By: Meagan Navarro ……
Haunted houses tend to adhere to a familiar formula. Characters get terrorized by paranormal activity within their home or current dwelling, and fleeing rarely is as easy as it sounds. The haunting is usually caused by an unspeakable tragedy that occurred years ago or an inciting event that disturbs the dead, prompting them to unleash pent-up rage. It’s a solid foundation that leaves plenty of room for reinvention and reinterpretation, stretching the limits of a haunted house.
It’s often a simple location change; The Shining and 1408 terrorized a hotel, and Death Spa unleashed supernatural mayhem in a health club. Sometimes it’s the reveal that the protagonists were the ghosts all along. And other retooled haunted house movies toy with the reason behind the haunting, like the entity lurking within the boardinghouse of No One Gets Out Alive.
With The Deep House taking you into an underwater haunted house this weekend, these other ten atypical haunted house horror movies similarly find unique ways to test the haunted house format and try something new.
Adapted from a novel and brought to life by horror TV master Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker), many of the familiar tropes in haunted house horror took their cues from this one. The Rolf family gets an opportunity to trade their cramped New York apartment for a mansion on the cheap for summer vacation. The only caveat to the low rental fee is that they must consent to bring the owners’ elderly mother three meals a day up in the attic room. But despite the familiarity with modern haunted house fare as we know it, Burnt Offerings presents a unique haunted house. When most haunted house movies focus on ghosts, Burnt Offerings gives its house life as it feeds off tenants.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe
What if a haunted house was portable? That idea has been explored many times before through cursed objects, like Annabelle, Oculus, or any number of Amityville sequels. But The Autopsy of Jane Doe takes it to a whole new level, with a restless, wrathful spirit trapped within a body. Wherever Jane Doe goes, a new haunted house is born as she transforms her current resting place into a waking nightmare for those around her. In this instance, a local morgue becomes ground zero for paranormal activity that terrorizes a father and son duo.
Caity Lotz stars as Annie, a woman still struggling in the wake of her mother’s death. She returns to her childhood home once her sister goes missing, and uncovering the truth behind it becomes all the more terrifying when an unseen presence haunts her. Writer/Director Nicholas McCarthy’s feature debut sets up this horror mystery as a straightforward haunted house, but the truth is far more unsettling. Sometimes, a haunted house isn’t at all what you expect.
The House at the End of Time
The passage of time proves key when unlocking the supernatural mystery driving this spooky haunter. In 1981, a strange paranormal phenomenon caused a devastating tragedy that left Dulce implicated in the murder of her husband and her son marked as missing. Thirty years later, Dulce returns home on house arrest, allowing her to discover the truth behind the events that derailed her life. A heartfelt story of familial love wrapped up in a fresh take on a haunted house story from writer/director Alejandro Hidalgo in his directorial debut. Dulce’s house is indeed haunted, but not by ghosts.
Ju-On: The Grudge
The third entry in Takashi Shimizu’s terrifying franchise introduced Kayako and her equally terrifying son Toshio to international audiences. Kayako and Toshio suffered horrible deaths, and their pain manifested in the form of vengeful spirits. While most haunted houses bear the imprint of past traumas through their ghostly residences, Ju-On takes it further by ensuring that the house is irrevocably cursed. Where most haunted house movies end the moment its protagonists leave, Ju-on begins; the moment you step inside, the haunting follows you home until it kills you.
In horror, sometimes the perfect home chooses you. For Allison Parker, a desire to strike out on her own finds her in a gorgeous Brooklyn brownstone that’s been converted into apartments. It’s a fantastic piece of real estate, but the place is packed with bizarre neighbors and strange activity. Allison soon finds herself haunted by both memories and unwanted visitors. Eventually, though, poor Allison discovers that she didn’t choose the apartment – the denizens of the building chose her. The sinister evil of the place has a specific purpose in mind for her. Religious horror collides with haunted house fare in an unusual way. The haunted house tropes are there, but it’s Catholicism, sin, and a gateway to Hell that dooms its characters.
The ill-fated crew of the Lewis and Clark spaceship gets sent to answer a distress call from the Event Horizon near Neptune in 2047 after it’d been missing for seven years. They soon discover that the ship went to Hell and back, literally, and it’s gained sentience. It’s a haunted house movie, ghostly machinations, tropes, and all, but set in deep space. Laurence Fishburne leads as Captain Miller, but Sam Neill steals the film as the Event Horizon’s designer turned evil villain. Where we’re going, we won’t need eyes to see.
Natalie Erika James’s feature debut uses the haunted house framework to relay an eerie, melancholy rumination on dementia’s devastating effects on the afflicted and their loved ones. When Edna (Robyn Nevin) mysteriously goes missing, Kay (Emily Mortimer) and her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) arrive at her home to find her. Edna pops back up without a hint of where’s she’s been, though there’s something off about her mental state. Worse, she seems to have brought something back with her. James isn’t interested in hand-holding audiences through her evocative and metaphorical tale that relays Edna’s deterioration through a crumbling house that becomes a horrifying maze.
A haunting portrayal of a family coping with loss after the drowning of 16-year-old Alice during a lake outing leads to some unexpected discoveries about the daughter and sister the family thought they knew. Handled mockumentary style, Lake Mungo uses interviews with the family to help piece together the puzzle of Alice’s secretive life after they suspect she’s haunting their home. It’s not the mockumentary format that makes this one unconventional, but the sharp twists throughout that cause you to question whether Alice is haunting the house or if the family is just haunted by grief. The ultimate answer will break your heart.
Or simply House, this Japanese cult classic takes the haunted house concept to wacky extremes. The premise has a group of seven high school girls traveling to a remote home belonging to one of their aunts, and it happens to be haunted. That doesn’t adequately prepare the viewer for the madness within. Take the haunted house tropes, like spooky cats, bleeding walls, and vengeful ghosts, and combine it all with psychedelic visuals and funhouse sensibilities. You have the most bizarre haunted house horror movie you’ll ever see in the best way possible. There’s no predicting the madness here.