Haunted houses rely on the horror of place, the sacredness of home and hearth, and crossing the threshold to the outside world.
Featuring previously-unreleased audio from guests Michael Sands, Robert Turk, and James Harrington, here’s a quick bonus episode for you on haunted houses as antagonists and “the horror of place.”
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Lucas: Hello, and welcome to this short bonus episode of Making a Monster. Sometimes the prime antagonists or monsters of a story aren’t creatures, but places. There’s a special horror that happens when the home, the familiar and safe, becomes alien and hostile. I bring this up to show you a different kind of monster, and also to explain where I’ve been for the last three weeks.
I just moved into a new house, which is a great privilege in times like these. I know, so I’m not complaining, but I have been doing so much wallpaper removal, drywall, repair, priming, and painting that I actually had a stress dream about it. I was running my hand over a section of hallway I was really proud to have finished, and then it imperceptibly became the painted over wallpaper I had just removed and as my heart sank with the realization that I had to do all that work over again, my thumb pressed easily through a section of the wallpaper and I peeled the piece back and a huge sheet of it came away to reveal this massive hidden room, which of course also needed to have its dingy wallpaper removed.
A lot of people have been saying to me, “Oh, the joys of home ownership,” like that explains all of this. I used to think that meant that there would always be more tasks than you expected when you became a homeowner. But now I think it means that the tasks will always have more steps and take longer than you expected.
Haunted Houses as Endless Houses
And that kind of distortion of space is at the heart of the haunted house trope. This idea of featured prominently in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer called “Fear Itself”, which I probably shouldn’t have been watching at this particular point in my life. But in that episode of house gained a mind of its own and it would move or remove staircases and doors and windows to frighten its occupants.
And it reminded me of the Winchester mystery house in San Jose, California. It was constructed by Sarah Winchester at the turn of the 20th century. Some accounts of her life say that she had the house under constant construction for three 38 years to confuse the ghosts of those who had been killed by the Winchester rifles that her husband had invented.
The house had no master building plans and includes staircases that lead to nowhere and doors that open into walls. Well, I was discussing Dagon DNDs demon Prince of shadow. See James Harrington explained it to me as a horror of place.
Gothic Horror as the Horror of Place
James Harrington: Lovecraft thinks America is sufficient to produce its own and its own gothic. Gothic horror is based on exotic location. It’s a horror of place and legend, as opposed to say psychological horror, or the thriller.
The thriller, may make use of some Gothic elements. Think of Silence of the Lamb. You see Clarice looking at pictures of a nurse, who’s been mutilated by Lecter, and they’re horrific, but we, the audience, can’t see them and we hear all the horrible things he’s done to people. And we go through this, this whole maximum security lock down kind of thing. And then we go down these terrible, brick and stone steps into a dank dungeon, as we get to the end of this almost, catacomb like structure, right? There’s Anthony Hopkins standing there very privileged improperly. And of course he is the great horror of them all. but it wouldn’t be quite so terrifying without the place he’s in.
New England when Lovecraft knew it, its population was less than it is now. The woods are full of stone walls that remind you that the forest is eating up entire townships. That’s exaggerating Connecticut. There are a few entire towns that have just been eaten up by the forest. And when Lovecraft was there, it was a lot worse.
The new Massachusetts Rhode Island, Connecticut had reinvented themselves as suburbs for the wealthy from New York and from Boston. so as he knew it, there was the whole, abandoned towns just there in the middle of the woods. And he found in this a rich place to make an ancient world for the United States.
Lucas: If I had a nickel for every time, the horror trope of the endless house has appeared in interviews for my show. I would have two nickels, which to quote Phineas and Ferb. Dr. Doofenshmirtz isn’t the lot, but it’s weird that it happened twice, right? Sorry. Calling back to that Buffy episode, the monster in my interview with Monster of the Week creator, Michael Sands came from his own endless house project.
Michael Sands: The playtest was for, a kind of campaign set up from also the week that I’m working on, which I’m currently calling the strange old house. And it’s, where the monster hunters inherit a weird house. That’s got sinister secrets in it. So a bit like lock and key and that sort of story. So we had the concept that there was, these hunters had had a house with, we had a secret in it. And we were just playing an initial short venture to see how it worked.
Lucas: Starship Infernum creator, Robert Turk, from my episode on space leper nuns created a pick-up-and-play black-jack based game that he called Purgatory House.
Robert Turk: Purgatory House was the first one I did. It was a haunted house horror game. and it was spun out of a dream that I had about being trapped in this endless house. and then I started researching and found that this is actually a cultural phenomenon, this idea of the endless house. And then HBO made a TV series about it. Not because of me. I just happened to be at the same time, didn’t even know about the TV series,
Lucas: Of course, there’s a lot more to say about how monsters are a product of their environment or the culture that made them, or even how some environments can be a product of their monster, like the Indies, Ravenloft or the Revelia, which was featured in the Heckna campaign setting.
So as we go forward into the Making a Monster project, watch for the haunted house and the horror of place and be grateful, no matter its condition.
Everyone in the show:
Robert Turk, Wicked Clever Games: https://www.facebook.com/wickedclever
Michael Sands: https://twitter.com/MotW_rpg
Music by Will Savino (Music d20): https://twitter.com/Music_d20
Next Episode: The Bagger, fiendish collections agent
With all the warlock pacts and deals with the devil made in Dungeons & Dragons, who comes to collect when the devil’s payment is due?
Justice Arman: I imagine a hollow knock deep into the night before the handle would begin to turn on its own and just kind of slowly open and baggers. They’re so tall and gangly that you would probably just see up to its chest as this very thin horn devil, just liens under the doorway. And it’s just looming in this room and you’d. Probably hear the pause of a and hooves of this bloodhound, sniffing and snorting, as it points its way towards you.