The Enduring Appeal of the Haunted House

haunted house The Enduring Appeal of the Haunted House

Imagine having that much space!

In New York, there’s not enough room for the living, never mind the dead, but we still thrill to the idea of a haunted house. It sounds so exotic! Having a whole house to oneself and a few ghosts? What a dream! Even the demons on 666 Park Avenue don’t look so bad compared to some roommates.

And yet, it’s a little odd, in these days of torture porn and terrorism that we still find the idea of mysterious footsteps and suspiciously cold rooms so riveting, as a “paean to the haunted house” in today’s The New York Times points out. Things that go bump in the night seem kind of 19th century, frankly.

But find them riveting we do, as least if box office revenues over the last four decades are any indication: from The Amityville Horror and The Shining to the fourth Paranormal Activity, which was the box office winner last weekend. (Why Americans would pay money to watch yet another grainy, slow moving film about home videos revealing the existence of a haunting is beyond us).

“Compared to a typical horror movie, where guts spill out, you’d think it would take a lot to shock people,” writer and director Oren Peli told The Times. “But the gasping confirms that any kind of evidence that something is inside your house is a very unsettling feeling.”

Which gets to the bottom of our ongoing love of haunted house stories—there’s something deeply eerie about the idea of an unfamiliar and possibly malevolent presence in one’s safe haven.

“That’s your sanctuary,” University of Kansas media studies professor John Tibbetts told The Times. “When that barrier is breached, you’ve had it.”

Alas, for those of us who live in the city, spooky sounds emanating from the walls are most likely the neighbors watching TV. Which is part of what makes horror movies such fun to watch in the first place—most New Yorkers won’t be going back to big, empty houses and they certainly won’t find themselves in a big, empty house way out in the country. Bedbugs the movie, on the other hand, is going to be truly terrifying. Especially because you could, potentially pick the critters up when you go out to see it.

kvelsey@observer.com