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Why Victorians Make the Best Movie Haunted Houses

One of our most-loved architecture styles is also our scariest

House Built for (On-Screen) Nightmares

Photo by Andy McGowan/Getty Images

Published October 23, 2015

Try to conjure up an idea of the perfect haunted house, and a rambling Victorian most likely comes to mind. The architectural style frequently spotted on the pages of This Old House also has a reputation in American horror for making movie viewers feel ill at ease, with plummeting mansard roofs and eerie, shadow-casting gingerbread trim. Here, we examine how the original architectural details we laud in our Save This Old House column can often be the creepiest when cast in the right shadow by horror movies.

Steep, Sharp Gables

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A dormer window seems like an easy escape, but slipping and sliding along gables can be life threatening when a creep with a sharp weapon is in pursuit. Witness the grueling rooftop chase Rachel and Jamie endure on their anxiety-inducing flight from the terrifying Michael Myers in Halloween 4. Re-experience the terror by watching a clip on YouTube.

Avoid your own rooftop horror scene by watching Ask This Old House TV's Tom Silva install a permanent fire escape ladder.

Menacing Mansard Roof

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The protruding ends of a mansard roof casting shadows atop a hill are enough to recall the Bates residence in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. This feature punctuated that ominous silhouette in the still-terrifying movie that set the gratuitously bloody precedent for the slasher film genre. Relive the eerie effect by watching a clip on YouTube.

Prevent bloody mistakes by reading up on your home's top 10 danger zones.

Creepy Widow's Walk

Photo by The New York Historical Society/Contributor/Getty Images

The name is evocative of a tormented ghost waiting on her long, lost beau. But the Addams family put the architectural feature to horrifying—or great, depending on your opinion of carolers—use as a perch from which to dump a cauldron of boiling oil on the singers. The was reenacted in the 1991 live-action The Addams Family Movie title sequence. Recoil, or laugh, by watching the clip on YouTube.

Keep your house an accident-free zone with our tips for avoiding holiday horrors.

Dark Shadows in an Attic Window

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Old-house aficionados will argue that the modern makeover the home's new owners gave the old farmhouse in Beetlejuice was a true horror. (See the before and after on the blog Hooked on Houses.) But former owners Adam and Barbara claimed the untouched attic as home base for trying to scare the living daylights out of the new inhabitants. Revisit the ghost couple's attic lair by watching a clip on YouTube.

Banish cobwebs and ghouls in favor of finishing your attic.

Chilling Towers and Turrets

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Ornate towers and turrets are intimidating features that also provide a quick escape for villains. In the children's Halloween classic, Hocus Pocus, evil witches the Sanderson sisters spot their stolen spell book, kidnap the main character's little sister, and make a quick escape through—and end up destroying—a tower connected to the teenage hero's bedroom. Revisit the scene in which they see the book's signal and fly on their various household cleaning instruments by watching a clip on YouTube.

We cover everything but unexpected witch damage in your toughest roofing questions answered.

Deceptively Deep Verandas

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Just when you thought you narrowly escaped the killer, a turn round a gracious Victorian porch jolts you out of any notion of safety. Shapely balustrades and ornate gingerbread trim masked the horrors found inside the home of a family of cannibals in the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Revisit the misleading exterior by watching a clip on YouTube. Then, check out the 1909 Queen Anne's new location and identity as 'The Chainsaw House" on the Grand Central Café website.

Prevent unexpected scares by watching Tom Silva animal-proof a porch.