Happy Halloween, MNN readers!
When you think of famous cinematic haunted houses, which ones do you think of? For me, three immediately come to mind: the charmingly restored (and then hideously altered) Victorian farmhouse of "Beetlejuice," the bad mojo-infested Long Island Dutch Colonial of "The Amityville Horror," and, last but not least, the Southern California suburban tract house of "Poltergeist." To celebrate today's spooky proceedings, I thought it would be fun to take a quick detour away from eco-friendly home and garden-land take a closer look at these iconic, ghost-friendly properties and the stories behind them (and yes, two of them actually exist). Enjoy ... and try not to have nightmares about mysterious hidden "red" rooms in your basement or a ghostly Alec Baldwin living in your attic.
The Maitland-Deetz residence, "Beetlejuice"
Although Tim Burton's otherworldly comedy "Beetlejuice" served as an exercise in scenery chewing for Michael Keaton playing the titular role of a perverted "bio-exorcist" named Betelgeuse, one of the more memorable stars of the 1988 film is the New England farmhouse lovingly renovated by recently deceased couple Adam and Barbara Maitland and subsequently invaded by obnoxious New York yuppies Charles and Delia Deetz along with Charles' morose daughter, Lydia. And then there's Otho, Delia's interior designer/paranormal expert friend who rolls his eyes and mutters, "Ugh. Deliver me from L.L. Bean," when first assessing the home.
Once the Deetz family moves into the former chez Maitland, remodeling hell breaks loose — at its core, "Beetlejuice" is a home improvement/interior design horror story — as Otho and Delia attempt go about transforming the once-homey space ("a little gasoline … blowtorch … no problem") into a minimalist yuppie nightmare while the ghosts of Adam and Barbara, trapped in their beloved home for eternity, helplessly watch (check out the home's exterior transformation here). This, of course, is where Betelgeuse comes in.
Given the central role the Maitland/Deetz residence plays in the film, it's natural that many "Beetlejuice" fans would go looking for it. Long story short, it doesn't exist. Although set in the Connecticut countryside, "Beetlejuice" was filmed in and around East Cornith, Vt., where a façade of the home was constructed (interiors were filmed on a Hollywood soundstage) and then dismantled post-filming. Still, just like hobbyist Adam Maitland, it looks like some folks have gone about replicating the home … in miniature. Did somebody say Manchurian tong oil?
The Freeling Residence, "Poltergeist"
Sure, the newly built Southern California home depicted in "Poltergeist" is plagued by murderous trees, freak earthquakes, malevolent toy clowns, rotting corpses, and a giant spider monster from hell, but the real villain in the 1982 Steven Spielberg-produced terror-fest is rampant overdevelopment and suburban sprawl. You see what happens when you build cookie-cutter tract housing over a cemetery and don't tell anyone?
The home inhabited by the very unfortunate Freeling family does indeed exist — it's a private residence located on Roxbury Street in Simi Valley, Calif. From a quick look at Google Maps, the exterior of one of cinema's most supernaturally active homes looks pretty much the same almost 30 years after its film debut, although the website Seeing-Stars notes that "the 1994 Northridge earthquake, time, and vandalism have taken a toll on this once beautiful home." Feel free to take a drive-by look here or here.
Establishing shots of Cuesta Verde, the fictional neighborhood where "Poltergeist" takes place, weren't actually filmed in Simi Valley but about 20 miles west in the Los Angeles county community of Agoura Hills. I don't know about you, but if I lived in the Freeling house, Carol Anne Freeling's most famous line would no doubt run through my head each and every time someone rang the doorbell.
The Lutz Residence, "The Amityville Horror"
Given that it's so incredibly spooky (blame it on those demonic dormer windows) you'd think that the 1977 buyer's remorse classic, "The Amityville Horror," was actually filmed in the sleepy Long Island, N.Y., community of Amityville at 112 Ocean Avenue where, in 1974, Ronald DeFeo went berserk and murdered his entire family. (George and Kathy Lutz purchased the Dutch Colonial fixer-upper 13 months later only to experience some truly nasty unexplained phenomena that provided the groundwork for the novel "The Amityville Horror: A True Story," the aforementioned film adaptation, countless sequels, and a so-so remake in 2005).
Well, it's not. Although movie's producers attempted to film in the home where the actual murders/subsequent supernatural activity took place, they were denied permission to do so and ended up converting a residence in Tom's River, N.J., to look like the "Amityville Horror" house. The exterior of the real house was used in promotional materials for the movie, an action that, not surprisingly, prompted the home's then-owners, James and Barbara Cromarty, to sue the filmmakers.
Regardless of the N.J. stand-in home, 112 Ocean Avenue is still very much around. James and Barbara Cromarty changed the street number and altered the appearance of the front of the house to ward off looky-loos after purchasing the supposedly possessed property in 1977 (they lived it until 1987 while the Lutz family only lasted 28 days). "Still," according to the Amityville Record, "sometimes a car will pull up in the middle of the night. A passenger will get out and cut away a piece of grass from the home. Sometimes another car will pass in the middle of a hot, summer afternoon, stop and the occupants will stare. Sometimes a deranged individual may even try to break into the home. But mostly, it is just another house in Amityville with nothing more than a horrific history."
The Amityville Horror house, now 108 Ocean Avenue, hit the market for $1.15 million in 2010. Red-eyed demonic pigs named Jodie were not included in the sale.