For the more adventurous admirers of Gothic novels and haunted houses, Bran Castle in Transylvania, Romania, claims to be the inspiration for the haunting premise of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula. Stoker never visited the region, but he built the home of the vampire from travel books, conversations with his brother, who traveled to the Balkans, and his feverish imagination.
Bran Castle receives tourists, unlike Villa Diodati, located on the shores of Lake Geneva in Cologny (Switzerland). This is where, in 1816, the romantic poets Lord Byron and Percy Shelley and their companions tried to entertain themselves by telling ghost stories during a particularly violent typhoon The encounter would prompt the teenage Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein and Byron’s very shy doctor, John William Polidori, to write The Vampire. Villa Diodati is a private property, and security fences keep out curious onlookers.
Not only stately houses or country mansions inspire Gothic airs. For a time, Detroit’s abandoned factories stood as symbols of an entire industrial, economic, and social order that was coming to an end. It is not surprising that this scene can be seen in recent horror films, such as It Follows (2013), Don’t Breathe (2016), or Barbarous (2022).
We also seem to fear those outside prisons or asylums, those sprawling institutions whose ruins haunt us to death, in some hopeful belief that a period of institutional treatment will make people better. The last of the so-called “monster asylums,” such as the Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane in Ovid, New York, were closed in the 1990s.
Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, sometimes uses the house as a metaphor for the human psyche, a place with many secrets locked in basements or forgotten rooms. Freud, an avid reader of Gothic stories, maintains that the Gothic inspires feelings of dauntingness. Often translated as “pernicious,” the original German means homeless, and this is exactly what disturbs us about haunted house stories: the destruction of something terrible or bad exactly in the place we always think is most secure.
The Gothic repeats this anguish over and over in an endless loop, trying to reinforce our sense of home, all the while knowing that the ungodly always lurk in the shadows of the dust, in the creak of the stairs, or along the views of the empty hallways.