It’s October, and we try every year to do a series of posts related to horror. This year is no different. To kick things off, I thought I’d share a book/film list that features my favorite horror trope: haunted houses.
Haunted houses fascinate me to no end. There’s ample opportunity for developing atmosphere in a story (which I love) but more than that, the haunted house mirrors the human psyche. Shelter is a human need, but how we’ve constructed it is within human engineering and design. It’s planned. So when things don’t feel settled, it’s terrifying. Haunted house stories are about the fear of what’s inside that isn’t controlled nor understood — and it parallels and enhances an uneasy mind.
Also? It’s almost never about the house.
I lived in a dorm that was supposedly haunted back in college. I never had any weird experiences there, aside from a couple of bats roaming the halls, but I always think about what a perfect setting and back story this building has for a good horror tale:
This will be a very incomplete list of books — and films! — that tackle the haunted house. I’d love to know more, and I’m open across age groups. I think if you’re really going to make a display of titles related to haunted homes, it should cover a wide swath of teen and adult works. I’m fairly liberal in my definition of what a haunted house is. Essentially, the bulk of the story’s chills come from within the house or are related somehow to that house. I realize this is a huge space for debate, but I like it that way. I’m also keenly aware that a number of these books aren’t actually horror stories, but they do feature the haunted house trope in some capacity.
I’ve seen or read many, but not all, of the titles below. They are in no particular order, but I’ve noted where they are films, books, or have a film adaptation made from the book. Also, there may be a little fudging around with defining house to also include hotels.
All descriptions come from WorldCat.
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (book and film — and they differ!): A solicitor sent to a small village to settle the estate of a dead
client fuels the wrath of a sinister, mysterious woman in black and is
driven to the brink of insanity. Arguably, this is way less about the haunted house, but it fits my definition.
Hell House by Richard Matheson (book and film): A group of four people enter Belasco House, known as the “Mount Everest of haunted houses.”
The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe (book and film): Do you know how hard it is to find a description of this one? It’s a classic, and it’s a tale of madness. That should be enough explanation.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (book and film): An anthropologist conducts an unusual research project in a reputedly haunted house.
The Poisoned House by Michael Ford: As the widowed master of an elegant house in Victorian-era London
slips slowly into madness and his tyrannical housekeeper takes on more
power, a ghostly presence distracts a teenaged maidservant with clues to
a deadly secret.
Amityville Horror (book, film, and a remake of the original film): The Long Island colonial house on the river’s edge seemed perfect, but their new house soon becomes a hellish nightmare. The remake of this one was filmed at a house about 20 minutes from where I live.
The Shining (book and film): What of the penetrating cold terror of an old hotel, a haunted place of
seductive evil with a malevolent will of its own–and a five-year-old
boy of innocent beauty whose mind mirrors the nightmarish secrets of its
The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian (book): In a dusty corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house in
northern New Hampshire, a door has long been sealed shut with 39
six-inch-long carriage bolts. The home’s new owners are Chip and Emily
Linton and their twin ten-year-old daughters. Together they hope to
lives there after Chip, an airline pilot, had to ditch his 70-seat
regional jet in Lake Champlain after double engine failure. Unlike the
Miracle on the Hudson, however, most of the passengers aboard Flight
1611 died on impact or were drowned. The body count? Thirty-nine, a
coincidence not lost on Chip when he discovers the number of bolts in
that basement door. Meanwhile, Emily finds herself wondering about the
women in this sparsely populated White Mountain village, self-proclaimed
herbalists, and their interest in her fifth-grade daughters. Are the
women mad? Or is it her husband, in the wake of the tragedy, whose grip
on sanity has become desperately tenuous?
The Good House by Tananarive Due (book): Working to rebuild her law practice after her son commits suicide,
Angela Toussaint journeys to the family home where the suicide took
place,hoping for answers, and discovers an evil force that is driving
locals to acts of violence.
Frost by Marianna Baer (book): When Leena Thomas gets her wish to live in an old Victorian house
with her two closest friends during their senior year at boarding
school, the unexpected arrival of another roommate–a confrontational
and eccentric classmate–seems to bring up old anxieties and fears for
Leena that may or may not be in her own mind.
The Innkeepers (film): After over one hundred years of service, the Yankee Pedlar Inn is
shutting its doors for good. The last remaining employees, Claire and
Luke, are determined to uncover proof of what many believe to be one of
New England’s most haunted hotels. As the Inn’s final days draw near,
odd guests check in as the pair of minimum wage “ghost hunters” begin to
experience strange and alarming events that may ultimately cause them to be mere footnotes in the hotel’s long unexplained history.
The Turn of the Screw (book): The story starts
conventionally enough with friends sharing ghost stories ’round the fire
on Christmas Eve. One of the guests tells about a governess at a
country house plagued by supernatural visitors. But in the hands of
Henry James, the master of nuance, this little tale of terror is an
exquisite gem of sexual and psychological ambiguity. Only the young
governess can see the ghosts; only she suspects that the previous
governess and her lover are controlling the two orphaned children (a
girl and a boy) for some evil purpose. The household staff don’t know
what she’s talking about, the children are evasive when questioned, and
the master of the house (the children’s uncle) is absent. Why does the
young girl claim not to see a perfectly visible woman standing on the
far side of the lake? Are the children being deceptive, or is the
governess being paranoid?
The Turning by Francine Prose (book): A teen boy becomes the babysitter for two very peculiar children on a
haunted island in this modern retelling of The Turn of the Screw. Admittedly, this one is a bit of a stretch in the category, but because it is a retelling of the James story, I’m including it.
Tighter by Adele Griffin (book): Based on Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw,” tells the story of Jamie
Atkinson’s summer spent as a nanny in a small Rhode Island beach town,
where she begins to fear that the estate may be haunted, especially
after she learns of two deaths that occurred there the previous summer.
The Others (film): Grace, a devoutly religious mother, has moved with her family to a
mansion on the English coast, awaiting her husband’s return from the
war. Her two children both suffer from a rare photosensitivity disease
that renders them extremely vulnerable to sunlight, prompting the rule
of having only one door open in the house at a time. When one of the
children claims to see ghosts, Grace at first believes her newly-arrived
family of eccentric servants to be responsible, but as events become
stranger, she begins to wonder if something supernatural is indeed going
The Changeling (film): A man becomes the unwilling instrument of a ghost’s revenge. This is a Jensen household favorite because it’s legitimately scary.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (book): One dusty postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, Dr.
Faraday is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall, the residence of
the Ayres family for more than two centuries. Its owners, mother, son
and daughter, are struggling to keep pace with a changing society, as
well as conflicts of their own. But the Ayreses are haunted by something
more sinister than a dying way of life.
Dark Water (film): Yoshimi Matsubara fights to gain legal custody of her five-year old
daughter while the two live together in a dark sullen and musty
Stir of Echoes (film and book): After Tom is hypnotized at a neighborhood party, he changes. He sees
things he can’t explain and hears voices he can’t ignore. As the visions
intensify, he realizes they are echoes of a crime calling out to be
White is for Witching (book): As a child, Miranda Silver developed pica, a rare eating disorder that
causes its victims to consume nonedible substances. The death of her
mother when Miranda is sixteen exacerbates her condition; nothing,
however, satisfies a strange hunger passed down through the women in her
family. And then there’s the family house in Dover, England, converted
to a bed-and-breakfast by Miranda’s father. Dover has long been
known for its hostility toward outsiders. But The Silver House
manifests a more conscious malice toward strangers, dispatching those
visitors it despises. Enraged by the constant stream of foreign staff
and guests, the house finally unleashes its most destructive power.
The Grudge (film): Karen is an American nurse living and working in Tokyo who agrees to
cover the shift of another nurse. When she enters the assigned home, she
discovers an elderly woman who is lost in a catatonic state. As she
tends the woman, Karen hears scratching sounds upstairs and goes to
investigate. Within this house is a chain of terror more terrifying than
she could ever imagine, resulting from a terrifying evil that was
born years before. As more people die, Karen is pulled into the cycle
of horror and learns the secret of the vengeful curse. Now she must stop
it before it’s too late.
Thirteen Ghosts (film): After a tragedy strikes, a family discovers that the home they’ve
inherited from an eccentric uncle is inhabited by sinister phantoms.
Once the 12 ghosts are unlocked from the basement of the house, there is
only the need for one more fresh ghost to fulfil an evil prophesy.
Which member of the family will it be?
House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski (book): Johnny Truant, wild and troubled sometime employee in an L.A. tattoo
parlour, finds a notebook kept by Zampano, a recluse found dead in a
flat. Herein is the heavily annotated story of the Navidson Record.
The Intruders by E. E. Richardson (book): When soon-to-be stepbrothers, Joel and Tim, start having the same
nightmare after moving into a old house, they decide to investigate its
source and the many other strange occurrences in their new home.
I could probably highlight a million more movies this way, but in an effort to keep this list manageable, I’ll just offer up a few more: A Haunting in Connecticut, 1408, Poltergeist (I debate whether or not this is a haunted house story but if I didn’t include it, I’m sure I’d never hear the end of it), The Orphanage, Paranormal Activity, and Silent House (again, debatable, but seeing how much I disliked the original may be my bias).
I’m curious of more books fitting the theme, so if you’ve got any, leave a comment!