When one thinks of haunted houses combined with a horror movie, one might think of the Conjuring house or maybe the iconic house in The Exorcist. However, for this article, actual haunted houses, attractions that one can go to and get scared by cheap costumes, and jump scares, are going to be featured. It’s a classic trope in the horror genre: a group of teenagers heading out to find the scariest and sketchiest haunted house they could find, leading them to torture, and death, usually ending with a lone survivor.
More recently, in the 2000s, there have been more movies with the plot following a group of friends heading out on a spooky holiday toward their doom inside a haunted house, or even a festival where things get even worse. Notably, these types of movies can be repetitive and predictable, but that’s what makes them so good. Viewers suspect how the movie is going to play out, but suddenly the film can take a bloody turn that no one suspects, and the twist changes things entirely. As October approaches, and some of the real haunts are becoming active, we’ll take a deep dive into this subgenre and see why it’s one of the timeless tropes in horror culture.
It’s Predictable but Unpredictable
In 2018, Hell Fest (very similar to Blood Fest) was released and took a different spin on how the film ended, and the direction it could go in from there. When a trio of girlfriends heads to Hell Fest in search of a fun night and terrifying scares, things take a bad turn when they start to get stalked by someone revealed as “The Other” by the end of the movie. Predictable things happen throughout the film, of course, but it’s the ending that gets viewers to feel unsettled, even after the movie is over.
It’s revealed that the “The Other” is a family man and husband, who goes to his nice home at the end of the film after killing a handful of people and returning to his life like nothing happened. The message of killers and creeps living amongst us in everyday life, is the point filmmakers try at and succeed at getting across, wanting the audience to feel uncomfortable in theaters as they look around at the strangers sitting next to them. Hell Fest plays into tropes, and going into it, viewers can most likely suspect what’s going to happen, who’s going to die, who’s going to be the last one standing, and who’s going to have the most traumatic story to tell, but the ending is where it trips people up.
Unlimited Jump Scares
Slasher film Haunt follows a group of friends who find an off-the-road sketchy haunted house, where they have to sign a waiver and hand over their phones before entering the rickety-looking establishment. Once inside, roles are immediately placed on the characters. Harper (Katie Stevens), is suspicious from the start but went because her friends convinced her. Nathan (Will Brittain), who’s underestimated at first but proves to be helpful in the end. Evan (Andrew Lewis Caldwell), who’s mostly there for comedic relief, and so on.
Besides the stereotypical roles placed on these characters and the many well-timed jump scares placed throughout the film, another common trope in these horror movies is the classic split-up of the group. Usually in the haunted house, they reach a crossroads where there are two possible paths to take, and instead of choosing just one to go down with the entire group, they split up. At this point, audiences suck their teeth and shake their heads, yelling at their screens to just “go together!” because now that they’re split up, they’ve just lowered their muscle power by a lot.
Moment of Realization
One of the best parts of a film based on a haunted house is the moment of realization for the characters when they figure out that they are in an actual house of torture, and not a fun place. Something might happen before the real discovery of where they are, something to make them slightly on edge and laugh nervously before moving on. Maybe one of the “actors” kills someone in front of them, and it looks a little too realistic, but they brush it off and keep moving. However, when the second killing happens, and perhaps it’s someone from the group, or the screams are too realistic, the facade of this haunted house crumbles, and they realize they are in actual danger.
Fear takes over the character’s face and the audience feels it. Hearts pound as the fact of the matter comes to light, and they’re going to have to fight their way out of the haunted attraction. Things get real very fast, and it’s always interesting to see who takes the lead. Characters you don’t expect coming forward and laying out a plan that usually gets only one or two people out in the end. It’s even better, though, when only one person realizes what’s happening, and they go to tell the group, and nobody believes them until another incident takes place.
Cellphones and Cameras Allowed
Up to this point, we’ve stayed within a structure-based subgenre of horror. You can predict what will happen if you identify enough elements, behaviors, and even the musical score that builds up when something’s about to happen. However, let’s leave formulas behind and enter found footage territory, where things are carefully planned, but don’t necessarily follow a usual structure. The haunted house setting then becomes improbable and unpredictable.
Films like Hell House LLC and The Houses October Built are each based on something different. Hell House LLC goes for the group of friends planning to put together a haunt in a supposedly haunted location (not a good idea), and The Houses October Built instead shows a group of friends on the hunt for the perfect haunt and encountering a sketchy group of people on the way.
Both films work, because they don’t use the haunted house setting to restrain the characters into a space where they will surely get scared. The haunts are no theme parks. They’re part of the American culture that drives hordes of people every year to get scared out of their wits. However, victims in these found footage films are not the usual. We won’t spoil more for you because they’re very good films to go blind into, and October is a great month to indulge in some haunted house horror.