Poor Luke Crain. Hardly anyone in The Haunting of Hill House believes him when he's a little boy — not when he tells his family that he's seen something scary, and not when he tells them the far more believable story that he's made a new friend, who they dismiss as imaginary.
**This story contains spoilers for Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House.**
Sadly, Abigail Dudley was all too real. Only his twin Nell believed him, but having each other as their own only support didn't save the pair from suffering tragically long into adulthood. (Nell's night terror paralysis and Luke's narcotic addiction). When Nell dies, a newly sober Luke tries to put an end to Hill House once and for all — only to have the house nearly put an end to him.
Luke actor Oliver Jackson-Cohen chatted with SYFY WIRE about the importance of home inspections for haunted houses, just how terrifyingly real Hill House was on set, and what it took to survive the infamous Red Room.
So I hear you're in the middle of moving into a new place?
Oh my god, I'm the biggest idiot. [Laughs] I decided, "Yeah, I'll move house the week the show launches." It's an old converted factory-loft.
Did you make sure it wasn't haunted first?
[Laughs] You know, I did freak out the other day. I was in the house, and it's so stupid, but there was kind of a loud banging coming from the back of the house. I actually had a minute where I was like, "I wonder…" And then I quickly snapped myself out of it. [Laughs] I think it'll be all right. Fingers crossed, it's just the pipes.
One of the big things we learn from the Hill House property sale is the importance of disclosure. How do you buy a place like that in the first place? We never see them interact with the previous owners, but they must have known something.
I know! We used to have that conversation on set a lot. I used to go up to Carla [Gugino] and Henry [Thomas] and say, jokingly, "What the f*** was wrong with you?" Because you're like, "How did you not walk in here and think, 'This is the creepiest place ever'? What made you think you could flip this place?"
It's a shame they didn't invite people for set visits because the detail in that house was amazing — all the ornaments on the fireplace, all the moldings, all the details in the wallpaper. If you look at the wallpaper long enough, you start to see faces in it.
It's very, very disturbing. So f*** knows why the Crains moved in!
What do you think is the appeal of haunted house stories?
It's an interesting concept because the whole idea is that a house is something that is supposed to keep us safe. It's supposed to be a safe place away from the world. And I think that's what kind of fascinates people, the one place which is supposed to be safe and whoa! It's hostile! It's such a terrifying concept. That's why it seems to tap into people's biggest fears.
And I think what [showrunner] Mike Flanagan was creating was taking this idea of the haunted house and making it a drama about childhood trauma, where you could see the ghosts in the house as a metaphor for traumatic events. Swap out the house, and it could be about child abuse or anything like that, and that's what's so clever about it. And Mike tucked into the varying scales of how childhood trauma affects different people.
When you look at the Crain siblings as adults, they have varying ideas of how they've coped with it, especially that final night in the house and losing their mother. It would scar you for life. You might not remember everything, but your body does — subconsciously, your body will pick up on that terror and carry it. Especially for these people because they struggle to function in a world where this happened, but they're constantly being told that it didn't, or that they made it up, or that there was something wrong with them.
And especially for Luke. He experienced not just the haunting, but also his mother's murder of his friend Abigail.
Yeah. Mike and I talked about that quite a lot, especially for Episode 6, when Luke sees Nell's body because the last dead body he had probably seen was Abigail.
And Luke is a textbook PTSD victim. He's struggling with that. His coping mechanism is developing an opiate addiction, but he's very much suffering with PTSD from everything that went on when he was a child and seeing his friend die, and then never seeing his mother again. None of the kids knew what really happened that night, and no one could really remember, and it was a recipe for disaster.
Let's talk about that last night in Hill House Luke has as an adult.
I think his reason for going back in the first place is that Nell was probably the most precious thing to Luke, and there's a part of him that feels responsible for her death. And his motive for going back is like going, "Enough! Enough!"
A part of him is trying to take control of his life, so when he turns up at the house and tries to set it on fire, and the fire goes out, it just goes to show that there's no escaping. It becomes a bigger metaphor. You can't just blow something up and have it go away. And that plays into the whole idea of the house always being more powerful than you. So when he wakes up in the dream and he's saved by Nell, it's about breaking down the illusion and coming back to reality.
What was it like shooting those moments in the Red Room? When Luke has the ghost overdose?
All of the foam was like a lemon-y sherbet. They put the powder in your mouth, and then a thick liquid blood, and then they add water. So it was disgusting!
And it was quite hard, because they wanted to get the blood right, and the fluid was dripping down into my ear. It took us a week to shoot all that stuff, and the first night that I went home, I jumped in the shower, and I had blood caked on me, and mud, and fiberglass stuff. All of that mold in the Red Room, it's a type of fiberglass that was heated up, so I was basically lying on mini shards of glass. And I was lying in bed, and I could hear this fizzing, and it was because the powder had gotten in my ears and was foaming! It was crazy. I won't be asking for that foam anytime soon. It was … hell.
That Red Room was hell for everyone. We made up a bunch of T-shirts that said, "We survived the Red Room."