went missing in 1988, leaving behind a creepy mystery that lingers in the public consciousness to this day.

The Ristikankare family had a tumultuous history. They were a Jehovah’s Witness family whose mother drank. A lot. So much, in fact, that during her lowest points she used the family’s savings to pay for booze for her drinking buddies. She was a loud drinker who would go off on her family, screaming at her husband and children. Finally, husband and father Heikki had enough, took his children, and separated them from their unstable mother.

He got custody, and became the sole provider for the kids.

In 1988 Piia was 14 years old, and the oldest of the children. Blonde-haired and blue-eyed, her school photograph shows her with a pretty, toothy smile and a knowing look in her eyes, as though she’s in on something funny you haven’t noticed yet. Nothing in her appearance is particularly exceptional; outwardly, she blends into the mass of late-80s working class teenagers.

ristikankare_piia

Her diary bespeaks a reasonably normal youth, with its crushes and early attempts at flirting with the opposite sex. From her journal:

May 3rd 1988. Today we waved at two guys who passed us by in their car. They stopped, and we got in.

Two days later she writes about another encounter with the same guys:

May 5th 1988. Today after the disco we waved at them again. I got in [the guy’s] car. He was alone at the time. We went to the forest for a while.

Besides the early signs of a burgeoning love life, the writings hint at an inherent trust in people, even males: Piia gets in the car despite probably a lifetime of warnings from grown-ups in her religious community – or perhaps because of them, in teenage defiance of the paranoia of all parents towards prospective male pursuers? She also hints at being at a disco that night, and talks of accompanying her pursuer to the woods, perhaps for a walk and some alone time.

Piia’s life had its shadows, too. Friends and student peers report that Piia was bullied at school, sometimes harshly. The daughter of a Jehovah’s Witness family can’t escape her background in a small town, and will occasionally stick out from the bunch. The exact theology of this religion is generally somewhat mysterious to Finns, and many of them have an image of the religion’s followers as irritating door-knockers and doorbell-ringers who want to sit you down in your kitchen and tell you about The True Way to Salvation.

Regardless of Piia’s joyful personality, the reputation of her religion may have preceded her, and been a factor in the bullying. And regardless of whether she emphasized this aspect of her identity outwardly or not, for Piia, being a Witness was apparently not a matter of passing significance: she took part in religious services and sang religious songs at home, her father accompanying her with a harmonica.

The bullying, however, apparently seized after Piia started studying at the Vocational Institute in Turku. Piia got new friends there, and people who knew her report this transition as something of a fresh start for the young woman.

At home, however, Piia’s role as something of a surrogate mother (or at least female caregiver) for her younger siblings most likely grew after her parents’ divorce. This may have added to the young woman’s worries and stress, and ultimately caused some kind of a psychological strain to break the night of her disappearance when she stormed out of her home and into infamy.


7th October 1988

The night of her disappearance was seemingly not too different from any Friday night in a small Finnish town. The only noticeable difference was that that night there were more youngsters out on the town than usual, possibly due to a disco being held at a local youth center. The weather for the weekend was rainy and gray.

Piia had originally made plans to spend the weekend with a friend in the town of Paimio, another small town roughly 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Piikkiö. But father Heikki, a bricklayer, had a work assignment for Saturday, so he had asked Piia to stay home and look after her younger siblings. The responsible Piia had agreed.

But as it turns out, the person Heikki would be working for had unexpectedly told him it would be possible for him to take the youngest child of the family with him to work, which again made it possible for Piia to go to Paimio. Ultimately, however, Piia decided to stay home.

On the evening of that Friday, 7th October, the Ristikankare family did what essentially every Finnish family does to mark the end of the week: heat up the sauna. This is the quintessential Finnish way to rinse the old work week off the skin and relax after a week on the job. There’s a touch of ”zen” to the practice, at least as much as a nation as practical and formal as Finns dare to engage in.

While father Heikki was in the sauna with a friend, Piia and her three siblings were in the living room watching television. At some point in the evening, Piia and her younger brother got into an argument over the ownership of the remote control, and as a result, Piia stormed out of the door and into the Friday night.

This is time she has been seen for certain.

She left with her regular clothes on, and had about 20 marks of money and a credit card.

When father Heikki got out of the sauna, the younger kids explained what had happened. At this point there wasn’t yet a reason to worry: maybe Piia had simply gone out to walk around the block and cool her head a bit. This wasn’t the first-ever argument between two siblings in the history of the world, after all.

Piia had occasionally spent weekends at relatives’ and friends’ houses, so Heikki was not yet terrified at Piia’s absence; his initial suspicion was that she had headed to some friend’s house once again, and would be present at that Sunday’s religious service.

Sunday came. The service came. Piia didn’t.

Heikki called the police to officially place a missing person report. The report is dated 08.45 the next Monday morning, October 10th. The police began their routine procedures: search parties, information gathering, interrogation of potential suspects.

Nothing. Something was seriously wrong.

Despite endless searches, sleepless nights, and silent sorrow and longing for a lost friend and family member, Piia remains missing. Millions of cars have passed through the highway that passes her hometown since then. None of them have brought her back.

In 2007 the lead detective in the case was interviewed for a Finnish television show entitled Kadonneet (”The Missing”). Of all the various details in the disappearance, one sticks out like a sore thumb.

As mentioned earlier, there were a lot of youngsters out on the town that night, probably gathered around the youth center and the disco. And even though Piikkiö is a small town, it isn’t a town-sized graveyard – there are people on the move on a Friday night, going out, walking their dogs, heading to the store for groceries to cook something special on the eve of the weekend, et cetera. And even if you discount the people outside, that still leaves many a family or couple sitting at their kitchens, looking out into the street as they sip their evening teas or eat their meals.

And yet, not a single verifiable sighting of Piia was made after she left home that night. Not one. It’s as though she walked into a vortex and disappeared into thin air.


The 1980s turned into the 1990s, and the 90s turned into a new millennium. The silence around the Piia Ristikankare case was like a still pond of black water, motionless, denying even the slightest glimpse at its murky bottom.

Until one day in 2002 someone took a big rock and broke the water’s surface, sending new ripples across the dead calm surface.


The Letter

It had been mailed from Sweden, and bore the earmarks of having been written by someone under duress.

The writer didn’t seem to be accustomed to letter-writing; it seemed like a simple communique meant to convey something dramatic the author had held inside for years.

kirje_piia

(the actual letter)

It was first received by the producers of a Finnish television show titled Poliisi-TV (”Police TV”), a show that features news on police investigations into famous crimes, as well as reports on the latest crimes, with requests to viewers to help identify their perpetrators. Think of it as Finland’s “Unsolved Mysteries”.

After opening the letter, the producers of the show had determined that the letter needs to be forwarded to the police, so they sent it to Kaarina police department, Kaarina being the town where the investigation into Piia Ristikankare’s disappearance had initially began. The Kaarina police forwarded it to Keskusrikospoliisi (”Central Bureau of Investigations”; basically Finland’s equivalent to the American FBI), where the Ristikankare investigation had been delegated after local police departments failed
to solve the mystery.

The author of the letter claimed to remember something shattering from the night of the disappearance. According to his letter, he had been on his way to eastern Finland, and had passed Piikkiö on his way. Driving through the highway, he had noticed a young girl fitting Piia’s description entering a car.

And as if that wasn’t eerie enough, there was an additional shocker to the author’s story: he claimed to remember the license plate number of that very car.

The police immediately ran the number through their system, and came up with a name. The person whose name it was lived in the Turku region (close to Piikkiö, in other words), and had a criminal record – for sexual assault.

He was brought to the department and interrogated. He swore he had no connection to Piia’s disappearance, and eventually the police came to believe him. He was released for lack of evidence.

The lead detective believes the letter writer may have tried to take revenge for something by accusing the suspect of this notorious disappearance. Nevertheless, the police believe this letter is still an essential piece of the puzzle, and that the author most likely knows more than he’s telling.


Flash forward

Investigative threads currently employed by the police to solve this disappearance are easy to articulate: none. The police lieautenant currently in charge of the investigation openly admits that in light of the existing evidence (or lack thereof, rather), the case is a total mystery. The only thing that can realistically solve it is a phone call or email from someone who remembers something conclusive from the night of Piia’s vanishing.

The possibility of suicide has been ruled out. Piia’s personal diary reflects an overall sunny disposition and attitude towards life, and hints at an emerging interest in boys – and even courage to engage in some light flirting. It’s also reasonable to assume that, had Piia taken her own life, her remains would most likely have been discovered by now. Local forests were searched thoroughly and local rivers drenched.

An intentional dropping off the map can confidently be ruled out as well. Such a maneuver demands an enormous supply of funds and social contacts across the country (and possibly beyond), neither of which Piia possessed. Finns who disappear intentionally are generally well-to-do individuals who have gotten into some kind of trouble, often financially.

This leaves homicide as the only realistic option. But who, and why?

The most likely scenario for murder in this case goes like this.

After Piia leaves home, she walks to the nearby highway, intending on hitchhiking to Turku and the nightlife of a bigger city, or to Paimio and her original plans for that Friday. The destination, I believe, is not essential – ”away” is the key word.

As she stands by the road with her thumb in the air, someone with a dark intent spots her, a lonely female figure moving under the streetlights in the darkness. He is almost unable to believe his luck; this opportunity is not to be wasted!

He drives his car to the side of the lane and stops. The girl standing outside in the chilly evening air walks to him and bends down to talk through the open car window. She explains that she needs a ride. The man nods his head: ”Get in”.

The car takes off, its wheels crunching on the ground as the driver steers them back into the lane, the car’s rear lights casting a long red glow onto the dark ground.

The glow slowly fades as the car takes off, transporting the unlikely pair into the dark.

piia

(exclusive artwork done for this blog post by artist Ninni Rönkkö)


Epilogue

It’s 2016, and though the case makes the occasional appearance in the papers, there’s nothing to show that the investigation into Piia’s disappearance would have gathered any new wind under its wings in the passing decades. The case is official open, but badly needs a new clue for the police to chew on.

July, 2016. My wife and I walk down a street in Piikkiö Piia may have chosen as her path that night.

My wife notices two raspberries growing in a tiny bush next to the paved road and stops to pick them. There’s a house nearby, and its living room window is open. I can hear the music blaring in the stereo inside.

The song is ”I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2.

Film, book and music favorites of Dr. Robert M. Price

Robert M. Price is an influential American scholar of Christianity, known best to a wider audience for his intelligent debating style. Many of his debates with various other scholars are still available on YouTube. He also hosts a great podcast called The Bible Geek.

Dr. Price is one of the best-known proponents of the “Christ myth theory”, the theory that there never was an actual, physical person named Jesus of Nazareth.

In addition to his seemingly endless knowledge on the Bible, he is a scholar of the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

Dr. Price’s books include:

  • Incredible Shrinking Son of Man
  • Bart Ehrman Interpreted
  • Deconstructing Jesus
  • Blaming Jesus for Jehovah

…among others. Buy his books here.


robertmprice

My three favorite movies? Hard to rate them, but here are a few:

Excalibur (1981), Star Wars (1977), The Avengers (2012). But there’s also Ghost Story (1981), The Dead Zone (1983), Fanny and Alexander (1982), Omen 3: The Final Conflict (1981).

Top 3 books:

Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Warrior, H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror and Others, and D.F. Strauss’ The Life of Jesus Critically Examined.

Top 3 albums:

Crosby Stills and Nash, CSN; Jesus Christ Superstar; With the Beatles.

Favorite place to read: the bed.

Film, book and music favorites of Dr. Matti Kamppinen

Our excursions into the favorite entertainments of fascinating people continue with the movie, book and music favorites of Dr. Matti Kamppinen, Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion at the University of Turku. He also holds positions at the University of Helsinki and the University of Kuopio, and is an internationally recognized expert in his fields of study.

He was one of my favorite lecturers during my university days, a widely read and inspiring speaker with a penchant for interdisciplinary ways of approaching scientific questions. One lecture from him would provide endless, fascinating references to everything from Ancient Greek literature to the latest findings in natural sciences.

His books include:

  • A Historical Introduction to Phenomenology
  • Consciousness in Philosophy and Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Intentional Systems Theory as a Conceptual Framework for Religious Studies

…among others. Buy them here.


Matti1

Top films:

Some like it hot (directed by Billy Wilder, 1959). Absolutely hilarious, even after having seen it quite many times.

Life of Brian (directed by Terry Jones, 1979). “So funny, it was banned in Norway” as it was truthfully advertised in Sweden. In addition, a solid introduction to any religion.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (directed by Woody Allen, 2010). This particular WA film depicts beautifully the flow of time in human lifespan.

Top books:

The Mind’s I – Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul (1981) by Douglas Hofstadter& Daniel Dennett is insightful, literally.

Introduction to Value Theory by Nicholas Rescher (1969) provides much-needed structures for our sloppy discussions about values.

The Moral Landscape – How Science Can Determine Human Values (2010) by Sam Harris goes a step further and intends to bridge the fact/value divide. Excellent antidote for overdoses of postmodernism.

Top albums:

Duke by Genesis, Division Bell by Pink Floyd, and Going for the One by Yes.

 

Review: The Haunting of Hill House. Written by Giulia Bia.

My friend Giulia Bia (IG @parttimedandy) wrote this wonderful write-up of the Netflix hit The Haunting of Hill House.

Grazie, Giulia!


haunting of hill house

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE AND THE PERILS OF SAPPINESS

90% of myself subscribed to Netflix just for the horror section.

Like many hardcore horror lovers, though, I’ve been bitterly disappointed many times by the crap that has been put under that category, apart from some brilliant exceptions (e.g. “The Similars”, “The Bar”).

When I saw “The Haunting of Hill House” was available, I embarked in an epic binge and watched the whole 10 episodes while my face went from this

tie

to this

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and not because the story touched something deep inside me.

But let’s see what the maze that is Hill House has in store for us.

The story and its strong points

You probably already all know this: “The Haunting of Hill House” is based on Shirley Jackson’s masterpiece novel of the same name, and loosely so. Basically, what remains is the title and the house itself.

The story revolves around a family composed by parents Olivia and Steve Crain and their children Shirley, Luke, Theo and Eleanor (Nell). Olivia and Steve’s job is to buy decrepit old houses, flip them and sell them: what better investment than the stately and haunted Hill House?

When the series opens, the children are troubled adults, father Steve is almost absent from their lives, and mother Olivia has been killed many moons ago by Hill House.

Nell’s call for help will bring together the semi-estranged members of the Crain clan, wo will have to fight their own demons to defeat the lingering power of Hill House.

I must say the first episode is one of the most gripping I’ve watched in years. So many hints of horrible past and future events are scattered around that one can’t help but keep watching episode after episode.

The telling of the Crain family’s last night at Hill House sent a shiver down my spine, mostly because one doesn’t see what’s really happening and everything is left to the imagination of the viewer. The blurred image of Olivia running after her fleeing family is rather haunting (forgive the pun), and the hysteric pack of children is enough to convey all the terror of the unknown. Far be it from me to spoiler: suffice to say Olivia dies in the house under circumstances that will be revealed later.

The closing of the first episode is notable too, as Luke, now a writer of paranormal stuff, finds himself face to face with the ghost of someone close and dear to him.

The series gives us many blessed moments of delightful horror: just to mention a few, the sixth episode, “Two storms”, juxtaposes a tempest that occurred during the Crain family’s stay at Hill House and the storm that is raging in the present time while the siblings share stories about Nell around her coffin. Pity “something” keeps messing with her body…

The Bent-Neck Lady, too, is pretty memorable, and I must say I didn’t see the twist coming. Hope this doesn’t sound conceited, but 99 times out of 100 I spot the horror gimmick a mile away: this wasn’t the case. Plus, one of the stories that scared me the most when I was little was Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Thrawn Janet”, and because of that I tried not to look at Bent-Neck Lady too much.

Episode 3, “Touch”, offers us another creepy moment when young Luke accidentally descends to the basement because of a faulty dumbwaiter and is attacked by a vicious zombie-ghost thing.

I also loved how Hill House reveals time and time again its labyrinthine nature, especially when the mysterious “Red Room” shows its true face and how it has molded itself over the desires of its occupants.

Many are the strong points of “The Haunting of Hill House”: the seamless alternation between past and present, the depiction of Hill House as a restless, evil Venus flytrap patiently waiting for its victims, the duplicity of the house as a place of death and eternal life, the accurate depiction of the characters and the relationship with each other.
But there are also numerous flaws that ruined the series for me, which are totally underrated in the reviews I’ve read so far.

Why sappiness should never have anything to do with horror

Let’s start with a general consideration: the last two episodes are incredibly soppy. So soppy I swear I had an unbearable desire to punch everyone, and especially sweet Olivia, in the teeth. So soppy they ruined the whole other excellent 8 episodes. So soppy they cemented my hope there isn’t an afterlife for anyone.

Carla Gugino, who portrays Olivia, is a beautiful woman and a talented actress. Pity her character, which is a pivotal part of the plot, is one-dimensional and, well, unbearably sappy.

Olivia has a dark side: why would she be the first of the family to fall prey to the lure of Hill House? She somehow echoes Jack Torrence’s role in Stephen King’s “The Shining” (which, in fact, was inspired by Shirley Jackson’s novel), but she is portrayed as the All-American mother, an almost angelical figure whose main job is to be the rock of the family. Her “darkest” moments are the migraines that sometimes plague her and make her snap at her kids. Even in death she lovingly hovers at her husband’s side whispering mindful suggestions. Her sweet facial features, large green eyes, long flowing hair reminded me of those corny statuettes of the Virgin Mary one finds in Catholic churches.

And don’t get me started on the stupidity of her reasons for wanting to kill her whole family inside Hill House.

In the infamous last two episodes, the “Virgin Mary” aura looms also around Nell, and her speech in the Red Room reeks of such do-goodism that I seriously considered switching to some other series.

It’s such a departure in tones and mood from the rest of the series that one can’t help but feeling cheated and, well, deprived of a good old bloody ending.

The ghosts, too, play such blatant mind tricks one should be really an idiot to fall for them.

All in all, “The Haunting of Hill House” remains one of the best things offered by Netflix so far; some more courage in denying the viewer a reassuring and pleasing ending would have been appreciated.