Haunted Houses?

By: Gina Brandolino

I think my favorite kind of horror story is a ghost story, and of ghost stories, I like those about haunted houses the best. (Indeed, as I type this, I have just finished watching a trailer my former student Josh Kim sent me for the new movie The Conjuring.) I have long wondered if there is a way to make a unit for this course that is made up of just stories about haunted houses–what that unit would query; what it would reveal about how horror in general, and haunting in particular, works.

The list below of possible texts for this unit includes many stories I have taught in this course in the past or am teaching right now; it also includes one story I have avoided for a while because I know it will scare me.  Can you recommend others?

  • The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson, a book I have been too terrified to read my whole life (and I haven’t seen the movie, either), though I now own it and am working my way up to it.
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, a story about a ghost hunter who convinces some people to inhabit a haunted house so that he can study it with their help.
  • Henry James’s novella The Turn of the Screwin which a young governess is the sole witness to two ghosts, if we believe her story.
  • “Stone Animals” by Kelly Link, recommended to my by my friends Ray McDaniel and Perry Janes. The house is definitely a problem in this story, but then so are the hundreds of rabbits that turn up in the front yard and just stare at the house every night.  Just stare!
  • The great novel Beloved by Toni Morrison.  One might argue that calling this a story about a haunted house minimizes the important cultural and historic messages it conveys, but I think the haunting is one of the ways–indeed, perhaps the single-most important way–the novel conveys these messages.  And it’s just a great book; it’s hands-down my favorite novel.
  • Orphanage, a fantastically creepy Spanish film about a haunted orphanage which has the most delightful ending I have ever encountered in any horror story.
  • Poltergeist, the fantastic film featuring the Freeling family–and especially Carol Anne, the youngest daughter who is abducted by spirits and held captive in the bowels of the house.
  • The short poem “Schizophrenia” by Jim Stevens, in which a personified house seems to take on the characteristics of its dysfunctional family.
  • I think it might be nice to spend some time looking at stories collected by ghost hunters in this unit, too.  I am sure there are lots of sites one could visit, but the one I am most familiar with is Allegheny Mountain Ghost Hunters, which I found thanks to Laurel Johnson Black.
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