It’s that time of year again when we start reading spooky stories and nothing is as iconic as the classic haunted house story. The settings for these can take many forms from old mansions to haunted hotels, railroads, islands, lighthouses, theatres and any number of venues where ghosts might tether themselves.
Haunted house stories enjoyed a surge in popularity in the early twentieth century, especially ‘Dark House’ stories like Benighted by J.B. Priestly, which was written in 1927 and later adapted to a movie called The Old Dark House (1932). These stories follow a general pattern whereby a group of people are lured to a house or find it on a dark and stormy night and find themselves temporarily stuck together in a spooky house where weird happenings and usually mysterious deaths occur.
The form was satirised in the movie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) when newly engaged couple Brad and Janet get a flat tire on a stormy night and come across a castle in Midwest U.S.A. with a weird host of characters.
Other haunted house stories have become iconic over the years, like The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959) and The Secret of Crickley Hall by James Herbert (2006), both also made into films.
The trend has continued into the present and haunted house stories of one form or another are popular choices on Amazon’s top seller lists. In fact, there are a few authors who appear to make their entire careers through series of haunted house stories. Some of these are rather good in my humble opinion. For example, Berkley Street by Ron Ripley I found particularly original and well-written.
Many more are lesser known but just as good. Two of my personal favourites are Ghost Story by Jeff Brackett and A Halloween Tale by Austin Crawley. Both of these are well-written and novella length, just perfect for a quick Halloween read. A Halloween Tale is particularly interesting for the variety of ‘spirits’ that appear according to the cultural backgrounds of the diverse characters.
I do find it amazing, considering how popular this theme has become, that authors can still come up with original approaches. A lot of the classic tropes like footsteps heard in the attic are used in many of these stories, yet the focus on the original characters brings fresh material and the fine details, like the small puddles in the house in The Secret of Crickley Hall, can take a well-used theme and turn it into an original story.
What are YOU reading this October? Do you enjoy spooky stories for Halloween? I go through several books in this genre every year, but there is always at least one haunted house story included among them. This year I’m doing a re-read of A Halloween Tale, but there will likely be others before the season is finished. After all, I was born in October and have a particularly close affinity with Halloween. The haunted house is a theme I never seem to tire of reading.
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