Welcome to the first article in this series; a series that is NOT about the haunting of houses, mansions, or manors. Instead, the focus is on hauntings that take place underneath the roofs of other kinds of structures. These structures come in all kinds of categories. Some are much smaller than the average haunted house (sheds). Others are much larger (castles). Some serve as domiciles (trailers), others do not (schools or churches). But I set each category apart because I believe that such a separation is warranted. There are characteristics specific to each case that are worthy of analysis. Take for instance “cabins.” Do certain images come to mind when thinking about “haunted cabins?” For me, the answer is “yes.” These images are based on other known tales of haunted cabins. They are derived from real life experiences inside cabins. And, they come from a general knowledge of the human psyche and how it relates to small, cramped spaces, creating a condition known as “cabin fever.”
In this article, I take the liberty of translating these images into themes. By performing such alchemy, I am boldly asserting that my observations are typified throughout various stories. How dare I? I dare!
For what it’s worth, I shall present several themes common to stories about haunted cabins. Throughout the next several weeks, I will review movies and books about haunted cabins. At some point in each review, I will juxtapose the elements within each story to the themes that I lay out here. Not all themes will be found in each story. And some stories will flat-out contradict my findings (How dare they?)
Now is as good a time as any to delve into this topic, don’t you think? March is as good as any month for thinking about cabins. Cabins go with every season. In the cold of winter people rent cabins in snowy mountaintops. Then, there are those that rent cabins to watch the coming of spring. Summer cabins make for a lot of camping fun. And, or course, the cabin in the woods is an ideal setting to bear witness to those wonderful hues of autumn. No matter what the season, a haunted cabin adds that certain extra pinch of intrigue to make the stay all the more…memorable!
Alright, let’s get to those themes!
1) Outposts on The Edge of the Unknown
Maybe it’s not the cabin that is haunted. Maybe it’s the surrounding environment that reeks of terror. Cabins are often located deep in the woods or high on a mountaintop. Out there in the vast wild is where the danger exists. This is true in the “real” world; a place void of ghosts and monsters. Out in the forest there are wild animals. They can be threatening, especially at night. Hidden by the darkness, they find their prey easily by scent or superior eyesight. The darkness presents other dangers as well. It hides the cliffs upon which the midnight hiker stumbles to his death. Fierce weather makes for an unpleasant experience to the unsheltered. A roof and four walls are not much in terms of fortification, but they provide some protections against the dangerous woods.
The haunted cabin reflects a fear that already exists outside the realms of the supernatural. In a non-horror cabin scenario, maybe dwellers will repel insects and small animals that seek out warmth. In the horror novel, the cabin dwellers try to ward off spirits that “smell” the life that exists inside. In either case, the cabin has failed at protecting its inhabitants of the dangers that exist outside. Therein lies a fundamental fear concerning cabins. They are susceptible to the surrounding elements and therefore very permeable to the stuff of the supernatural that haunts the terrain. They are fragile shelters at best.
Cabins stand against the wind-plagued forests and the snow stricken mountains. Often wind smacks against the cabin walls. Water seeps through the ceiling. Nearby trees scrape their branching arms against the walls.
The cabin is entrenched in this dangerous and haunted environment. What is that noise? What’s out there? The answers are not immediately known. Readers and viewers do know, however, that it won’t be too long before the cabin dwelling characters must face these phantoms.
Often cabin dwellers are cut-off from civilization. Technology is scarce. Forests and mountains inhibit cellphone coverage. A Wi-Fi signal can’t get through. If a cabin is to have electricity, it’s usually on account of a generator. Often the generator fails. Trails that are difficult to navigate leave the cabin dwellers isolated. Towns are far away.
This “isolation” scenario is not unique to haunted cabins, but it becomes all the more real when the characters are deep inside the wilderness.
Sometimes humans that are cut of from civilization resort to barbaric measures. Somewhere out there among the many yarns exists the notion that people resort to cannibalism. But a cabin tale does not have to go to such extremes to portray dehumanization. Sometimes they simply turn into demons!
A haunted cabin is a relatively small structure. As such, cabins are void of the normal trappings of haunted houses. It is unlikely that a cabin with feature a long, winding staircase or a secret passage. There might be a loft or cellar, but in general, there aren’t a whole lot of rooms in a cabin. It is contrary to the mansions and castles of the gothic novel. The horror that takes over these grandiose structures often represents an affront to an equally grand social entity, such as a familial lineage or a kingdom.
Haunted cabins usually don’t represent anything of such magnitude. They take in only a few people at a time. Even throughout their entire history (which is often a mystery), there has been minimal traffic underneath their roofs.
Therefore, there are usually only a few characters in a haunted cabin story. The haunting is more personal and perhaps even more intimate. This “few character” scenario goes hand in hand with the next example – the sole cabin dweller.
4) Solitary Confinement
The cabin sometimes becomes the mirror-for-the-disturbed-mind for the sole cabin dweller. Quite often, this solitary character, when confined to a cabin and cut off from civilization, will develop a psychosis that is caused by a lack of human contact. In this scenario, the character is an unreliable narrator and readers often discover that the things that haunt the cabin manifest from his/her own broken mind. But that doesn’t make these things less scary, or even less real.
Trapped spirits are a major staple in a haunted house story. The walls and roof confine them. An old large house has the time and space to trap many spirits from different eras. In a similar manner, the thoughts of the sole cabin dweller, the “vibes” if I may, have nowhere to go. They coagulate in the corners and add a disturbing stuffiness to an already cramped space. Eventually they boomerang upon the solitary dweller that has conjured them. They morph into ghosts and demons.
So, are you ready to explore some haunted cabins? I hope so because the haunted cabins of film and literature will soon make their mark on this page. As I review specific works, keep the themes that I have described above in a handy place in your mind so that we can determine if they fit into any given haunted cabin story. Maybe you have noticed themes and patterns that I have not. If so I would love to learn! Teach me!
The first item of for review will be “Rough Draft” a book by Michael Robertson Jr. From the synopsis on Amazon:
“Three strangers. An abandoned cabin in the woods. And a chilling one hundred year-old mystery that doesn’t want to be solved”
I will see you at this cabin soon…..
Halloween Cabin Photo from adailypictures.BlogSpot.com
Vine-Covered cabin photo from pxhere.com