A house may not be considered a creature, although in some stories the house itself is a character, especially a haunted house. In this special feature, I’ll be discussing some of the various creatures that inhabit a house, from ghosts and poltergeists to witches and demons, and even a living house itself!
Ghosts are the spirits of the deceased and come in different forms, from a light mist of ectoplasm to an image so fully formed you think there’s a real live person there. When one thinks of a haunted house, this is probably the first suspect that comes to mind. There are many types of ghosts, including shadow people and, far worse, the poltergeist.
Any paranormal investigation show will probably reveal some evidence of ghosts – drained batteries that suggest spirits use the electrical energy to communicate, cold temperature readings in certain parts of the house, video clips and photographs showing a faint outline of a person. These tend to be more peaceful spirits who only want to communicate.
There is a large list of ghost films, probably the most famous story being Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, featuring ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future (the latter coincidently having a strange resemblance to Death). You see quite a few ghosts in Harry Potter as well – Nearly Headless Nick, Moaning Myrtle, and the fearsome Bloody Baron to name a few. In Scooby Doo on Zombie Island, the gang come face to face with real ghosts (for once) who were trying to save them from the evil cat creatures set on stealing their life force. Casper (1995) or any movie featuring Casper, the Friendly Ghost, also portrays ghosts as peaceful entities. Oh course, there’s also the Ghostly Trio who scare people at every opportunity, but they never hurt anyone. Despite this, ghosts are often portrayed as being scary or bad, as in the following films:
- The Others (2001)
- The Haunted Mansion (2003)
- The Grudge (2004)
- Haunting of Winchester House (2009)
- The Innkeepers (2011)
- The Woman in Black (2012)
They could be hallucinations caused by sleep deprivation. Or they could be real living shadows that take on a human-like form. There are different theories as to what these entities are besides a shadow, such as a manifestation of a demon, a ghost, a time-traveller, or an interdimensional being. They are usually tall and often appear to be wearing a tophat. According to the Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World, Vol. 3, the Albanian belief is that shadows become their own entity set on killing people. Let’s hope the shadow people who haunt houses aren’t so bad.
Unlike demons, shadow people are quiet. The only way you would know they were there is if you saw them. Long Island Paranormal Investigators suggest shadow people disappear when seen. They’re fast and can walk through walls, and apparently are camera-shy. Apparently this type of ghost is curious and would rather watch us than harm us. In movies, the big bucks are in scaring people, so shadow people are portrayed a little bit differently, as in these:
- Shadow People (2013)
- The Nightmare (2015) – in which sleep deprivation may create hallucinations mistaken for shadow people
- The Shadow People (2017)
In “Silence in the Library”, Season 4, Episode 8 of Doctor Who, the shadows are actually an alien race called the vashta nerada, which translates to “the shadows that melt the flesh”. They are a swarm of carnivorous creatures which live in the shadows and devour flesh. Not quite Shadow People, but they are still shadows that are creepy af.
Unlike our shadow friends, you may not see poltergeists but you can certainly hear them. If you go into an empty house and hear banging or see objects, even heavy ones, move seemingly of their own accord, that house probably has a poltergeist. These are malevolent spirits which sometimes even resort to scratching, tripping, and other physical forms of abuse on visitors of their haunts. Remember the 1982 film Poltergeist? Maybe not to the extreme of sucking a child into its world and having creepy clowns pull you under the bed, but there are enough tactics to scare anyone.
He’s left out of the movies, but in the Harry Potter series, one of the most trouble-making characters is Peeves the Poltergeist. He likes to make fun of the students, throw things at them, and just cause general mayhem. Interestingly the only thing he’s frightened of is the Bloody Baron ghost.
Some other notable poltergeist films are:
- Poltergeist II and III, the sequels to the 1982 Poltergeist film mentioned above
- Beetlejuice (1988) – he doesn’t seem as harmful as other poltergeists, but he certainly is trouble.
Some of the movies that center around a “ghost” that is vengeful or causes harm to those who enter it’s haunt may also be a poltergeist, or they could be far more dangerous and scary.
Demons and Devils
In folklore, devils are cloven-hoofed and have horns on their heads, much like a satyr. In fact, according to a theory I found here, the Greek God Pan (a satyr) was seen as a threat to the Christian Church and devilized. According to Long Island Paranormal Investigators, demons are disfigured humanoid creatures. Something will be wrong with them – they’ll be missing a limb or have a twisted face, but other than that they will look similar to us.
When a house is haunted by a demon, you won’t always see it. So how do you know? In an article I found, police were investigating a house that was purportedly haunted and confirmed there was demonic activity in it. One family heard growls and other strange noises, and found strange drawings on the walls. The main part of a demonic haunting is possession – it will try to take over someone’s body. Like in Amityville Horror when SPOILER ALERT! the husband tries to kill his own family because he becomes possessed. Some other good examples are:
- The Exorcist (1973)
- The Entity (1998)
- The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
- Requiem (2006)
- Paranormal Activity (2007) and its sequels
- The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)
- The Last Exorcism (2010)
- The Possession (2012)
- Sinister (2012)
- The Entity (2015)
So it would seem that really evil demon hauntings in films largely involve exorcisms to rid the body of the invader.
Okay, so it’s technically the ghost of witches that haunt houses, but these ghoulish gals should be classified as a separate haunting entity because of their unique powers. The Bell Witch is the most famous witch haunting, with testimony of a being capable of speaking, changing forms, affecting the environment, being in multiple places at the same time or moving with incredible speed, and having the power of prophecy. Like with poltergeists and demons, people hear knocking noises in the Bell Witch House.
Many movies featuring a witch haunting focus on the Bell Witch:
- An American Haunting (2005)
- The Bell Witch Haunting (2013)
- Bell Witch: The Movie (2007)
- Bell Witch Haunting (2004)
Here are some that don’t focus on the Bell Witch (although some may have been inspired by it):
- Scooby Doo and the Witch’s Ghost (1999)
- The Blair Witch Project (1999)
- ParaNorman (2012)
- The Conjuring (2013)
- Blair Witch (2016)
Haunted House as a Character
It was extremely difficult to find any stories in which the house itself was a character. The closest I got was the 2006 movie Monster House in which the house is discovered to be a monster. In “The Doctor’s Wife”, Series 6, Episode 4 of Doctor Who, the Doctor and his companions Amy Pond and Rory Williams land on a planet outside of the universe. The “planet” is discovered to be a being called “House”, an urchin who traps Time Lords and feeds off their TARDIS’s energy. He traps Amy and Rory inside of himself and they have to get to the right room to defeat him, making their way through a maze of horrors including being separated from each other.
Clearly there need to be more haunted houses in which the house itself is a character. How would your characters be able to escape? What is the house’s weakness? Is the house really a monster who can turn itself into a house to trap people?
How do you tell what’s haunting a house anyway? Paranormal investigators seem to catch evidence of ghosts that are generally non-violent. But what if they’re inside a house haunted by a demon? How would the demon use the investigators – would it possess one of them and tell them to leave? Or would it make someone kill everyone on their team?
One of the theories of Shadow People is that they are interdimensional travelers. In Season 7, Episode 10 of Doctor Who, “Hide”, that is what happens. But in that case the “ghost” was good. What if the story goes in a different direction? For example, what if someone wanted to conquer the other dimensions, starting with haunting a house and the fear they create there makes them more powerful and corporeal?
The possibilities of ghost stories are endless! Comment with more ideas and feel free to share your stories with us!