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Home is where the horror is
by T.J. Tranchell

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No way, Mom! I am not cleaning that up.

No way, Mom! I am not cleaning that up.
I want you to tell me a haunted house story. Don't start with "there was this family" or "this group of people got together" or anything like that. Don't take too long.

You can't do it, can you? I couldn't either. I could not think of one haunted house story, novel or film that didn't involve a family or group of some kind. There is a simple explanation for this: it would be boring.

Imagine it, if you will. One person, alone in a house, all manner of supernatural activity occurring, ghosts aplenty and ... what? Where's the drama? The house drives the one person bonkers and he or she is just another ghost. Boring.

When you get more than one person, say, a struggling family with a diverse range of weaknesses to exploit, and throw them in with poltergeists, well, now you are cooking. That is where the magic happens.

So a film like THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT relies on the unity and hardships of the family to succeed. If we believe in the family, we can believe in the ghosts. The other class of haunted house movies, the random group brought together for various reasons kind, lacks that immediate bond and are rarely as satisfying. There are superior examples, though. Robert Wise's THE HAUNTING stands as the epitome of the subgenre. Too bad its modern remake
OMG! Can you believe how bad the remake of this movie was?

OMG! Can you believe how bad the remake of this movie was?
with an all-star cast can't have been locked away like a dirty secret, never to be seen again.

The random group movies spend too much time with quirky connections to be truly satisfying. The groups are never completely random. The participants are brought together because some psychic researcher wishes to exploit their gifts (THE HAUNTING, ROSE RED) or because they all have secret needs from one person (THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL). These films attempt to offer a broad range of characters so that audiences can choose with whom to identify. The filmmakers seem to miss the key point of the family-oriented haunted house. Everyone has a family, or at least knows one.

This is why movies like THE OTHERS and THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT can succeed with little to none of the tricks other horror movies use. At the very center of these films is the ideal of the family unit and how outside forces break apart families. This is also why the best of the group-oriented haunted house movies were made in the 1950s and '60s. Hollywood had not yet approached the taboos of divorce, abuse, and alcoholism in its horror films. The monsters were still out there, ready to be met by explorers into the unknown. Once Hollywood broke through and realized all the worst of the monsters
What's that? You wouldn't like to hear the good word today? Why not?

What's that? You wouldn't like to hear the good word today? Why not?
were inside the home, they didn't need to throw together groups of strangers who just needed to survive one night. They had everything they needed in the modern American family who had to stay because they couldn't afford to move.

Of course, Hollywood is nothing if not original. This is why screenwriters and producers scoured newspapers and books for "true stories" to turn into movies. In the process creating a stew of conventions no haunted house story would be complete without.

Was your house built over a cemetery, preferably a Native American burial ground? Congratulations, your house is probably haunted.

Did the previous inhabitants of your house die in a gruesome manner, perhaps at the hands of another family member? Better move, your house is haunted, too.

Were any sort of strange rituals performed in the home, including but not limited to, seances, exorcisms, torturing of witches/pagans, sacrifices to the devil, or voodoo? Yeah, you should have U-Haul on speed dial because you may need to leave your house in hurry. Before it collapses into the tainted ground it stands on.

Then again, none of that matters until just the right family moves in and is ready to confront the ghosts. If we learn nothing else from movies like THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and
Do you think Margo Kidder remembers this? What, too soon?

Do you think Margo Kidder remembers this? What, too soon?
POLTERGEIST, we should at least know that blended families with alcoholic dads will always be driven apart (usually with sharp objects) and that young families with cute little blonde girls tend to attract the wrong crowd.

Speaking of POLTERGEIST, is anyone else as surprised as I am that the preacher-ghost wanted poor little Carol Anne and not her brother? Must not have been Catholic.

That's the other thing: You rarely see a truly weak family at the center of one of these movies. They always pull together at the end and somehow make it through. Especially if there's going to be a sequel. Also just as rare is the family that stays in the house after everything happens, even if they "win." Who'd want to stay in a place where chairs stack themselves and the trees are alive? In the case of THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT, the house gets burned down, so the family couldn't stay if they wanted to.

Besides, the main kid's cancer gets cured anyway, so there's no reason for them to stay in Connecticut.

Did I ruin the ending for you? Worry not, you can catch it all again on The Discovery Channel or on DVD soon. After all, it is a true story. They have the whole family ready to back it up. Because that is what families do and it takes a lot of ghosts to break that apart.

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The Show Begins at 10:31.
Every other Friday

Take my hand and follow me to the darkest corners of the theater. All your favorite monsters, psychos and masked killers are here, waiting for you to say hello.

Other Columns
Other columns by T.J. Tranchell:

Feeling (Rob) Zombie-fied

Hit the road, Jack

Camcorder Carnage

The scariest movie of all time

Universal's forgotten fiend

All Columns

T.J. Tranchell
Born on Halloween and raised in a single screen theater managed by his grandpa, T.J. now spends more time than should be healthy staying up past midnight reading Stephen King and watching Friday the 13th movies. Part 3 is the best one.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to T.J. Tranchell by clicking here.

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