Thanks to Hollywood, once-anonymous places such as Amityville, New York or Burkittsville, Maryland will never be the same quiet towns again. Guests of the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado or the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood will forever either request or refuse rooms 217 and 237, thanks to Steven King and Stanley Kubrick, respectively.
Earlier this month, 112 Ocean Avenue, the Amityville horror house, sold for the fifth time since the 1974 murders occurred there. So the house’s reputation and reported haunting has not kept it off the market, nor has it kept people from inhabiting it.
In June, the town of Burkittsville, Maryland, voted to sell the “Welcome” signs donated to the town by Artisan Entertainment, distributor of The Blair Witch Project. Apparently, the signs had become more of a burden than a blessing.
Have the reputations of Hollywood horror film sites ruined them forever? Or have their hauntings, real or not, given them life? The answer, of course, is both.
112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, Long Island
This beautiful Dutch Colonial house is iconic in America: it is the setting of a book based on true events that took place in the house, and the well-known movie, The Amityville Horror, is based on the book, making it one of the most infamous haunted places in the country.
Although many fictional details were added to both the book and movie, the series of events that provided the basic premise for the story are true. In 1974, the Defeo Family owned the home. The entire family was murdered by the eldest son, Ronald Defeo, Jr., who shot his parents and four siblings while they were sleeping one night in November.
The following year, George and Kathleen Lutz bought the house. The Lutzes were aware of the murders that took place there, but they agreed that the tragedy should not prevent them from living in the house. However, shortly after they moved in with their three children, the family experienced a series of paranormal events that caused them to quickly vacate the premises. This is the story that became the basis for the 1977 book The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson and the 1979 movie by the same name. In 2005, a remake of the movie was released under the same title.
After the Lutzes abandoned the property, the bank finally foreclosed on the house in 1977 and it was sold to James and Barbara Cromarty, who lived there for ten years without any paranormal problems. It was sold again in 1987, 1997, and now in 2010. The house has been reportedly inhabited most of that time, so perhaps it was exorcised when the Lutzes moved out. If anything, the house’s reputation has probably helped it sell over the years, rather than turning it into another Grey Gardens.
Home of the notorious Blair Witch, pretty much no one had ever heard of this tiny town of 180 residents in Montgomery County, Maryland, before the wildly successful 1999 movie The Blair Witch Project took place there. No one, that is, besides filmmaker Eduardo Sanchez, who grew up in Montgomery County.
The film’s sequel, Curse of the Blair Witch, could have been about Burkittsville instead, since the town has been cursed by the fictional witch and the movie ever since its release, instant success, and subsequent cult following.
Nearly 11 years after the film’s release, Burkittsville still has a plethora of crazed fans and witch hunters passing through town, asking locals about witch lore and directions to the film’s token locations, such as “Coffin Rock” and the cemetery. Unfortunately for fans, most of the film was not actually shot in Burkittsville, although it does have a cemetery and boasts a “Spook Hill” on the outskirts of town.
Although Burkittsville has somewhat capitalized on the witch-tourism industry, it seems that the town would rather sever its connections with the movie altogether. Burkittsville received four wooden “Welcome to Historic Burkittsville” signs as a thank-you from Artisan Entertainment after the movie created so much hype there. But all four signs were stolen by fans, so Artisan replaced them with heavier, metal signs that quickly rusted out (and one of these was stolen as well). The town recently voted to sell the remaining three signs on eBay auction for $1000 apiece.
The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado
The Stanley Hotel, on the outskirts of Rocky Mountain National Park, was not entirely unknown before Stephen King spent the night there on October 30, 1974. But it has certainly gained a lot of notoriety since.
In 1974, the rags to riches King family moved to Boulder, Colorado for a year so that King could find a different setting for his third book (the first two were set in New England). On a weekend trip, King and his wife stayed one night in the Stanley Hotel before it closed for the season, as it was designed as a summer resort with no heat. The nearly vacant hotel was haunted, according to the staff, particularly by an on-going party in the ballroom.
King was inspired and began writing The Shining that night. Those familiar with the story can easily see how this chain of events became the basis for it (a family from New England moves to Boulder; the husband/writer takes a winter caretaking position at a mountain resort that begins on October 30, closed for the winter due to lack of heat, snow conditions, and its isolated location; the family is haunted by ghosts who attend an on-going party in the hotel’s ballroom).
Once The Shining became a movie, the story’s connections to the Stanley Hotel became even deeper. The interior of the hotel provided the basis for the set of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film. Unhappy with Kubrick’s version of the story, King produced his own miniseries in 1995 that included scenes shot in both the hotel’s interior and exterior.
The Timberline Lodge, Mt. Hood, Oregon
The Timberline Lodge is the ski lodge and resort located on Mt. Hood about 60 miles east of Portland, Oregon. Also related to The Shining, the Timberline Lodge gained its notoriety as a haunted house from its use in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film version of the film based on King’s book.
In reality, The Timberline Lodge is not haunted, only a few of the film’s establishing shots were actually taken at the lodge, and none of the movie was shot inside. Just as was done with the interior of the Stanley Hotel, parts of the Timberline Lodge’s exterior were recreated on the film’s set in England. But the gorgeous lodge, its breathtaking backdrop, and year-round snow accurately created the sense of isolation necessary for the film’s setting.
Mission San Juan Bautista, California
California’s largest mission, Mission San Juan Bautista, gained national fame when in appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 thriller Vertigo. Although Vertigo isn’t a horror film, the Master of Suspense still managed to give the mission a creepy, haunted feeling in the movie, which seems completely absent when visiting the sunny mission in real life.
Located 90 miles south of San Francisco, Hitchcock chose Mission San Juan Bautista as the shooting site for the film’s most crucial scenes because of its tall bell tower. But by the time shooting began, the bell tower had been torn down due to damage sustained in a fire, and Hitchcock had to recreate the tower on a Hollywood set. The token tower from the film that made Mission San Juan Bautista so well-known is not actually part of the mission, so visitors to the mission who are also fans of the film may be disappointed.
In Vertigo, the tower was essential to the film’s plot and title. Detective Scottie Ferguson retired from the San Francisco police force because his problems with vertigo made him unable to work. He takes on a job as a private detective, spying on his friend’s wife, Madeline, to learn more about her odd behavior. He follows her to the mission where he watches her race up the stairs inside the tower and jump to her death, unable to stop her because he is plagued with vertigo.