Halloween is here once again and, while 15 per cent of Britons think their property has a ghost, according to a survey by Ocean Finance, the majority will be spooked this weekend by homes in scary movies.
But what makes a home creepy? And how real are these on-screen abodes?
We round up the six scariest haunted houses from films…
The Haunting – Ettington Park
Victorian houses, with their mansard roofs and assorted towers, are the textbook image of spooky. Why? Art historian Sarah Burns in American Art argues that it stems from a creepy combination of The Addams Family and Hitchcock’s Psycho, which tapped into (or fed) the modernist dislike of the “horrible” styles of older buildings – places associated with older residents from dying generations.
Either way, by the time the 1963 classic The Haunting came along, that trend was well and truly established. It is no coincidence, then, that director Robert Wise personally chose Ettington Park in Stratford-upon-Avon as the location for Hill House. The interiors were filmed on a set, including a terrifying spiral staircase that falls apart as the characters climb up it, but the exteriors made the most of the estate’s imposing appearance. Wise filmed it with infrared cameras to bring out the lighting contrasts and stony textures. Even the actors felt it was too scary just driving towards the building.
The Innocents – Sheffield Park
Falling into the same architectural trappings of The Haunting, this iconic 1961 British flick opted for the mansion of Sheffield Park in Sussex to give viewers the creeps. Once again, interiors were shot on sets, but the grounds were used for the exteriors, making the most of its size to emphasise the surprise of shadowy figures appearing from thin air.
“A lot of it is distraction, and kind of providing eye candy in the opposite direction of where the scare is going to come from,” James Travis III, who designs haunted houses, tells Fast Co Design.
The same principles apply to Sheffield Park, the sheer scale of which makes it scarier when Quint appears to Deborah Kerr’s terrified governess at the top of the property’s turrets. Spookier still, though, is when a figure appears in the garden’s reeds, with a delicate bridge in the background…
The Innkeepers – Yankee Peddlar Inn
Fast forward to the present day and haunted houses remain a central part of the horror film genre. Ti West’s The Innkeepers (2011) sees two hotel employees uncover ghosts at their soon-to-shut-down workplace during the night shift. West taps into the vibe of real hauntings by shooting on location at the actual Yankee Peddlar Inn, located in Connecticut.
The entire cast and crew lived, ate and slept on the premises during the shoot, which used the location as central touchpoints for the spooky set pieces, from an old piano and a deer head on the wall to a grandfather clock. Sometimes, the best scares can’t be manufactured.
The Exorcist – Prospect Street
Photo: Rudi Riet
One of the scariest films ever made built its interiors once again on a set – beds don’t float on cue, you know – but director William Friedkin realised that a home’s surroundings can be as key to establishing a mood as the property itself. What do you remember most from The Exorcist? Not the MacNeill house (the outside of which is at 36th and Prospect in Washington) but the steps nearby, down which Father Karras is thrown. Friedkin was so keen to use the stairs’ steep, intimidating atmosphere that they built a false front and extension onto the existing house just so that the scene would be possible.
The Amityville Horror – The Amityville House
The Amityville House is perhaps the most famous haunted house in America – both in real life and fiction. Amityville’s horror story dates back to a real murder in 1974, when the owner, Ronald DeFeo Jr., shot six members of his family. Inspiring a book and a film, the movie was shot at a home in New Jersey, which was converted to look like the film. But the legacy lives, both on and off-screen, with the original property changing its address (from 112 to 108 Ocean Avenue) to shake off its reputation.
The Shining – The Overlook Hotel
It is unquestionable that cinema and property can combine to form some truly creepy haunted houses. The most terrifying property of all, though, is The Overlook Hotel from The Shining. Why? Because it does not exist. Moreover, it cannot.
Stanley Kubrick was a methodical filmmaker, the kind of man who did nothing without meaning it. So when he constructed The Overlook Hotel, at the time one of cinema’s largest ever indoor sets, he and production designer Roy Walker would have studied every inch. Do the same, though, and you soon realise that it is an impossible building.
The exterior is Timberline Lodge, located in Oregon, but like a twisted TARDIS, there is no way the insides could fit within those walls. One example is the office in which Jack Nicholson’s writer – who agrees to become a caretaker for the quiet winter season – is interviewed by the hotel’s manager. Behind him is a window looking into a garden, but the film shows us that the hotel’s corridors go behind the office wall: that window should not be there.
Likewise, corridors should technically run into dead-ends, while stairways do not match up between floors. Even the freezer doors do not open consistently from the same side. An entire cult following has developed around this phenomenon, with people breaking down the film with detailed analysis. Dreamlike and distorted, the overall effect is immediately disorienting – and quietly haunting.
Source: The Movechannel