As Alfred Hitchcock well knew, nothing sets a mood of suspense better than a spooky old house. The brooding Mansard-roofed Victorian in Hitchcock’s 1960 film "Psycho" is probably the best-known creepy old house in pop culture. But there are plenty of others.
For instance, the eerily rendered Xanadu, home of Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles’ milestone 1941 film, "Citizen Kane." The hauntingly composed images of Xanadu are so central to the story that they’re used to both open and close the film.
More recently, there was the anthropomorphic house featured in 1979’s "The Amityville Horror," perhaps the world’s only frightening Dutch Colonial. On the lighter side was the eccentric television abode of "The Addams Family" (another Mansarded and iron-crested Victorian, although, like Xanadu, it was actually just a matte painting).
Just what makes for an unnervingly spooky house? And mind you, we’re talking aesthetic creepiness, not pulp-novel-style haunting. Well into the 1960s, old Victorians of the Gothic or Mansard variety were Hollywood’s standard issue for spookiness, probably because they were decaying and far out of fashion at the time. After their popular renaissance in the 1970s, however, those gaily colored gingerbread houses possessed a much less sinister effect in the public mind, and hence Hollywood has moved on to other archetypes.
A really creepy house usually has some anthropomorphic character — the vaguely hunchbacked, head-and-shoulders silhouette of Mrs. Bates’ house in "Psycho," for example, or the diabolical, eye-like attic windows seen in promotions for "The Amityville Horror," or the gaping mouth-like porch of Freddy Krueger’s house in Wes Craven’s "Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984).