You know that old, foreboding house up on the top of the hill, surrounded by thick forests, and accessible only by a single bridge that has a tendency to wash out during every rainstorm
? Yeah, that one. Have you ever noticed that it always seems to attract eclectic groups of strangers who get invited for the reading of a will or a dinner party with a mysterious host? And why is it that the strangers keep getting killed off, one by one
, during the night? It must be one of them doing it? But which?
Expect many passageways hidden behind bookcases
, usually operated by candlesticks
, portraits with removable eyes for spying
, and the ubiquitous thunder and lightning
. Almost inevitably all methods of communication with the outside world
— especially telephones — will have somehow ceased to function, if they ever existed at all. This was more plausible in the early 20th century, a.k.a. Agatha Christie Time
, when many old dwellings had not yet been fitted with telephones and service in general was commonly more apt to fail. You can also expect the lights to go out several times during the night. (Usually when it's least convenient.)
May or may not be haunted
or have some curse or be hiding a Dark Secret
. If the mystery is set in Europe, this may be a castle
instead of a mansion
. See also Haunted House
, Haunted Castle
which usually are
haunted. In this trope, while a haunting may be real, it is more likely that the mysterious poltergeist is an elaborate hoax
Please keep in mind that not
any old house with poor lighting will do for this trope. This is a classic trope of, and a great set piece for, whodunnit murder mysteries
Anime and Manga
- Umineko no Naku Koro ni: The Rokenjima mansion, complete with being cut off from the rest of the world and its own witch stories.
- The XXX Holic movie A Midsummer's Night Dream takes place in one of these. Though the house itself is the one making the guests disappear.
- The board game Clue (aka Cluedo) is perhaps the best known example of this trope.
- The game Kill Doctor Lucky, which is inspired by Clue, also takes place in such a mansion.
- Betrayal at House on the Hill takes place in one of these. Though you usually know who the bad guy is.
- 13 Dead End Drive is a board game with this as the set piece and the players as potential heirs trying to bump each other off.
- Clue the movie took place inside such a mansion.
- The 1932 movie The Old Dark House (as well as the 1963 remake) is the Trope Namer.
- Both movies are based on an old novel, Benighted, by J.B. Priestly.
- Larry Blamire's Dark and Stormy Night is an intentional Affectionate Parody of this genre with a couple of Lampshade Hanging moments.
- An old Bela Lugosi movie called Ghost Story took place in such a mansion. Though since the movie was primarily meant to be humorous, there was no murder involved.
- The Don Knotts film The Private Eyes featured one of these where the house staff are being knocked off one by one some time after the the lord and lady are murdered.
- Murder by Death is one of these movies, only the guests are all pastiches of famous fictional detectives.
- Even though it takes place in a radio station during a live show, The Radioland Murders plays this trope pretty well. The biggest difference is that only certain important people conected to the station are in danger, and not everyone in the building.
- The original House On Haunted Hill is a modernized version of one (the house is a Frank Lloyd Wright creation from 1923). The remake is more of a traditional Haunted House.
- Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None took place on a mansion on an island, and the boat wasn't coming back for several days. Notably, the house has the finest modern amenities available in the era. Vera Claythorne comments on it.
- Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger takes place in a decrepit, isolated old manor house in Warwickshire.
- H.P. Lovecraft's short story "The Shunned House". Downplayed in that looking from the outside it doesn't seem particularly ominous or special.
- The titular setting for the Fighting Fantasy Gamebook House of Hell is one of these.
- Mildew Manor, a recurring location in Kim Newman's work originally introduced as a Haunted House in the spoof Gothic play of the same title and later used for a variety of "spooky old house" tropes, serves as a whodunnit location in the Anno Dracula short story "Vampire Romance".
- Most of Foxworth Hall in Flowers in the Attic is beautiful, but the giant, labyrinthine, dark, dusty attic with its forgotten relics and creepy schoolroom definitely falls under this trope.
- This is the subject of The Dark, the title song of an album of the same name by Metal Church.
- The Cat and the Canary, where a young heiress and her relatives are harassed by a killer.
- The Bat is set at the house of Courtleigh Fleming, the late president of the failed Union Bank. Rumor has it that the money robbed from the bank is stashed in a Hidden Room in the house. In an old country house whose lights tend to fail during storms, candles, pocket flashlights, and wristwatches with illuminated dials all become important items.
- Parodied by the play-within-a-play in The Real Inspector Hound.
- Arsenic and Old Lace somewhat parodies this, being set in an old Victorian house. It's not particularly dark, though its elderly owners disdain electric lighting, and it turns out to have a fair number of places for stashing dead bodies.
- Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap.
- "Out of Sight... Out of Murder" parodies this. A writer rents an old house (where a previous mystery writer vanished "under mysterious circumstances"), to write his murder mystery (he's not sure yet how it will end.) His characters show up, and one of them tries to kill him... but which one?
- The Haunted Mansion embodies this trope; not so much so at Disneyland, but definitely in its other incarnations.
- This is a staple of Scooby-Doo and many of its imitators, though the victims are usually just kidnapped instead of murdered.
- This is played with on a episode of The Simpsons, Homer's Aunt has passed away, and her will demands that the Simpson family must spend a night in an allegedly haunted house. Cut to the family entering the house, Homer declaring "There's no such thing as ghosts." The next morning, the family is well-rested, refreshed, having slept better and the water was better too.
- Wayne Manor comes across as this in the pilot of Batman Beyond. The secret that it is hiding is a little unconventional.