Haunted House or House of Horror?

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One of the joys of writing a blog no one reads is I can ponder what I like. Something that has been on my mind a lot the past few months is why so many "haunts" are not actually haunt related.

For my own purposes, I would define "haunted" as not merely inhabited by ghosts, but also anything with a supernatural bent. Hallowe'en is, after all, supposed to be a night when the veil between the natural and supernatural is at its most permeable. Witches and necromancers are at the height of their power. The autumn moon can change a man into a wolf.

Cannibal hilbillies may be gross or even scary, but haunted? Not likely. There is nothing inherently supernatural about cannibal hillbillies. So I was wondering whence came the asylum, the mad butcher, the bio-terror experiment gone wrong? In keeping with a tradition as old as the internet, I formed a theory based on virtually no research. I think they stem from A) Horror Movies and B)the horror houses of carnivals and circuses.

These houses of horror mixed natural and supernatural horrors apparently at random. They might show monsters or witches or they might show a decapitation scene. People loved them and still do. These were year round shows, sometimes travelling and sometimes not. People paid to go in and be scared. It's very similar to haunts. I would go so far as to say most of the haunts out there are based on the layout and techniques of the horror houses.

I think that combining this influence with modern slasher horror has pushed more and more haunted houses away form the supernatural and into the merely perverse. Is it horror? Yes. Absolutely. Being captured, tortured, and eaten by Hellbillies is horrific. So is being trapped in an asylum or being chased by an alien. But there is nothing supernatural about it.

So what is a "haunted" house? In my mind, Disney's Haunted Mansion is, of course, truly haunted. The whole thing is about ghosts inhabiting and affecting the world. The now defunct House of Restless Spirits in Santa Monica is also entirely about ghosts haunting the house. If you get a chance to read the reviews you'll find everything from people amazed at how wonderful the experience was to "horror house" fans whining that "nothing happened". That's because you actually had to observe what was happening.
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I suspect Dark Hour Haunted House in Plano, TX is "haunted", because the whole story is about various witches summoning their forces and scaring the Hell out of people. Witches, demons, and conjured beasts definitely qualify as haunted.

I would say a Haunted Trail featuring ghosts and/or werewolves and/or witches/shamans/monsters is haunted. A haunted trail with escaped serial killers or clowns isn't really haunted, is it? A cornfield populated by supernaturally animated scarecrows is haunted for sure.

A mad scientist animating corpses may be using alchemy or science. Is that a haunt or a horror show? I think usually the latter, but again, is he using magic? Is he being guided or controlled by demons? As I recall the novel "That Hideous Strength", the scientists were truly evil, and believed they had reanimated a human head by their own processes. If that were true, it would be natural horror. I have no problem with shows where monsters are made by science.

They were, however, mere pawns being manipulated by their unseen master. That same master was also truly responsible for the horror they had created. So, mad scientists acting as a front for demons sounds like a haunted lab, not just a mad one.

If you think about the movie The Shining, it's definitely a haunted hotel. Still, there are scenes of murder. That's partly because it shows where the ghosts came from. It also shows there is an evil presence in the house causing horrible things. A haunt that shows murder, mayhem, and gore can still be "haunted" if, like the Shining, it all leads to (or is caused by) supernatural activity. Of course, if that activity is never shown, it is just a horror house again.

What does all this mean? Probably nothing really. There will always be "haunts" that show perfectly natural - if extraordinary - horror like slashers and chainsaw wielding maniacs. Horror houses will probably continue their slide toward torture houses such as the ones that have already popped up and been featured in sensationalist "documentaries".

My hope is there will also be room for the quiet (even not so quiet), creeping terror of being in a place occupied by entities from beyond the veil. Ghosts, demons, sorcerers, and monsters need not become passť. They do have to be created with style and, for lack of a better word, substance. It undoubtedly takes much more imagination than splattering blood on the wall or pushing people around. For that reason, supernatural haunts will always be in the minority. Doesn't that make them all the more worth doing?

Happy haunting!