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Haunted Heroine

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"You best start believing in ghost stories, Miss Turner. You're in one!"
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A heroine haunted equally by her own past and the uncanny events around her.

This character continually pops up in films involving ghosts or supernatural characters. She moves into Haunted Headquarters without any idea of what's in store for her. She seems attractive, capable and altogether normal until...the strange noises from the attic keep waking her up. Or that Creepy Housekeeper keeps making cryptic comments. Or her kid starts going on about some Imaginary Friend who might not be so imaginary after all. The Haunted Heroine typically comes equipped with a kid (or younger sibling) that is inevitably the first one to notice the supernatural goings-on, possibly because kids are supposed to have more imagination. It won't take long however, before the woman realizes she's being haunted.

Now the fun begins as the Haunted Heroine sheds her well-groomed exterior to reveal the barely-concealed neuroses and phobias hidden underneath. This character tends to have a Mysterious Past and hinted-at childhood trauma. She might be sexually repressed or traumatized too. Whatever her problems, there's always the subtle suggestion that she herself might be imagining the whole thing because of her messed-up psyche. Freud would have loved the Haunted Heroine. It doesn't help that nobody ever seems to believe her story. As the story continues, expect to see hints of Mama Bear in her as well when her kid or kids are threatened.

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The originator of this trope is Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, in which a governess becomes convinced that her dead predecessor and her lover have somehow come back from beyond the grave to mess with the kids. This famous and influential story set the tone for a slew of Supernatural Fiction ever since that tries to imply it might be All in Their Minds. All this while still having a lot of fun with the ghosts.

Compare and contrast with Supernatural-Proof Father. See also Haunted House Historian, who typically warns the Haunted Heroine and gets ignored for their trouble.


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Examples:

Film

  • Grace from The Others: Subverted with a twist: the haunted heroine and her children are the ghosts.
  • Julia from Full Circle, who tries to escape her overbearing husband and the trauma of her daughter's tragic death, which she may have caused, by moving into a house that turns out to be (apparently) haunted.
  • Laura from The Orphanage. She grew up in the eponymous orphanage, and must figure out what happened there when she was a kid in order to rescue her missing son, whose imaginary friend might be real after all.
  • House is a comedy-horror movie with William Katt as a male version of this trope, trying to rescue his son who disappeared in the house of the title. There was some implication that it was all in his head (although it turned out that it wasn't), and it all centred around trauma in his past (specifically, The Vietnam War).
  • Any version of The Ring has this character as the protagonist except for the book, which has a Haunted Hero.
  • The Haunting (1963) is a classic example, with Eleanor, a deeply neurotic young woman who is brought to a Haunted House as part of a ghost-hunting study. She becomes so fascinated by the house and the idea of belonging somewhere that she decides to stay forever and become a ghost. Nell's own backstory is mostly only hinted at, but she seems to have been the victim of a lot of emotional abuse by her overbearing mother, whose death she feels responsible for. The history of the house also has a few uncanny parallels to her own experience.
  • Crimson Peak plays this pretty straight with Edith, an American heiress who grew up haunted by the ghost of her dead mother. After a whirlwind romance and the sudden death of her father, she marries an English baronet who takes her off to his family home, where she becomes increasingly isolated and lonely, beginning to question her own sanity as she's apparently the only person able to see the ghosts that haunt the place. The movie is a very straight-faced and loving homage to older Gothic narratives set in haunted houses, like The Turn of the Screw and The Haunting of Hill House, which featured classic examples of this trope.
  • Downplayed in The Shining, where Wendy is much less impacted by the Overlook Hotel than her husband and son, both of whom seem to be losing their minds. Only in the film's finale does Wendy start to see the a few of the ghosts that may or may not be haunting the hotel.
  • In Hereditary, Annie goes hard into spiritualism and seances after the death of her daughter, Charlie, and becomes convinced that something supernatural is going on, as opposed to her more rational husband, Steve. Ultimately, though, it's their teenage son Peter who is the focus of all the supernatural things going on, and Annie does not get the heroic Mama Bear moment that normally comes with this trope.
  • The Babadook's heroine, Amelia, is haunted by the trauma of her husband's death and her complicated relationship with their son Samuel - a sort of gender-flipped case of Maternal Death? Blame the Child!. The Babadook itself is a manifestation of that trauma - whether it's an actual demon or just her mental illness doesn't ultimately matter - that is trying to force her to kill her son.
  • Mary from Carnival of Souls. The movie opens with her as the only person to walk away from a deadly drag-racing accident, and she's then stalked across Utah by a sinister Implacable Man that nobody else can see. The film takes on an increasing tone of Surreal Horror as she begins to doubt her own sanity, becoming strangely drawn to an old abandoned carnival pavilion on the edge of the Great Salt Lake. The movie doesn't really delve into her backstory before the car wreck, though, the trauma of which she doesn't seem to recognize, and she seems so isolated from everyone around her that she comes across as a Protagonist Without a Past at times.
  • In Mulholland Dr., Naomi Watts' character is either being stalked by a sinister and possibly supernatural conspiracy, losing her mind, or both. It's hard to say.

Literature

  • The Turn of the Screw, of course. As well as The Innocents, the 1961 film version with Deborah Kerr.
  • Subverted in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, where the heroine is a young widowed mother who might just be imagining the hearty sea captain's ghost out of romantic yearning, but the ghost himself is utterly benign and the heroine can matter-of-factly tell him not to reveal himself to her daughter as she's much too young for ghosts.
  • Eleanor Vance of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, both the book and the 1963 movie.
  • Angela in The Good House. She moves into her grandmother's haunted house, but people don't believe her suspicions of supernatural activity until it's too late...
  • Former governess, apparently a normal, sweet young woman, whose neuroses bubble up to the surface as uncanny events pop up — Vera Claythorne from And Then There Were None fits this trope to a T, but subverted in that she did deliberately cause the death of her charge, and she ends up snapping completely in the end.
  • The unnamed narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper keeps seeing movement in the wallpaper — and this is supposed to be the result of her medical treatment. There is also a baby in the house (the narrator's own; it's implied she may suffer from post-partum depression) but the narrator isn't allowed to have anything to do with her care or raising; that wouldn't be "restful."
  • Sara Crowe in The Red Tree takes a lot of emotional baggage (and a seizure-inducing neurological disorder) with her when she moves into a farmhouse near the eponymous tree. How much this affects the goings on in the book is left for the reader to divine.
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison: Sethe is haunted by the ghost of Beloved (the child she killed) and her tragic past, which is full of slavery, cruelty, murder, and rape.
  • It certainly seems to be the case in The Dark Beneath The Ice, as the entity shows classic poltergeist behaviour, writes creepy threats in foggy mirrors, interferes with electronics and even messes with a psychic reading when our hero seeks help from the tarot-reading mother of her new friend.
  • Played straight with Alex, the main character in Ninth House.
  • In The Locked Tomb Harrow has a lot of this. In the first book she's troubled by the circumstances of her birth, having committed a potentially apocalyptic blasphemy against her religion as a child, and causing of her parents' suicide, while exploring a haunted ruin as her companions are murdered. When she becomes the main character in the second book she adds hallucinations, repressed memories, the spirit of her cavalier dwelling inside her, a separate ghost trying to possess her, and a third spirit that's been haunting her since childhood, on an ancient space station where the corpse of a dead enemy seems curiously ambulatory. Her necromancy is focused on manipulating bone rather than spirits, so it's of less use than might be expected resolving this.

Live-Action TV

  • In The Haunting of Bly Manor, a more contemporary take on The Turn of the Screw, has the new au pair Dani being tormented by the ghosts of household staff Rebecca Jessel, Peter Quint, and Hannah Grose, as well as the Lady of the Lake, the original owner of the manor. Dani is also haunted by a totally unrelated ghost, that of her ex-fiance Eddie, who died in a freak hit-and-run the night she broke up with him.
  • The title character in The Haunting of Sarah Hardy has spent her life being haunted by the suicide of her mother. After she marries, the viewer learns that her husband and her supposed best friend have been gaslighting her in hopes that she'll kill herself and leave him to inherit her fortune. At some point, she figures out what's happening and turns the tables on him, but it still ends badly for her.
  • Lydia on Teen Wolf. Initially it seems that she is only being influenced by Peter Hale. But lately it has become apparent that she can hear other ghosts as well, and that it is not a voluntary ability.

Video Games

Web Animation

  • Kel, the protagonist of Clover Love Hope Faith And Luck, wakes up one day to find herself haunted by three spirits. In an unusual twist, the ghosts are explicitly trying to help her rather than terrorize her.
Western Animation
  • Lydia Deetz on Beetlejuice subverts this as she loves spooky things and the Ghost With the Most is her friend.

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