Nothing says “loveable trope” in horror quite like the good ol’ fashioned haunted house. There is simply something amazingly spooky about a large enclosed area that is full of ghosts and ghouls and spirits (oh my!) that we can’t get enough of. There is a reason that this theme in horror fiction, in every medium, has been seen for ages now. And because of this, I have hand-selected the top 5 haunted house stories, in case you wanted to catch up on the scary house tales of the last…forever.
5. The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: Life at Rose Red
The fictional “true story” that sits in our number five spot might be more familiar to you if you can recall the 2002 mini-series called “Rose Red” by Stephen King. This tie-in novel tells us about a large, Tudor-Gothic mansion in the woodlands outside of Seattle, Washington which was, of course, built over an ancient indian burial ground. The cursed house, which claimed the life of three construction workers and was the site of the murder of the foreman, is the site of Ellen’s entries as she develops as a woman and grows to hate her terrifyingly misogynistic husband.
The story isn’t as spooky as the others on the list, which is why it doesn’t reach any higher than number five on our list, however, it is most certainly a good read for folks who would like something on the lighter side of horror, but still within our legendary trope.
4. Hell House
Richard Matheson brought us quite a lot in the late 20th century, including episodes of the Twilight Zone and his novel “I Am Legend” (yes, the some one that was made into the Will Smith movie), but one of most terrifying tales was that of the old house called “Hell House” and a little investigation by a dying millionaire looking for life after death. Dr. Lionel Barrett, his wife, and two mediums (Florence Tanner and Benjamin Fischer, the only survivor of an investigation thirty years prior) set the cast for this one to explore the disgustingly perverse and shocking paranormal occurrences that happen in the home for proof of (or against) the supernatural.
However this is a house that fights back. One of the scariest things about Hell House is the fact that it personalizes the way it attempts to destroy each character, all based on their flaws and weaknesses. There is nothing cookie-cutter about this tale and, though it is a trope, it really does live on as a story of it’s own.
3. The Amityville Horror
You can always tell if the book was great if it has had multiple movies made of it – well that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface in the case of The Amityville Horror. This is a story that has lived on beyond the written tales because…it’s real. There really is a house. There really was murder in it. People really did have terrifying paranormal activities occur while living there and ran from the home. Was there actually blood dripping from the walls? Well, no, but much of the other things from the movies/books were truth (according to the old residents).
Either way, Jay Anson’s novel is one that we can see as timeless and as long as there is a house to see up in New York that we know inspired this novel (and probably for much long after that), we will continue to be frightened by The Amityville Horror.
2. The Shining
What can you say about Stephen King’s “The Shining” that hasn’t been said a million times over. We all know the tale, we all know the movie, we’ve all read the book, and we’ve all lost A TON of sleep because of it. If you don’t know why this book is one the list, go read it and you’ll soon understand. We’ll wait up for you. We can promise you won’t sleep for a while.
1. The Haunting of Hill House
This classic tale by Shirley Jackson, the same author of the popular short story “The Lottery”, appears on more horror lists than this writer could read in a lifetime. The National Book Award Finalist novel has already seen to major films as well as a produced stage production. Even the ever-talented Stephen King has listed this novel as one of the best stories of the 20th century and the Wall Street Journal even said that Jackson’s work is “now regarded as the greatest haunted house story ever written”.
One of the beautiful things about this novel is the fact that it relies on terror as opposed to horror to pull emotion from its reader. For those who aren’t English majors, yes, there is a difference. In Horror we show emotion to what happens after a major event and are left reacting to the event itself. In terror, we show our emotion before the event, anticipating what will happen to the characters.
With a relatively small cast of characters that you can connect with deeply, the looming anticipation of what may happen next, and a mind-blowing ending, this story is one that will remain around long after you and I are both going – which is one of the many reasons it sits at the top of our list at number one.