It was almost a requirement that at least one house in every neighborhood be haunted. If it wasn't haunted, by the end of the day - and with the overly fertile workings of our imaginations - it would be. As a boy growing up in the 60's, the lure of the haunted house was as enticing as candy. I made sure that every seldomly frequented house, building, closet, basement or garage was indeed haunted. Ghosts, monsters, and things that went bump in the night were altogether too beautiful too resist. As terrifying as they were, these things lured me -and all my friends- to every creepy location, magazine, and movie we could feast our eyes upon.
One Halloween night in 1962, my brothers and I decided to tresspass the property of the most dreaded house on the block. These "haunted houses" were always named after the residents who haunted them. In our neighborhood, it was the "Anderson house". It rested just off the bumpy dirt road about 4 blocks away from the school. I remember on that afternoon that the sky was a deep gray with no clouds whatsoever. It was a bit windy, and of course, such ambiance was perfect a Halloween day. By dusk, and when our sacks were safely full of candy, I remember venturing toward the Anderson house while my brother narrated all of the evil and horrible happenings perpetrated by the witch that lived there.
The house seemed fearsome and dreadful in the daylight, so after dark, its presence was pure evil. The place was run down and badly in need of upkeep. It was cold out, and the wind blew our pant legs to one side or the other. Stars were obscured by clouds, and the only light provided was that of what few street lamps there were. It was a widely known fact that ghostly things lived in the shadows, and we were just scant feet away from negotiating the very threshold of terror.
At first we hushed; there was no sound except for the wind rustling October branches. Fallen leaves scraped across the ground like animated dead things. At such a young age, it hadn't occurred to me that if my brother was so brave, why was he standing right next to me? Better yet, why did my friends all dare me to go to the porch? Why didn't any one of them go? The answer was simple, a dare is a dare, and daring your friends into doing stupid things was what kids did for a living.
So, the time came to either get brave, or chicken out. I walked a bit closer to the dead grass that played host to the evil edifice. An old rusted mailbox leaned to one side. I could hear my tennis-shoed feet crunching the gravel as I neared the property. The porch was wooden, and only one rickety step led to the door. The wind was creaking the screen door on the front porch and there were no lights on anywhere. The house, I'll admit to this day, was creepy, but it was just a house badly in need of repair.
I moved across the lawn as carefully as a solider would traverse a mine field. Suddenly the wind kicked up; it blew the screen door open, then slammed it shut again! We all scrambled, running for our lives in fear of the witch who could reach out and grab us before we reached the safe haven of the street we lived on. It had to have been she who made the screen door slam. It was a warning to us all to go away and never come back. We never did. The only thing that followed us home that night on that dark, dirt road near the Anderson house was the memory of what we wanted to believe.
Haunted House Models!
I used to have the Aurora Models version of The Addams Family House. Like all Aurora models, it featured top-notch box art. The house was creepy on the box, and I was fascinated with it more as a generic haunted house than as an actual representative house of the famous creepy TV family house. It also greatly reminded me of the house in "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken", a favorite film from 1966.
My friends and I would often try creating our own "haunted places" by either decorating a garage, shed or basement in an earnest attempt to scare somebody to death. Adventures often gave way to misadventures, and though we, in earnest, tried our best to create the perfect haunted atmosphere, we often fell short.
Movies with Ghosts!
Movies about, with, for, or chronicling the events of ghosts were what I wanted to see. No matter how badly they terrified me (and they all did), I couldn't get enough. "House on Haunted Hill" was a movie that scared me and everyone I ever knew who watched to death, and delighted us in the doing. 13 Ghosts" was another, and even though it scared us, it wasn't as scary as the "Haunted Hill". This was kid fare at it's best.
Then, one evening, in front of a huge bowl of mom-made popcorn, our whole family tuned into horror unlike anything we'd ever seen: "The Haunting". This movie terrified us all out of our wits, and even my dad, who was the most fearless person on earth, insisted on turning on the light. He claimed he couldn't see very well, but we all knew."The Haunting" was a relentless movie, and started with a deliberately slow pace designed, I believe, to take us all off guard. Once the ghostly happenings began, they were the most brutal the screen had yet depicted, and guaranteed most people a rough night getting to sleep. For the most part, movies about haunted houses had been geared for kids and teenagers. Interestingly, the name of this creepy abode was Hill House, and the novel which the film was based on was titled "The Haunting of Hill House".
Another film in the genre of ghosts and haunted houses, was "The Innoncents" which wasn't nearly as scary as it was creepy. This movie was faithful to true gothic horror, and offered one unique twist: a ghost seen in broad daylight.