Horror Formulas Part 2: The Haunted House

Well now that we've discussed some of the kids you never want to cross, let's talk about the places you should never live. This is another one of the most commonly used staples in the horror genre. Here's how the story typically goes: a family moves into a new house and suddenly they realize that not everything is as it seems…little noises here, ghosts popping up there...and before you know it? You find out the place has a terrifying back story that the new residents just can't escape. Now each movie has its variations, like changing it from a house to a hotel like The Shining, or having lived in the house for awhile like Poltergeist or What Lies Beneath. And sometimes the house is even pre-established as already being haunted and people need to prove how brave they are...like The Haunting. Either way, the essential story at the core remains the same...that this ain't no place you wanna live.

So before we get to the do's and don'ts of haunted homes, let's do a countdown of the top 5 places to never take up residence!

5. Beetlejuice. Actually these ghosts would be pretty cool to live with. The reason it makes the list is for Delia's creepy sculptures and interior design! Scarier than Beetlejuice himself, by far!

4. The Others. Firstly, this house is in the middle of NOWHERE. It's a freaking journey to get to town, mostly on account of the fog that forbids anyone from leaving. Then there's also the fact that the kids are allergic to light, so it's ALWAYS in the dark. Not to mention the creepy peeps that work there and the fact that this place has its own grave yard...definitely not a place I would want to live. Oh and let's not forget the book of the dead that's just lying around for anyone to find of all the dead people that ever lived in the house.

3. The Amityville Horror. It's never a good sign when a priest or nun can't stand being in your house. (Though I guess that might be some people's cup of tea...) Or when a psychic goes to the basement and describes it as "the passageway to hell." When the house isn't telling you to get out itself, it is physically attacking you or your children. Not cool house! Not cool. Next time don't move into a house where someone murdered their family..and also where Salem witch rituals occurred..

2. The Shining. Instead...try being the groundskeeper of a HOTELwhere someone murdered their family! Nah, scratch that. This one is even worse since it is in the middle of NOWHERE and freezing cold, with the snow constantly piling up. Not even the slightest chance of getting help here. Plus the ghosts are far more interactive and creepy than the others...and the insanity runs deeper.

1. Poltergeist. Truthfully, The Shining is probably the worse scenario to be in...but somehow this home seems a tad more dangerous. (physically, that is. Psychologically, The Shining is more damaging.) Building a house over a cemetery is probably not something you wanna be doing... Why you ask? (Really...you ask that?) Well, you run the risk of losing your kids to evil spirits and having to journey into another portal to get them! And when you come back you get covered in purple goo. Don't ask me, I didn't write the rules! That's not even mentioning what's in the swimming pool. On the plus side though, one of the kids has some awfully cool Star Wars memorabilia!

THE HAUNTED HOME - as seen in: Beetlejuice, Poltergeist, The Amityville Horror, The Others, Insidious, The Shining, The Grudge, The Messengers, What Lies Beneath, The Changeling, The Orphanage, Paranormal Activity


DO: Include creepy things that go bump in the night. Some of the most effective horror movie scares happen in a haunted house in the middle of the night. Just watched Amityville Horror last night, and while it is not a perfect film, I must admit the scenes in the middle of the night when the clock slowly rolled to 3:15 (the time of the previous tenant's murders..) I got pretty tense.

DON'T: Rely on just creepy sounds through three fourths of the film. A LOT of horror films have this problem in trying to find the balance in keeping the audience on their toes, while saving the best for last. But if all we get through the whole movie is creepy house sounds, you can save us the trouble and we will just walk around our own houses. Yes it is creepy, but terribly overdone...and if that's the best thing it has up its sleeve, you already know the finale is gonna be a clunker. Both The Others and What Lies Beneath kind of struggled with this, but The Others atmosphere and finale made up for it. What Lies Beneath? We'll get back to that finale later..

DO: Give the house a creepy backstory. House built on an Indian burial ground, home where a man killed his entire family, hotel with never ending history that all groundskeepers end up going mad there? Yep. You've got the audiences attention.

DON'T: Over complicate the backstory OR choose the most generic one ever. Over complicated backstory? Look no further than The Grudge, where all types of ghosts (human and feline alike) are lurking. Why all the ghosts crammed in one house? They all died in a fit of rage at various times and blah blah blah. As for a generic one? So and so murdered so and so there...the end (like The Messengers and Cold Creek Manor) Amityville spiced it up with the resident resembling the murderer...which kept the audience on their toes.

DO: Be creative with the formula and try out different perspectives. Beetlejuice and [ Spoiler: ] The Others [/spoiler] excel at this...by showing the well worn genre from the perspective of the ghosts. Or [SPOILER] Insidious, where it turns out the SON is haunted, not the house [/spoiler] They stand out so much more for it.

DON'T: Pull out the rug from under the audience. Cold Creek Manor and What Lies Beneath are movies that are guilty of this...because neither were quite sure what they wanna be. What Lies Beneath is all over the place. Do I wanna be generic ghost? Do I wanna be Rear Window? No...turns out the neighbor spying stuff is a go nowhere plot line red herring, and in my eyes...that's cheap. Stick with the haunted house theme. As for Cold Creek Manor? That movie is just terrible and the less said about it the better!

DO: Include terrifying imagery. The right stuff will stick in your head forever....or at least a week. The Shining is full of this! Left and right! From creepy twins to blood waves... It's no wonder Danny can't stop seeing terrible things. Poltergeist too as the mom gets dragged up the wall...you don't get more threatening than that from your house!

DON'T: let that imagery be laughable. This is where The Haunting remake lost me. Laughter in horror films is very tricky. You definitely need to be laughing with them and not AT them.

Yeah. THIS happened.

Well that's all for now. Join us next time for the horror movie objects you do NOT wanna ever get a hold of. So did I get it right? Or were there worse fictional horror movie homes I missed? Also, while Courtney was helping me find pics, she stumbled upon this gem of a blog post....about how a real estate agent might sell some of these homes. Check it out. HERE


miahwashburn said...

I love this stuff. Keep it up Emily.

Johanna said...

The Amityville Horror was a pretty scary movie.

Seriously remember you and Laurie laughing out loud during The Haunting when the children's "O" faces flashed. I think we were lucky to get out with our lives. Out loud laughter during most scary parts = ruined experience for other audience members.

I know, I know. You couldn't help yourselves. That's what happened to me with the black Ghosties during the movie "Ghost."

Sarah said...

That part IS laughable in the remake of the Haunting. They should have laughed! Anyone who got scared in that movie doesn't know what a good horror movie is. Now, the house from the original movie? THAT is one scary, freaky house! Entertaining as always, Emily!

Amelia said...

I can't decide which house would be the worst! Although sadly even in the realm of haunted houses I think snow makes it worse for me too haha.