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DREAM HOUSE, hitting theaters this Friday, September 30, tells the story of a family, played by Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, coming to grips with the brutal history, and potentially haunting inhabitants, of their new home. The genre is full of morbid abodes, and in celebration of the release of DREAM HOUSE, Fango takes a look at ten of the most horrifying haunted house flicks, and their focal morbid abodes, in cinema history.
In DREAM HOUSE, publisher Will Atenton (Craig) quits a high powered job in Manhattan to relocate his wife Libby (Weisz) and two girls to a quiet New England town. As they settle into their new
residence and life, they discover their idyllic home was the scene of the brutal murder of a mother and her children years before. Locals say it was the woman’s surviving husband who committed the dirty deed, and when Will starts to investigate, he is confronted with trying to figure out if the ghosts he is seeing are real, or if perhaps the truth behind the house comes from somewhere a little closer to home.
This is a classic set-up for a film that has the potential to re-invigorate the haunted house sub-genre that has been dormant for a number of years now. Before heading to theatres this Friday to pay DREAM HOUSE a visit, let’s take a trip back in time and pay our respects to some of the other brick, mortar and wood hell houses of yore, some you may have considered, and some you might not have…
THE HAUNTING (1963)
Director Ray Wise set out to make the mansion in THE HAUNTING, “a monster house,” and did he ever. Based on “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson, the story follows an unlikely assembly of people (who have previous supernatural experience) doing a paranormal investigation of famed Hill House. The result is a night of intense horror as the house sets upon the crew, manifesting itself in horrific ways. Set the bar for all future haunted house films.
NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (1988)
Kevin Tenney’s gruesome tale of a band of teenagers partying in a supposedly abandoned house that turns on its unwelcome guests, trapping them within the confines of the property and possessing them one-by-one, resulting in friends killing friends in increasingly graphic ways. Oh, and then there’s that scene with Linnea Quigley and that lipstick… One of the 80’s most memorable low budget haunts, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS would go on to spawn two (very fun) sequels and a remake.
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959)
Gimmick-maestro William Castle’s tricky tale of a group of strangers invited to a most sinister party at the home of wealthy Fredrick Loren (Vincent Price in one of his best turns) and his wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart). The goal: survive the night. The tools: each guest gets a .45 caliber pistol. The prize: $10,000. The result: a “Ten Little Indians” scenario where guests disappear one by one, all leading to a most unexpected climax. Castle created a sensation with in-person gimmicks like a skeleton flying over the heads of theatre patrons and medics on stand-by wherever HOUSE played. Wonderful for Price’s smarmy Loren, the charming “ghostly” inhabitants of the house, and the memorable twist ending.
THE SHINING (1980)
Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson) needs some quiet time to focus on his writing, so he packs up his family (Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd) to spend the winter taking care of the Overlook Hotel in Colorado. After arriving, Jack finds the demons from his past aren’t the only things haunting him and his family. Nicholson is at his apex as Torrence, bringing a furious madness to a character that director Stanley Kubrick and screenwriter Diane Johnson took liberties with when transitioning from Stephen King’s source novel to screen. The result is breathtaking, bone chilling and has managed to remain one of the most intense and terrifying films of all time.
VILLISCA: LIVING WITH A MYSTERY (2004)
The only documentary on the list tells the true story of what some consider the most haunted house in America. Filmmakers Kelly and Tammy Rundle turn back time to 1912 in little Villisca, Iowa where a neighbor of the Josiah Moore family happens into their house after a lack of activity early on June 10th to find all six members of the family and two young house guests dead, all bludgeoned to death. All the mirrors in the house are draped with sheets and the murder weapon, an axe, sits on the floor downstairs. The mystery: who did it and why? This still unsolved case remains a hot topic of discussion for historians and dark history fans, and LIVING WITH A MYSTERY tells the tale with mastery. Oh, and if you’d like to experience the famously haunted house yourself, you can reserve it for a night and try to sleep within its confines. Seriously.
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973)
John Hough directed this adaptation of the novel by Richard Matheson about physicist Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill) who is hired by wealthy Rudolph Deutsch to investigate survival after death. Barrett takes his wife, a medium, a minister and a machine he has created to detect paranormal activity to the Belasco House where the group encounters just what they were hoping to find, but with morbid results. A quieter film than THE HAUNTING, LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE shares many similarities with the preceding haunted house precedent setter, but comes out a winner with rich atmosphere and excellent performances.
Italian cinema royalty Dario Argento’s second chapter in the now-complete “Three Mothers Trilogy” (bookended by SUSPIRIA in 1977 and MOTHER OF TEARS in 2007) is about Rose Elliott (Irene Miracle) who finds herself living in one of the buildings mentioned in an ancient book about the Three Mothers. Populated with bizarre neighbors, monsters, bodies, clawed beasts, mysterious blood and menacing cats, the apartment complex in INFERNO is a real madhouse. In what is perhaps the film’s most memorable set piece, Rose finds a flooded room in the basement through a hole in the floor. She falls in and finds herself swimming among corpses and remnants of the past, including a painting bearing a prophetic statement that leads her into the depths of the building’s possessed past. A gorgeous film that delivers a truly unsettling fire-filled climax you’ll not soon forget.
Absolutely insane haunted house film from Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi that throws in seemingly every superstition, creature, and beastie the filmmakers could come up with tells the story of a group of schoolgirls traveling to a quiet country home for some R&R. The house in this one not only toys with the girls in bizarre ways, but starts consuming them one by one. HOUSE has to be seen to be believed, and thankfully Criterion has released a deluxe edition for you to take in the picture as never before. Gorgeous, maddening, scary and arcane.
Steve Miner followed up FRIDAY THE 13th PART 3 with HOUSE in 1986, his homage to haunted house films of the past that blends (then) contemporary effects with spooky storytelling to deliver a funny, and at times shocking, little roller coaster ride of a spookhouse flick. Roger Cobb (William Katt of GREATEST AMERICAN HERO fame) is recently divorced, struggling to deal with the loss of his son and haunted by recurring memories of his stint in Vietnam. He moved into a seemingly normal house but soon thereafter finds himself questioning his sanity as he starts having nightmares about his dead soldier pal and is besieged by an army of nasty creatures from beyond. Not as puzzling and out there as the Japanese film of the same title, HOUSE is certainly a lot of fun with some fantastic creature effects and nasty moments sprinkled throughout.
AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979)
The story of the Lutz family, who moved into a quaint home at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, Long Island only to find themselves the victims of a series of paranormal events that kill some and drive others mad. The contemporary blueprint for haunted house possession films, AMITYVILLE, based on Jay Anson’s book of the same name, sees strong performances from stars James Brolin and Margot Kidder in a film littered with unforgettable moments (glowing pig eyes, anyone?). Followed by many sequels and a forgettable remake starring Ryan Reynolds in 2005.
This topic begs discussion, so please feel free to talk about some of the haunted house films you have held near and dear (or far and away at a safe distance) over the years. Will DREAM HOUSE re-ignite the haunted house flame for the genre? Only time, and audiences starting this weekend, will tell.
For more on DREAM HOUSE visit the official site.
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