The Haunted Houses

Haunted Houses

Haunted Houses are perhaps one of the oldest and most well-recognized archetypes in fiction and folklore as well as the psuedo-scientific study of parapsychology - although not always viewed as a particularly villainous realm in and of itself humanity has, for many generations, had a fear of ghosts and the supernatural: as a result haunted houses have become a staple of horror and fantasy, where they often shelter spirits that either wish to frighten humans for their own enjoyment or may pose actual danger (common in horror).


The real world also has several haunted houses that have historically been associated with curses, poltergeist-activities and even demonic invasions - these stories are hotly debated amongst different groups with some viewing them as fact, others seeing them as legend and others seeing them as a "mix of both".

Some of the most famous haunted house stories (both real and fictional) also detail dark misdeeds in the past such as witchcraft, murder or other events that have caused the spirits of the dead to remain, often to the detriment of those who try to move into the home.

Some unique haunted houses also put a twist on the legend and make the building itself an active antagonist, capable of thinking and altering itself so as to harm or terrorize its inhabitants - a famous example of a "living" haunted house would arguably be the Amityville house, especially in the movie franchise based on the infamous Amityville Horror case.

Due to their popularity and the public's fascination with them Haunted Houses have also become a very common "Dark Ride" - with many amusement parks using them: a typical Haunted House ride will have all manner of macabre scenes and sounds, they can be walkthrough or what is commonly known as a "ghost train".

Some radical Christian groups, despite a firm stance against the supernatural, may utilize elements of haunted house mythology during Halloween to create a "Hell House" attraction - designed to showcase the envisioned horrors of Hell and convert others to Christianity. The haunted house is a house or other building often perceived as being inhabited by disembodied spirits of the deceased who may have been former residents or were familiar with the property. Parapsychologists attribute haunting to the spirits of the dead and the effect of violent or tragic events in the building's past such as murder, accidental death, or suicide. More scientific explanations for the perception that a house is haunted include misinterpreting noises naturally present in structures, waking dreams, suggestibility, and the effect of toxic substances in environments that can cause hallucinations.

In a 2005 Gallup poll, 37 percent of Americans, 28 percent of Canadians, and 40 percent of Britons expressed the belief that houses could be "haunted".

Possible causes

According to science writer Terence Hines, cold spots, creaking sounds, and odd noises are typically present in any home, especially older ones, and "such noises can easily be mistaken for the sound of footsteps by those inclined to imagine the presence of a deceased tenant in their home."

Skeptical investigator Joe Nickell writes that in most cases he investigated, he found plausible explanations for haunting phenomena, such as physical illusions, waking dreams, and the effects of memory. According to Nickell, the power of suggestion along with confirmation bias plays a large role in perceived hauntings. "As a house, inn, or other place becomes thought of as “haunted,” more and more ghostly encounters are reported" says Nickell, "When people are given to expect paranormal events, they tend to notice those conditions that would confirm their expectations."

Toxicologist Albert Donnay believes that chronic exposure to substances such as carbon monoxide, pesticide, and formaldehyde can lead to hallucinations of the type associated with haunted houses. Donnay speculates on the connection between the prevalence of gas lamps during the Victorian era and start of the 20th century stories of ghost sightings and hauntings, describing it as the "Haunted House Syndrome". Donnay says that carbon monoxide poisoning has been linked to haunted houses since at least the 1920s, citing a 1921 journal article published about a family who suffered headaches, auditory hallucinations, fatigue, melancholy, and other symptoms associated with haunted houses.

Michael Persinger, Jason Braithewaite, and others, suggested that perceived apparitions, cold spots, and ghostly touches are perceptual anomalies caused by variations in naturally occurring or man-made magnetic fields. However, a study by psychologist Chris French and others that attempted to replicate Persinger's findings found no link.

Commercial haunted houses

The concept of the haunted house was capitalized on and commercial haunted houses sprung up all over the country. An estimated 3,500 to 5,000 professional haunted attractions operate in the United States. In addition, around the time of Hallowmas, many Christian churches run a type of haunted house known as a hell house, which while being a haunted house, also promotes the Christian gospel message. According to USA Today, in hell houses, "participants walk through several 'scenes' depicting the consequences of things like abortion, homosexuality and drunkenness."

Legal aspects

In the case Stambovsky v. Ackley, the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division ruled in 1991 that a seller must disclose that a house has a reputation for being haunted when there is a fiduciary relationship or in cases of fraud or misrepresentation, because such a reputation impairs the value of the house:

In the case at bar, defendant seller deliberately fostered the public belief that her home was possessed. Having undertaken to inform the public at large, to whom she has no legal relationship, about the supernatural occurrences on her property, she may be said to owe no less a duty to her contract vendee.

Short stories and novels

Legends about haunted houses have long appeared in literature. The earliest surviving report of a haunted house comes from a letter written by Pliny the Younger (61 – c. 112) to his patron Lucias Sura, in which he describes a haunted villa in Athens. Nobody would live in the house until the philosopher Athenodorus arrived in the city, and tempted by the low rent moved into the villa. The ghost, an old man bound with chains, appeared to Athenodrus during the first night, and beckoned the philosopher him. The apparition vanished once it reached the courtyard, and Athenodrus carefully marked the spot. The following morning he requested the magistrate to have the spot dug up, where the skeleton of an old man bound with chains was discovered. The ghost never appeared again after the skeleton was given a proper burial.

Stories of haunted houses are also included in the Arabian Nights, as in the tale of "Ali the Cairene and the Haunted House in Baghdad"; more modern authors from Henry James to Stephen King have also featured them in their writings.

Haunting is used as a plot device in gothic or horror fiction or, more lately, paranormal-based fiction; haunted castles and mansions are common in gothic literature such as Dracula with his namesake castle. Notable works of fiction featuring haunted houses.

Famous Haunted Houses (Fiction)


  • The Haunted House (1921)
  • The Cat and the Canary (1927)
  • The Cat Creeps (1930)
  • The Ghost Goes West (1936)
  • Lonesome Ghosts (1937)
  • The Cat and the Canary (1939)
  • The Ghost Breakers (1940)
  • Hold That Ghost (1941)
  • The Canterville Ghost (1944)
  • The Uninvited (1944)
  • The Time of Their Lives (1946)
  • The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
  • Scared Stiff (1953)
  • House on Haunted Hill (1959)
  • 13 Ghosts (1960)
  • The Innocents (1961)
  • The Haunting (1963)
  • The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966)
  • The House That Dripped Blood (1970)
  • Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)
  • The Legend of Hell House (1973)
  • Burnt Offerings (1976)
  • The Amityville Horror (1979)
  • Inferno (1980)
  • The Shining (1980)
  • The Changeling (1980)
  • The Entity (1981)
  • Poltergeist (1982)
  • Ghostbusters (1984)
  • House (1986)
  • Beetlejuice (1988)
  • Night of the Demons (also known as Halloween Party) (1988)
  • Sweet Home (1989)
  • The People Under the Stairs (1991)
  • The Pagemaster (1994)
  • Casper (1995)
  • Haunted (1995)
  • Ghosts (1997)
  • House on Haunted Hill (remake) (1999)
  • The Haunting (remake) (1999)
  • Thirteen Ghosts (remake) (2001)
  • The Others (2001)
  • The Devil's Backbone (2001)
  • Rose Red (2002)
  • Darkness (2002)
  • The Haunted Mansion (2003)
  • The Grudge (2004)
  • The Amityville Horror (remake) (2005)
  • House Of Wax (2005)
  • The Grudge 2 (2006)
  • Monster House (2006)
  • An American Haunting (2006)
  • In a Dark Place (2006)
  • Stay Alive (2006)
  • Return to House on Haunted Hill (2006)
  • The Messengers (2007)
  • The Orphanage (2007)
  • 1408 (2007)
  • Paranormal Activity (2007)
  • Paranormal Entity (2008)
  • The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)
  • Deadline (2009)
  • Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)
  • Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
  • Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (remake) (2011)
  • The Innkeepers (2011)
  • Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)
  • The Woman In Black (2012)
  • The Conjuring (2013)
  • The Haunting in Connecticut 2 :Ghosts Of Georgia (2013)
  • Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

TV Series

  • The Addams Family (a comedic take on the legend, the ghoulish Addams Family reside in a "Haunted House" - however the Addams themselves are not ghosts but rather eccentric and sometimes malevolent humans)
  • Gregory House from the anime Gregory Horror Show is a demonic entity filled with hostile beings and surrounded by zombies.


  • Splatterhouse (the series is set within a "haunted house" full of demons, ghosts and other supernatural creatures)


  • The House (House of Leaves), which is either an example of this or a Lovecraftian horror in house form.
  • The Haunting of Hill House is a book about a house that is "born bad", which has been adapted into a film called The Haunting, which was later remade.
  • The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole
  • The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) by Ann Radcliffe
  • The Fall of the House of Usher (1845) by Edgar Allan Poe
  • The House of the Seven Gables (1851) by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Turn of the Screw (1898) by Henry James
  • The House on the Borderland (1908) by William Hope Hodgson
  • The Rats in the Walls (1924) by H. P. Lovecraft
  • The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson
  • Hell House (1971) by Richard Matheson
  • The House with a Clock in Its Walls (1973) by John Bellairs
  • 'Salem's Lot (1975) by Stephen King
  • The Shining (1977) by Stephen King
  • The Amityville Horror (1977) by Jay Anson
  • The Woman in Black (1983) by Susan Hill
  • Drawing Blood (1993) by Poppy Brite
  • Silk (1998) by Caitlin R. Kiernan
  • House of Leaves (2000) by Mark Z. Danielewski
  • The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red (2001) by Ridley Pearson
  • The Little Stranger (2009) by Sarah Waters
  • The Red Tree (2009) by Caitlin R. Kiernan


  • Disney's Haunted Mansion (a popular dark ride and the origin of the "Haunted Mansion" franchise).

Famous Haunted Houses (legends/folklore)

  • 112 Ocean Avenue (the infamous "Amityville Horror" house which was believed by many to be a "hoax").