1. The Nameless Horror
A Hell House is a place that instinct says to avoid. They are unnerving to be even be near. To venture inside one is to face nameless horror, faceless terror, there is no reprieve from the unrelenting fear other than fight, flight, or curling up in helpless terror.
The House of 1,000 Corpses
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The People Under the Stairs
The Haunting of Hill House
Rocky Horror Picture Show
The Cabin in the Woods
2. Queer Folk
There is a distinct shortage of normal and average people in or around a Hell House. Most encountered are residents of the Hell House and are suitable tainted or evil, or they are harbingers warning others away, or they are victims who for whatever reason are trapped, trying to escape, or have lived closed enough to the Hell House to avoid it's grasp, but not it's taint.
The Devil's Rejects lived in the House of 1,000 Corpses. Ghosts, and nightmares that dwell around actual haunted houses. Highly eccentric people like the household staff of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, or the staff keeping the show rolling for the Cabin in the Woods.
3. Sinister Secrets and Societies
The Hell House almost never exists alone. It is the nexus of some sort of sinister secret, or the base of a sinister society. These exist codependent with the hell house, and destroying one will destroy the other.
In the Cabin in the Woods, there is an entire corporation devoted to keeping the horror rolling, and to placating the evils that would destroy mankind, completely unknown to the guests going to the cabin. The House of 1000 Corpses is the home of Doctor Satan and the Devil's Rejects, a bunch of crazy murder clowns. The People Under the Stairs were castaways and trapped inside the walls of the house. The haunted house from It was a lure from Pennywise to draw in children and put them in a state of pants pissing terror.
4. Odd Occurrences
The most common odd occurrence within a Hell House is that the house is dramatically larger on the inside than on the outside. This can sometimes be explained by the house being a gateway to a subterranean complex, or an alternate dimension, or it is just a nightmare function where escape is impossible, and every door opens to another hallway, every room links to another room, and there are no doors that open to outside... to freedom or escape.
Hell Houses are also often capable of changing their internal shape and layout, starting as a mansion or normal house, but turning into a labyrinth where every choice leads the victims closer to the beast at the center, or a maze where they are easily confused or lost, easy pickings for the residents, or for the house itself to feed on their fear.
5. Strange Place
From the outside a Hell House can look completely normal, or look like a creepy haunted house. Things don't become strange until entering the house. As in Odd Occurrences, the interior of the house can produce strange places.
Crimson Peak revealed red clay dye wells in the basement, where red clay covered ghosts and skeletons wander up from the depths. The house in It leads down to the underground crater where Pennywise fell to earth, complete with an alien crater. The church in Silent Hill tears apart into a hellish inferno where the secret master of Silent Hill is revealed in all of her bloody glory.
6. Alien Artifacts
Hell Houses are never empty, there are always strange artifacts and relics. This can range from finding some object that triggers flashback hallucinations, lost devices that can destroy the hell house, or the pieces of the structure that keeps it alive. There are also horrific tableaus where visitors are subjected to the joy of the house.
The House of 1000 corpses had the taxidermied former visitors to the house put on display, including on their own turned into a merman. Cue screaming.
The Cabin in the Woods had the basement full of trigger devices
Texas Chainsaw Massacre had the room with hooks hanging from the walls
A good Hell House should have a good chance to pull off a Total Party Kill.
That's its true purpose.
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