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These Modern Horror Films Remind Us The Haunted House Is Just Metaphor For The Haunted Mind

Updated October 14, 2017 4.4k views10 items

Haunted house films, one of the horror genre's most beloved tropes, bring more to the table than just slammed doors, bleeding walls, and poltergeists galore. When you consider the implications of these homes and the people living in them, you begin to see a connection between the haunted houses and the psyche. Everyone experiences some sort of bump in the night. Dark closets, creaking floor boards, the vast universe of horror under the bed - all these feelings of being haunted stem from your mind and how it processes external stimulus, your emotions, and the unknown. Basically, many haunted houses feel haunted simply because you believe them to be. That's some American Gods realness right there.

Many of the best haunted house films tackle some spooky houses, but sometimes the house is just the surface of the thrill itself. As you dig deeper into certain films, you realize the haunted house acts as an embodiment of a character's insecurities, mental illnesses, and emotional toil. So the next time you fear you've stepped into a haunted house, just remind yourself the monsters aren't in the house: they're in your head!

  • The Babadook
    Photo: Causeway Films

    Based loosely on her short film Monster, screenwriter/director Jennifer Kent sends protagonist, Amelia (Essie Davis) on a mission to confront the loss of her husband. Through the help of her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), Amelia acknowledges and eventually confronts the existence of the nefarious creature who plagues them. When Kent set out to create The Babadook (2014), she wasn't looking to make a horror film. For her, the idea dictated the genre. "I wanted to talk about the need to face the darkness in ourselves and in our lives," Kent explains. "The horror is really just a byproduct." 

    "I try to face things," says Kent. "I know that there are people out there who don't do that, and I'm really fascinated by the idea of people who can suppress and hold onto things for many years, so that was kind of my entry point." 

    Kent wanted to show the audience a real feeling of despair many mothers face. In the film, Amelia celebrates her son's birthday, which falls on the same day her husband died in a car accident. In fact, it happened while the couple headed to the delivery room. Amelia must learn to acknowledge the ghost trapped in the basement of her mind, despite the advice from those who beg her to simply move on.

    "I wanted to show a real woman who was drowning in that environment...I've experienced a collective sigh of relief that women are seeing a mother up there that's human," says Kent

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  • The Shining
    Photo: Warner Bros.

    In this 1980 horror classic, struggling writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) must overcome his ghosts in an isolated hotel in Colorado. As hired groundskeeper, Jack hopes the isolation the hotel provides will cure his writer's block. When the supernatural begin to speak to his son and manipulate Jack's actions, the audience can't help but wonder if these ghosts are a part of Jack or something bigger.

    Although Stephen King believes he and the late screenwriter/director Stanley Kubrick view the film's plot differently, they are actually quite similar. "Stanley Kubrick saw the haunting as coming from Jack Torrance, from the Jack Nicholson character ... I always saw it from the outside," says King

    Kubrick's view changed as the story progressed. At first, he thought the haunting was caused from Jack's fractured imagination, but quickly found these manifestations took on a life of their own.

    "The way the story is written," said Kubrick, "you assume as you read it, that the things that are happening are probably going to be products of [Jack's] imagination. This allows you to start accepting them ... it isn't really until the bolt is open [when Jack escapes the locked freezer] that you're absolutely certain it isn't a product of his imagination."  

    The film warns of what happens when people repress their fear, and how this repression affects those around them. In this film, Jack's wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son, Danny (Danny Lloyd) were the one's who really suffered when Jack lost complete control. 

    At the very root of this story lies the demon of addiction, in this case alcoholism. "I was, after all, the guy who had written The Shining without even realizing that I was writing about myself," says King in his memoir, Stephen King on Writing. "It began to scream for help in the only way it knew how, through my fiction and through my monsters." 

  • The Amityville Horror
    Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

    Based on a true story told here, The Amityville Horror (1979) pushes audiences to wonder what actually happened at 112 Ocean Avenue when Ronald DeFeo, Jr. killed all six of his family members on Nov. 13, 1974.

    Did DeFeo suffer from some sort of mental illness, or was this murder caused by an evil spirit outside his mind and body? The world may never know as DeFeo is still in jail carrying out the six 25-years-to-life prison sentences he received. The world does know however that George and Kathy Lutz, the couple who moved into the house just after the tragedy, believe the house is haunted

    The Lutz family moved into the house with Kathy's three children from a previous marriage; they fled 28 days later. As a bit of background information, this house was the first one they lived together in, the first time George lived with Kathy's kids as their father figure. So everyone was under a lot of pressure at the time, and given the house's history, it's not difficult to see why they blamed the house for being haunted. But the likely explanation is that it wasn't haunted; they were just jittery about having a new family.

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  • The Conjuring
    Photo: New Line Cinema

    Speaking of Ed and Lorraine Warren, this 2013 film, The Conjuring, showcases some of the couple's most famous work that actually happened. In 1971, the Perron family asked the demonologist and clairvoyant rid their Connecticut farmhouse of paranormal entities. An increasingly aggressive spirit, a witch named Bathsheba, became so infatuated with the man of the household, Roger, that his wife Carolyn feared the spirit may try to possess her to get to him. Screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes saw this 'true' ghost story as an opportunity to promote their Christian faith and developed a plot line involving Bathsheba, the Perrons and the Warrens.

    Known for other horror stories, House of Wax (2005) and The Reaping (2007), the twin brother duo felt "Christian audiences [had] never really been delivered quality movies," "It was the story...we set out to write a story that we found so compelling." And that is just what the brothers did, but who was actually haunted here? The house or the people living within?

    Norma Sutcliffe and Gerry Helfrich, the present day owners of the house, say it's all a hoax and conducted extensive research at Town Hall to prove it. They've never experienced any paranormal activity and even sued Warner Bros. for creating the film. Bottom line? The people in the house, the Perrons and Warrens, believed the spirits to be real, so in some way, they were.

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