One of my favorite things in the realm of storytelling is a haunted house. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of ghosts and poltergeists. In real life, I'm pretty sure that I will never meet a vampire, but ghosts...they just always seem to be hiding just out of eyesight when I'm alone in the dark.
I’ve never actually seen a ghost, but my mom says that our cabin in the Sierra Nevada's was haunted and that she has also seen demons and talked to angels. She's been visited by dead relatives and she correctly predicted how many children I would have and their sexes. She did get the order wrong, though. That might have been an easy mix-up. My middle daughter has always been tiny, so Mom might have "seen" that my boy was older than his sister, just based on their height. Spooky. I guess the “mystic gene” didn’t pass down my way - supernatural beings have never deigned to speak to me.
Anyway, I adore this episode with my whole being. It's practically perfect in every way. More on that later. I’ll also tell you about some of my favorite haunted house stories; so - dim the lights, light a few candles, and here we go.
The Road So Far
Adorably young Sam and Dean have just investigated most people’s least favorite subject and episode, “Bugs.” On a positive note, Dean told Sam that John was proud of Sam’s achievements and used to secretly check on his welfare while he was at Stanford.
Jenny and her cute children have moved into the rebuilt house in Lawrence, Kansas that used to belong to the Winchesters. Daughter Sari is afraid of something in her closet. Jenny discovers a bunch of old photographs that show John, Mary, Dean and Little Sammy. Meanwhile, Sam and Dean are in a motel when Sam wakes up from a dream about Jenny screaming for help. Sam decides that they must go back to Lawrence to investigate and Dean reluctantly agrees. Scary things happen, guest actors shine on, and let’s just get this review started – there are so many great things to talk about in this story.
If I were more poetically inclined, I’d write an ode to this episode. If I hadn’t been hooked on Supernatural so far, this episode would have cemented my love and devotion. Eric Kripke wrote this episode and I'm giving him a Mallena Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Television Show. (I’m still working on smelting the ore to create the award, itself.) The opening with Jenny in Lawrence is terrific, plus we get our boys in a motel room while Sam is having one of his spooky moments that Dean doesn’t know how to handle very well, yet. Dean is even more disturbed to find out that Sam had dreamed of Jessica’s death before she died. I love the emotions that our boys are displaying here. Dean is clearly upset and miserable about the thought of returning to that house where his happy life ended, and so many of his traumatic experiences began. Sam is compulsively drawing a particularly scary tree and is so determined to help the family in danger and to find some clues to his troubles.
After arriving in Lawrence, Sam and Dean knock on the door of their old house. Sam tells Jenny that they used to live there and seeing their sweet, trustworthy faces - she lets them in and shows them around. The casting of this episode is very nice. I really like the actors playing Jenny and the children. The boy playing Ritchie is cute, but seems a little old to be in a playpen. My kids hated being confined to anything (car seat, high chair, crib, etc.) for very long and by one year old, they were running and climbing all over. Of course, we also get the fantastic character of Missouri, as played by Loretta Devine. Some folks seem to feel that Missouri is too mean to our boy Dean, but I kind of understand where that is coming from. Missouri is psychic and can see into the relationship of the brothers. She knows that Sam is vulnerable and worried and that he needs softness and a little motherly love. She can also see that Dean is way too cocky for his own good and needs to get serious about the massive issues that he and Sam have – not just with each other and their family, but everything supernatural that is always going to try to destroy them. Dean acting like he’s in charge and knows everything all the time is not a good thing, as we will see much evidence of going forward. Maybe Missouri sees that Dean needs a little tough love from her.
Missouri: “Boy, you see me sawin’ some bony tramp in half? You think I’m a magician? I may be able to read thoughts and sense energies in a room, but I can’t just pull facts out of thin air. Sit, please. Boy, you put your foot on my coffee table, I’m ‘a whack you with a spoon!”
It's also marvelous to have lots of talking between the boys. They talk about the night of the fire, and that Dean had carried Sam out of the house. I can’t believe Dean never told Sammy that. I guess that Dean really didn’t want to talk about that night very much, just like he didn’t seem to want to talk about their mom to Sammy when they were young. In a heartbreaking phone call, Dean pleads to John in a message to call him back and to help them.
Dean: “Dad? I know I’ve left you messages before. I don’t even know if you’ll get ‘em. But I’m with Sam. And we’re in Lawrence. And there’s somethin’ in our old house. I don’t know if it’s the thing that killed Mom or not, but... I don’t know what to do. So, whatever you’re doin’, if you could get here. Please. I need your help, Dad.”
It’s just brutal that John is completely ignoring Dean’s cries for help and that he's been doing that for some time. John says later that he has his reasons and that he doesn’t want to put his boys in danger, but it still makes me mad.
The first sentence in John's journal has this statement: “I went to Missouri and I learned the truth.” Now, Sam and Dean also find Missouri and it’s an iconic visit. She knows who Sam and Dean are before they tell her and she's just a lovely character. As I mentioned, I did like the way she treats Dean, and also Sam’s amusement that someone can handle Dean so expertly. Don’t get me wrong, I love Dean, but a little humbling from time to time is good for him.
It didn’t take me long to get Zelda Rubenstein (Poltergeist) vibes from Missouri and that made me like her right away. The visit to Jenny’s house with Missouri sensing two presences is splendid and I love the way that she describes the poltergeist as an awful wound that was left behind when something truly evil walked through their home.
The scenes with Missouri and the boys struggling to get the mystical bags stuffed into the walls of the house while the poltergeist is trying to stop them are extraordinary. That's how you do a haunted house episode. The furniture (and knives) are flying and a malevolent lamp tries to strangle Sam with its cord. That scene with Sam trying to breathe and still stuff in the bag in the wall at the same time as Dean comes running to the rescue is definitely in my top ten list of all-time favorite scenes. Dean can’t get the cord to loosen around Sammy’s neck so he stuffs the mystical bag into the wall instead. There's a flash and Dean scoots back over to Sam to help him just in the knick of time. Sam is barely conscious as Dean unwraps the cord and then pulls him against him before Sam can fall to the floor...okay, that was so sweet and superbly acted by Jensen and Jared. Mallena’s Emmys for them, as well. (I’m going to have to go back to the mountains for ore.) The rest of the story just keeps on getting better, which is hard to believe, but wonderful. In typical haunted house fashion, it’s not over!! Sam won’t let Dean drive away until he's sure that everything is safe for Jenny and the children.
Guess what? It’s not. Sam sees Jenny at the window screaming for help, just like in his dream, and our heroic boys practically fly back into the house. Dean gets Jenny out while Sam rescues the children. Sam scoops up both children in his massive arms and runs down the stairs, while I’m having flashbacks of Dean doing the same thing with Baby Sammy. Those scenes of Sam and the children are very sweet. It’s also great that after Sam tells Sari to take Ritchie out the front door – it slams shut behind them, leaving Sam all alone with the spirits that are somehow still in the house. I love Dean’s frantic efforts to break down the door and reach his brother, who is pinned against the kitchen wall by an evil force. To Sam’s astonishment and ours, the firey figure becomes their mother, Mary. She says, “I’m sorry” to Sam and attacks “the other” - leaving behind no trace. What a poignant and astonishing development. Mary’s spirit was in that house the whole time? I don’t like the thought that Mary is totally gone. A human spirit should not be canceled out, like that. Mary must live, again! Ha, that’s a story for another day, though.
The family is safe, but poorer I’d assume, sadly. It would be hard to sell the neighboorhood's haunted hause. Sam and Dean leave Lawrence in their rear-view mirror, but all is not finished. Missouri finds John at her home and is understandably upset that John wouldn’t see his own children. I’m right with you there, Missouri.
This is truly a four-star episode, if I were grading with four stars. Loretta Devine is literally divine as Missouri and it was good and bad that she couldn’t continue her role. You see, she was cast on a little show called Grey’s Anatomy and couldn’t play the character of Missouri for the foreseeable future. The good part about her absence is that the character of Bobby Singer was created to take her place for the occasional visit with the boys. Spoiler Alert: we are getting a real treat in season thirteen as Loretta Devine will grace our screens once more.
Random Haunted House Tales
Poltergeist (1982) – This is the best haunted house story ever filmed, I think. Yes, I was a teenager when I saw this in the movie theatre and there have been many great films on this subject before and since, but I will never forget this one. I laughed, I jumped, I was creeped out, and I was beguiled by the visions on the big screen. How many other haunted house movies do I know practically word for word and scene by scene? Not many. Jobeth Williams and her fellow actors were terrific in this wonderful film. The visuals and music still haunt me to this day. The fact that two out of the three young actors died tragically young is so awful. I wish we lived in a different world where bad things only happened to people in fiction, not reality. Zelda Rubenstein and Beatrice Straight – Tangina and Dr. Lesh - were fabulous as the Medium and the Researcher. Here are a few of my favorite lines from these characters:
Dr. Lesh: “Some people believe that when people die, there's a wonderful light, as bright as the sun, but it doesn't hurt to look at it. All the answers to all the questions that you ever want to know are inside that light. And when you walk to it, you become a part of it forever.”
Dr. Lesh: “Maybe they didn't want to die. Maybe they weren't ready. Maybe they hadn't lived fully yet or they'd lived a long, long time and they still wanted more life. They resist going into that light, however hard the light wants them. They just... hang around. Watch TV, watch their friends grow up feeling unhappy and jealous and those feelings are bad. They hurt. And then, some people just get lost on the way to the light and they need someone to guide them to it.”
Tangina: “There is no death. There is only a transition to a different sphere of consciousness. Carol Anne is not like those she's with. She is a living presence in their spiritual earthbound plane. They are attracted to the one thing about her that is different from themselves - her life-force. It is very strong. It gives off its own illumination. It is a light that implies life and memory of love and home and earthly pleasures, something they desperately desire but can't have anymore.”
Tangina: “There's one more thing. A terrible presence is in there with her. So much rage, so much betrayal, I've never sensed anything like it. I don't know what hovers over this house, but it was strong enough to punch a hole into this world and take your daughter away from you.”
Tangina: “Now clear your minds. It knows what scares you. It has from the very beginning. Don't give it any help, it knows too much already.”
The House Next Door (2007) by Anne Rivers Siddons – This novel is an absolutely addicting read. I’ve read it many times and it’s a truly imaginative tale. It features wonderful characters, tremendous storytelling, and a newly built house that shouldn’t be haunted. Oh, but it is.
The Shining (1977) by Stephen King – I picked this up at the Los Angeles Airport when I was a young adult and was moving back to Utah. I didn’t look up from my paperback copy until we were ready to land and I don’t think I put it down (much) until I had read the whole thing, either. A masterpiece of haunting. I could quote many lines, but I’ll limit myself to just one:
“and if it played its cards right they could end up flitting through the Overlook’s halls like insubstantial shades in a Shirley Jackson novel, whatever walked in Hill House walked alone, but you wouldn’t be alone in the Overlook, oh no, there would be plenty of company here.”
The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson – This quote tells you all you need to know about this terrifying classic:
“Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
The Others (2001) – Nicole Kidman shines as a mother in an isolated manse on The Channel Islands during the waning year of WWII. This is a truly magnificent example of haunted house film. It’s very scary, but it’s also thought-provoking, eerie, and expertly plotted and filmed.
The Conjuring (2013) – This horror film stars one of my favorite actresses, Vera Farmiga, and it’s almost more than I can bear to watch. You like jump scares? I jumped constantly and then I was afraid to go out into the hallway after I watched it. I stayed in the bedroom until morning, too afraid to go get a glass of water in the kitchen. By the way, there's a very good novel called “Help for the Haunted " by John Searles. It’s inspired by the story of the Warrens, who inspired “The Conjuring.”
Okay, time for me to wrap this puppy up (no actual puppies were injured, I assure you) and say goodbye for now. What are your favorite haunted house stories? Who has been haunted? Ooh, let’s scare ourselves, please.
Editor's Note: As an added bonus, check out the #CaptionThis game that featured a heroic Sam scene from "Home"! The contest entries are here and the winning entry can be found here!