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What Is A Screaming Meemie In Netflix’s The Haunting Of Hill House

The ghosts of Hill House made us realize we really should be afraid of those things that haunt our dreams. 

The Haunting of Hill House Catharine Parker Poppy Hill
Courtesy of Netflix

 In episode nine of Netflix’s heart-wrenching and deeply stirring The Haunting of Hill House we were introduced to the phenomenon called the “Screaming Meemie”.  Many times I was called this as a child(admittedly I was super loud).  My parents were the sort to discipline my brother and I using both literary references and sports terms.  Forever “tilting at windmills” while simultaneously navigating “goal line decisions”seemed to be the rules that governed my life.  What can I say, my folks were well-rounded people.  I was surprised to hear this term come up as a term for heinous nightmares in episode nine titled Screaming Meemies.

For those of you who did not have crazy parents, a Screaming Meemie is commonly thought of as having an extreme case of jitters, nerves or the heebie jeebies.  It causes loud out bursts of screaming or screeching like a Banshee. Often we think of these episodes a result of psychological distress.  It’s tantamount to having a nervous breakdown.  Olivia Crain(Carla Gugina) experiences several instances of this.  She does think of these events less as psychological breaks but more releases of sadness.  In her case these events are tied to severe emotional trauma and seem to manifest a telekinetic power that effects the world at large much like Stephen King’s Carrie.  She details one such event to Mrs. Dudley(Annabeth Gish) when as a child the repressed feelings of sadness over her father’s death were all released at once in the form of rock-filled rain.  Poppy Hill(Catherine Parker) details her own occurrence when explaining her horrific dreams to Olivia.  She, like Olivia had vivid dreams or visions of her children’s futures that include excruciating disease and death.  Poppy is the first to coin the phrase “Screaming Meemie” in reference to the visions the house shows them.

For Poppy “Screaming Meemie’s are night terrors with very real consequences.  They are glimpses into the future that are as heart-breaking as they are terrifying.  If you have never experienced a night terror, count yourself lucky.  Those of us who experience them are as often paralyzed as they are active.  The experience is varied from one individual to the next.  You can sleep walk, talk and perform any number of complex activities or be completely immobilized in bed.  Every experience is different.  They are typically brought on by stress, lack of sleep and other medical factors.  They occur in the transition between the deepest REM sleep and the lightest REM sleep.  Those who experience them can attest to the fact that they are in no way similar to a nightmare.  Those that suffer from them often can’t remember many details but often report  a vague sense of dread, but for the caregivers things can be even worse.  Those in the throes of a night terror are often hysterical and are so convincing in their delusion that what they are seeing is real for the caregiver as well.  One of my own children inherited this trait from me. When he would suffer from them it wasn’t uncommon for him to run throughout the house yelling about people in his room or try passionately to leave the house.  The terror is visceral and unlike anything you have ever felt. 

For the mothers of Hill House the fear is about loss and desperation.  As a mother your greatest fear is the loss of a child.  Any good mother would do just about anything to save their child.  A ravenous beast that is never satisfied the house needs to eat and often and what it likes to eat is our fear, pain, and sadness.  Depression is the amuse bouche and desperation the main course.  The House preys on this fear by showing the future where her worst fears have come true.  In effect it is a self full-filling prophecy.  Once it is thought the idea takes on a life of its own and creates the very thing they were trying to avoid. Inception in its original form.

Poppy is there to make that possibility a deadly reality at all costs.  She is the beautiful but gonzo voice and face to the houses evil.  Whether she was corrupt before or after the house remains to be seen.  The fates of her children and her endless exile at Hill House would be enough to break even the most solid of souls.  Regardless of how she got to be the entity that currently resides in Hill House, sometimes as the young and beautiful Poppy channeling Bette Davis from Whatever Happened To Baby Jane and sometimes as the older decayed Poppy Craig.  As such she swishes through life spouting nonsensical phrases from her Gatsby-esque era along with the sad indulgence that marked the time.

Courtesy of Netflix

 The fact that Mrs. Dudley does not discount Olivia’s story simply as a tall imaginative childhood tale but as a real possibility is perhaps the biggest takeaway of the series.  Maybe all that happened to the Crains was a direct result of psychic powers brought on by one or all of the Crain’s.  Hill House is the precursor to American Horror Story’s Murder House.  It is a spiritually powerful house built on a Hellmouth that both grants immortality and imprisons its inhabitants.  It highlights the best and worst that is in all of us and amplifies the strongest emotions.  It twists and perverts even the most pure of impulses to protect into a need to control and dominate.  Helicopter parenting at it’s worst, the need to preserve innocence and prevent pain becomes an albatross that poor Olivia is burdened to carry for the rest of eternity, or at least until someone finds a way to burn the whole thing down.