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Horror Films: Too Close to Home: The Terrifying Role of Houses in Horror Films

Each trailer for a horror movie seems to follow the same storyline: Someone dies in a home; an ordinary family moves into the house; there is a spirit in the basement; the children are possessed and the family can’t leave the property as it ‘will just follow them. This storyline is consistent despite horror movies attempting to follow it. The house has played a terrifying and vital role in horror movies from the very beginning to the most recent. 

What is it that makes a horror home so frightening? Where are you most likely watch a horror film? You can watch horror movies in the comfort of your own home. You can snuggle up next to your partner in bed and wrap yourself up under a blanket. You can watch them all by yourself. It doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that the victims are just ordinary people living in an ordinary home. Your bedroom suddenly feels less comfortable and the coat hanging from your back door begins to look suspiciously similar to the Woman wearing Black

Horror movies still use horror house settings because it forces us to step outside of our comfort zones and invades our privacy. The horror house is created by exposing the audience to fear and insecurity. Although the original haunted house idea was presented as a fantasy, homes that are riddled with supernatural elements would appear to be more realistic. Modern horrors, however, tend to look more like a normal suburban home, occupied by a typical family. All of this brings the horror closer to home.

The suburban home, unlike the haunted house of the Gothic, projects a sense of security and recognition. It is a place we can all feel safe in, far from the chaos of the big city. Leonard Maltin, a film historian suggests that it’s not what you see but what you fear or think you might eventually see that creates a frightening sense of trepidation as the audience anticipates such a disruption to normality.

Fear is not just a result of the suburban environment being unsafe and familiar. It’s also the deeper meaning of many horror films, including their criticism of modern anxieties. These contemporary issues are used as symbols to represent the horror house, which reveals the dark realities of our existence.

This is evident in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980). It uses the structure of a normal family living in an average house (or in this instance, a hotel) and makes use of these features. These eerie hotel features serve a purpose beyond being creepy. According to Robert Levin, the features are manifestations of Torrance’s mind, as it rots among frustrations like writer’s block and isolation as well as an unhappy marriage. Jack’s thoughts are reflected in the hotel. It acts as a troubling reminder of the fragility and transience of success and that so many of our lives are out of our control.

Despite being decades old, the haunted house still evokes fear and addresses modern problems. Get Out (2018) is a recent example. The movie uses the familiar family suburban home as a backdrop to reveal the horrors and dark truths of racism. Chris, the protagonist, is referring to slave labor when he uses cotton to resist Missy’s hypnosis. Notably, the Armitage family is not the victim in this movie, but rather the villains. The movie’s deeper meaning is revealed to the viewers by the familiarity of the Armitage suburban estate and this shift in perspective. This is because ordinary people like us are the reason we resist forward progress and allow racism to thrive in today’s society.

The haunted home is a well-known concept that still generates fear in audiences. Maltin explains that ‘it doesn’t take much to make people scared inside a haunted home’. Whether it’s the creak of a floorboard or a bump in a night, ‘all you need is an indication, belief, or suspicion that something is there. The haunted house archetype is still feared by modern audiences. The latest wave of horror movies set in suburban homes creates a new type of fear. It is true that the invasion of our security and our home, along with the movie’s deeper, darker hidden meanings, reminds us that there are not only outside forces to be afraid of, but our inner fears, read more.

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