With only days until the release of THE WOMAN IN BLACK: ANGEL OF DEATH, Hammer runs down a list of the most hair-raising haunted houses in literature!
From – The Woman in Black by Susan Hill; The Woman in Black: Angel of Death by Martyn Waites
“Then, as it was so bright that it hurt my eyes to go on staring at it, I looked up ahead and saw, as if rising out of the water itself, a tall, gaunt house of gray stone with a slate roof, that now gleamed steelily in the light”. (5.6)
Background: As the Hammer sequel is being released in a mere couple of weeks, we thought we’d begin this list with the grim manor house of Susan Hill’s THE WOMAN IN BLACK. Situated on the outskirts of the creepy North-Eastern town Crythin Gifford, Eel Marsh House sprouts from the sodden marshland like a giant grey weed, a gnarled mass of poison roots stuck deep in past tragedy.
The Evil Inside: Staring children’s toys, bloody messages and a possessed rocking chair are just the start when you arrive at Eel Marsh House. Stay the night and you’ll undoubtedly witness the terrifying spectre of Jennet Humfrye (a tragic once-mother who was forced to watch from her bedroom while her son drowned in the nearby marsh) haunting the house’s many dark spaces. If this wasn’t terrifying enough, each sighting of Humfrye’s spirit is followed by the horrific death of a local child. Trip Advisor: 2 stars.
From – The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe
“During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was–but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit.”
Background: With no defined time and place to tie the House of Usher to, there is an unsettling vagueness permeating this Edgar Allen Poe short story about a sentient house stripping two twins of their own sanity.
The Evil Inside: There’s a suggestion that the foreboding House of Usher is conscious, and somehow responsible for the poor mental health of its twin inhabitants Roderick and Madeline. This psychological sickness gradually becomes physical until Madeline apparently ‘dies’, and Roderick- under the influence of the House?- convinces the narrator to help entomb her. Needless to say that isn’t the end of the tale. Cue undead visitations, supernaturally-charged implosions and a last minute escape.
From- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
“Shaking my hair from my eyes, I lifted my head and tried to look boldly round the dark room: at this moment a light gleamed on the wall. Was it, I asked myself, a ray from the moon penetrating some aperture in the blind? No; moonlight was still, and this stirred; while I gazed, it glided up to the ceiling and quivered over my head. I can now conjecture readily that this streak of light was, in all likelihood, a gleam from a lantern, carried by some one across the lawn: but then, prepared as my mind was for horror, shaken as my nerves were by agitation, I thought the swift-darting beam was a herald of some coming vision from another world. My heart beat thick, my head grew hot; a sound filled my ears, which I deemed the rushing of wings: something seemed near me; I was oppressed, suffocated: endurance broke down – I uttered a wild, involuntary cry – I rushed to the door and shook the lock in a desperate effort.” (1.2.32)
Background: Belonging to wealthy Mr Rochester, the melancholy Thornfield Hall becomes home to Ms Eyre after her successful application to become the mansion’s governess.
The Evil Inside: Long hallways, unused rooms, phantom presences and ghostly laughter at night, the haunted Thornfield Hall reflects Rochester’s inner emotional turmoil.
From – The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
“There are things in that paper which nobody knows but me, or ever will. Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same shape, only very numerous.
“And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. I don’t like it a bit. I wonder—I begin to think—I wish John would take me away from here!”
Background: A colonial mansion in New England, in whose upstairs bedroom the narrator is locked up by her physician husband under the pretext of helping recover her mental health. Due to the claustrophobic bedroom, the narrator’s misdiagnosed post-natal depression and her husband’s lack of genuine sympathy throughout, this confinement has the opposite effect. And there may be somebody hiding in the wallpaper…
The Evil Inside: Hideous, hypnotising, eponymous mustard wallpaper, inside which the narrator spies another world, and another woman who she tries to set free. A malevolent force, or a woman’s descent into madness?
From- Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
“The house was a sepulchre, our fear and suffering lay buried in the ruins. There would be no resurrection” (1.12).
Background: A remote Cornish manor which the narrator remembers from her younger life, the ‘haunting’ of Manderley is more emotional rather than supernatural.
What you’ll find inside: A dark cloud hangs over Manderley Hall and inhabitants Maxim de Winter and his young wife, the story’s nameless heroine. For De Winter’s first wife Rebecca tragically died nearby in a boating accident, and thanks to Manderley servant Mrs Danvers’ reverential comments about her former mistress and our fragile heroine’s own insecurities, the perfect memory of Rebecca still haunts the house. This unbeatable perfection almost causes the heroine to kill herself, until a shocking revelation stops her…
From- The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
‘”What are ye doing?” cried Manfred, wrathfully: “Where is my son?” A volley of voices replied, “Oh, my lord! the prince! the prince! the helmet! the helmet!” Shocked with these lamentable sounds, and dreading he knew not what, he advanced hastily–But what a sight for a father’s eyes!–He beheld his child dashed to pieces, and almost buried under an enormous helmet, an hundred times more large than any casque ever made for human being, and shaded with a proportionable quantity of black feathers.’
Background: The setting for the first recognised Gothic novel, this eponymous castle is all ancient supernatural and epic tragedy.
The Evil Inside: Tragic deaths, talking paintings, fateful prophesies and bleeding statues; all the ingredients for a classical haunting.
From The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
“Here then at long last is my darkness. No cry of light, no glimmer, not even the faintest shard of hope to break free across the hold.”
Background: A building whose inside measures 3 ¼ inches longer than the exterior, the house of the title is the site of a number of strange metaphysical occurrences.
What you’ll find inside: Mysterious 10ft hallways which appear seemingly out of thin air; vast, anomalous, periodically rearranging and expanding rooms full of darkness, and documentary-making inhabitants whose hold on reality is unravelling by the minute. As the audience reads on, even the pages begin to be manipulated by this strange presence…
From- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
Background: An 80 year old mansion which has a tendency to get a bit killy with its inhabitants.
What you’ll find inside: Mysterious writing on walls, phantom-like presences, and a central character who is either descending into madness, or slowly being ‘taken’ by the house. The malevolent presence of the story is never fully revealed to the reader, and even by the end a question remains over the reality of the force…
From- The Shining by Stephen King
‘“Any big hotels have got scandals,” he said. “Just like every big hotel has got a ghost. Why? Hell, people come and go. Sometimes one of em will pop off in his room, heart attack or stroke or something like that. Hotels are superstitious places. No thirteenth floor or room thirteen, no mirrors on the back of the door you come in through, stuff like that. […]”’
Background: A vast, labyrinthine hotel dwarfed by the surrounding Colorado Rockies, The Overlook has been the site of a number of questionable deaths over the years.
What you’ll find inside: A varied array of ghostly visions and horrific scenes await winter caretaker Jack Torrance and his family upon their arrival at Overlook. With Jack’s son being possessed with telepathic powers, and the incresingly unstable Jack himself enjoying frequent encounters with ghosts from his and the hotel’s past, there are dark things afoot in this North American retreat. And don’t get us started on room 217…
From- The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
“I have not seen Bly since the day I left it, and I daresay that to my older and more informed eyes it would now appear sufficiently contracted. But as my little conductress, with her hair of gold and her frock of blue, danced before me round corners and pattered down passages, I had the view of a castle of romance inhabited by a rosy sprite, such a place as would somehow, for diversion of the young idea, take all color out of storybooks and fairytales. Wasn’t it just a storybook over which I had fallen adoze and adream? No; it was a big, ugly, antique, but convenient house, embodying a few features of a building still older, half-replaced and half-utilized, in which I had the fancy of our being almost as lost as a handful of passengers in a great drifting ship. Well, I was, strangely, at the helm!” (1.9)
Background- Bly is a remote English country estate where a young governess takes a job caring for the nephew and niece of an odd, unnamed man. At first tranquil and idyllic to the governess, Bly slowly grows more tense and claustrophobic as events unfold.
What you’ll find inside- Aside from the slightly-too-lovely children in the governess’ care, there is the small matter of the ghosts of two former servants (and potential child molestors), who appear in increasingly threatening ways. How much do the children really know, and is there a chance they’re actually helping the two ghosts?
My life as a fan of horror can be neatly divided into two parts.