While it is increasingly becoming a year-round treat, when the calendar roles over to October, horror takes center stage and becomes the focal point for audiences across the country. We embrace our fears and dress up as our favorite monsters, go to haunted houses and pay money for the desire to be frightened by a stranger in a hockey mask, and most commonly, we watch scary movies. As Halloween closes in, we venture into the realm of taboo and revel as we watch people get terrified, mutilated, possessed, and suffer all manner of gruesome fates for our entertainment. There are many theories as to the appeal of horror ranging from cathartic satisfaction to deeper psychoanalytic analysis, but the most common theme is that is indulgence; horror allows us to expose ourselves to and soak up things that we are not supposed to see or be attracted to. When watching death, gore, personal invasion and the supernatural all torment the actors on screen, we allow ourselves to take pleasure in aspects of life which we would otherwise find revolting and terrible.
We will complete our countdown to Halloween by holding up with one of the most classic horror stories that exists: the haunted house. One of the simplest horror story archetypes is that of the haunted house, and there are many aspects of the haunted house which spill into other types of horror. Some of the most influential and well known horror films of all time have taken place inside of a haunted house. In order to describe this classic horror, we will partake in a special double-feature with Robert Wise’s The Haunting, and Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others.
The strongest aspect of the haunted house is the idea that the characters involved are trapped. This is the aspect of the haunted house sub-genre that is most common in other horror genres. Alien could be described as a haunted house film that simply takes place in space aboard a ship rather than in a spooky mansion. While those characters are trapped inside of this house, they are subjected to the malice of the ghosts and spirits that roam those walls for eternity. In some cases, the fear is derived not from phantoms or specters, but from the house itself.
This is the case with The Haunting, in which there is never ghostly figure on screen, instead, it is the will of the house itself which strikes fear into all of those trapped in those cursed walls. First released in 1963, it has gone on to be one of not only the best haunted house films of all time, but one of the most highly regarded horror films ever made. Often with haunted houses, what you don’t see is even more important that what you do. As with psychological horror, the brain can conjure more horrifying images than any director can, and the true fear lies in not knowing what is within that house, or on the other side of that door which creates all of the fear.
Considering they exist within the same genre, there are a lot of similarities to The Haunting and The Others, but one area in which they are starkly different is the way in which they present information. The Haunting is up front and transparent about everything that is going on. In fact, the very first scenes in the film spell out the deaths that took place in the house which has caused it to become haunted and receive its reputation.
The same cannot be said for The Others, which hold it’s cards very close to the vest for as long as it can until the conclusion of the film. Released in 2001, it is the most recent film in our journey through horror, it is very well regarded in its own right, and delivers a much different take on the classic genre than The Haunting. While it is a haunted house film, it is also a mystery. The causes of the strange voices of intruders within the house are unknown, and the mystery slowly unfolds throughout the film. Along the way, a mother and her two children are tormented by these strangers within their home. Going into further detail and spoiling the film would be cruel, so I will instead only say to approach this film from a different angle from normal haunted house films, as it has a different origin than most.
The haunted house may be the most well-known horror archetypes in the world. A ghost haunting a house is an idea that can spread across all boarders and cultures and reach the far corners of the globe to produce any number of terrifying tales. It is a story which is universal, and an experience we can all share. There are many haunted places throughout the world which have a rich history of horror and despair, and there are recreational haunted houses that come up this every year around Halloween designed to frighten all those who are daring enough to enter. Further, it is a sensation that most everyone in the world has experienced; who hasn’t heard a sound late at night in their home which has startled them? Who hasn’t had to sleep with the lights on when they were a kid due to an unexplained clash or bang in the hallway? The explanations may be as innocent and simple as the air conditioner kicking in, or a pet or family member bumping into the furniture in the dark, but the unexplained can occur in almost any place, which has made the haunted house into so many classics within horror.