Tag Archives: haunted houses

Don’t Go In There!

It’s hard to say why I find horror movies, and haunted house movies in particular, so appealing. It probably has something to do with being frightened, but from the comfort and safety of my couch or theater seat (the credits roll, and I’m reminded that none of this is real). It could also have something to with the house I grew up in, the “original homestead” of my ancestors in Oregon. While I don’t recall it being particularly haunted, it was a shadowy old Victorian house in great disrepair, and years after we moved out I heard rumors that it was the sort of abandoned house that teenagers would dare each other to spend the night in (I will not include a photo here dear readers, because I don’t want it to haunt your dreams). Of course, scary movies might also appeal to me because of my family’s occasional visits to the Timberline Lodge for dining — the Lodge served as the exterior of one of the (imho) most creepy movies ever filmed, The Shining.

Pop Pilgrims The Shining from Timberline Lodge on Vimeo.

Whatever the reason, I like a good, scary haunted house movie. And whether you prefer your haunted house movies to be atmospheric or funny, there’s sure to be something on this list that appeals to everyone:


The Amityville Horror
A couple’s Long Island colonial house on the river’s edge seems perfect–until it isn’t.


The non-ghosts are scarier than the ghosts in this film. After a  trendy New York family moves into an old farmhouse, the former tenants (a couple of likable ghosts) contact the afterlife’s bio-exorcist “Beetlejuice” to help them scare the family away. The Danny Elfman score for the film is also killer.


The Changeling
After the death of his wife and child, a composer moves to a secluded mansion, where he attracts the unwilling attention of a possible ghost. An underrated gem, with some scenes that inspired the director of the more recent The Conjuring.


The Conjuring

One of the best haunted house movies to come out in years, this 2013 film focuses on a family terrorized by a dark presence in the secluded farmhouse they just moved into.

The Evil Dead
Five college students vacationing in an isolated cabin in the Tennessee woods unwittingly resurrect malevolent demons and spirits.


The Haunting
Adapted from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, this psychological thriller tells the story of four people who come to a haunted house to study its supernatural phenomena—and may never leave.


House (1977)
After learning that she will be sharing the summer with her father’s new girlfriend, a young girl invites some friends to join her at her aunt’s house instead. With a sick aunt, a bloodthirsty cat, and evil spirits lurking around, the girls find that it might have been better to stay at home. A very weird, crazy film that is half horror, half dark humor.


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I’m not a Halloween fan in the least–come to think of it, I’m not a holiday fan at all. But since it’s nearing All Hallows Eve, I thought this post might create the appropriate atmosphere for the cold and dark season ahead.

My favorite scary stories are not the usual horror books about serial killers hidden somewhere in the house on a dark and stormy night with their horrifyingly graphic descriptions; you can read true crime that is scarier. But I do enjoy ghost stories, always have, even though they usually scare me to death. Here are my favorites.

  The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons. Stephen King put this on his list of best horror novels; I’m not a King reader (I could not finish The Shining, even in daytime, because I was just too scared). But unlike your typical haunted house story, this house is a newly-built house, not an ancient castle or creepy Victorian mansion. Nothing but tragedy touches the lives of the three different families who occupy the new house next door to Colquitt & Walter Kennedy and, as the horrors escalate, they decide to take matters into their own hands. Set in 1960s suburban Atlanta, this book grabbed me from beginning to end and I’ve re-read it several times since. Note: this is Siddons’ only horror novel; she usually writes genteel Southern fiction.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. A close friend of Charles Dickens, Collins wrote sensational fiction (a combination of mystery and suspense) and this is considered by many to be among the first mystery novels. A young art teacher, Walter Hartright, traveling to meet his new students, encounters a strange and mysterious woman in a graveyard dressed in white. When he tells his students, the Fairlie sisters, of his vision, he discovers they may have some connection and together they set out to solve the mystery.

  The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. I once took a film class in college and we watched Deborah Kerr in The Innocents, based on James’ eerie novella.  A lonely governess is employed by a wealthy man to take care of his niece and nephew in the isolated English countryside with the stipulation that she not bother him at all no matter what situations may occur. The children, Miles and Flora, seem to have been traumatized by the illicit behavior of the former governess and her lover, but her time there is spent keeping the children (and herself) safe from their presence of evil. Is it all in her head or are there really ghosts?

Julian’s House by Judith Hawkes. A newly married couple, professional parapsychologists, move into a Victorian mansion to  document supernatural sightings. What they don’t expect is that the hauntings will eerily coincide with their own fears and feelings, causing them to question themselves and their marriage. I enjoyed the descriptions of the field of parapsychology as well as the actual story.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. In 1972 Amsterdam, a teenage girl lives with her father, a history professor.  One day he disappears and, in her search for him, she discovers that he was engaged in the research (on vampires) of his former professor and mentor, who also mysteriously disappeared nearly twenty years before. In suspenseful and elegant language, Kostova takes you on a whirlwind search for truth amid a legend of horror and evil told in three time periods, across Eastern Europe, all in the quest for Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula. This book will be enjoyed by lovers of both literature and history, specifically the history of Dracula.

~Maria, who is already longing for spring and summer, seasons of light!


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Scary Haunted House Stories

When I was a boy, my great-grandmother filled my head with excellent ghost stories that she or someone she knew personally experienced. One, for instance, recalled the headless ghost that hid on the side of the road near her house –before the pavement, cars, and street lights– and jumped out at horse-drawn carriages as they drove past. It happened to a friend of hers one night.

But her best story was about the haunted house she lived in as a young girl.

It was on Farview Mountain, and it sat precariously close to the train tracks that carried coal down the mountain to the weigh station in Waymart, PA, my hometown. So close, in fact, that the sparks emitted from the train tracks would burn out right on their front yard. Other than that, everything about the house was quaintly normal when she and her parents first moved in.

And then the knocking started.

KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK. Always three knocks, never more nor less. It was impossible to know their origin; they echoed throughout the entire house. My great-great-grandmother, I was told, contemplated calling out “What do you want?!” to the knocker, but was too afraid she’d get an answer.

Then there was the blood on the basement stairs. Just a few drops, easy enough to clean up. But no matter how often and how hard they cleaned it, the blood would reappear.

My great-great-grandfather decided to investigate the origins of the specter. The locals hinted that a few years earlier two kidnappers on the run with their victim, an infant boy, broke into the house one night while it was vacant. They killed the boy there, and buried his body in the dirt basement. My great-great-grandfather dug up every square inch of the basement, but never found any bones.

Frustrated but not deterred by the disturbance, my great-grandmother and her family stayed in the house for a while. But then the knocking picked up in frequency –KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK, KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK– several times an hour, throughout the day and night. Eventually my great-great-grandfather had enough, packed his family’s bags, and moved into a new house that would one day become my childhood home.

Just a few days after my great-grandmother and her parents moved from the haunted house, a spark from a passing train landed on its front porch. The house caught fire, and burned to the ground in minutes. Much later, my great-grandmother heard a story that another house had earlier stood in the same spot. It also burned to the ground from a flying spark. Tragically, a school teacher lived in that house, and died in the blaze. Was the knocking the school teacher’s warning? That was my great-grandmother’s theory, though she never confirmed the story of the other house or the teacher’s death.

What is it about haunted house stories that people find so interesting? I think the answer lies in what makes scary stories in general appeal to so many people: the corruption of the safe and mundane. Whether it’s a serial murderer who invades the sanctity of summer camp“reliving” dead loved ones, or the invasion of one’s home by a ghostly presence, scary stories, whether told in books, films, or by great-grandmothers, create a version of the world that’s an easy escape from the banality of the day-to-day. At the same time, they help us appreciate the day-to-day by making us think “I’m glad that’s not me being chopped up” or “I’m glad my wife isn’t a zombie.”

Oh, and of course there’s always the awesome gore.

Regardless of what makes scary stories appealing, take a moment this Halloween to appreciate some. Here are some more good haunted house stories to get you started.

By the way, a few years ago I found the site where my great-grandmother’s haunted house once stood. The trains no longer run there, of course, but the tracks remain. And just beyond the lot where the house’s crumbling foundation peeks quietly from the ground, hidden amongst some brambles I found an old tombstone with a death’s head carving, and a barely discernable inscription that read “Ida May Smith, 1893-1915.” Ida May Smith was one of Waymart’s first school teachers…



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