Last year was one of the most successful ever for horror films, with four scary movies — It (producer Barbara Muschietti), Get Out (casting director Terri Taylor), Split (production designer Mara LePere-Schloop), and Annabelle: Creation (costume designer Leah Butler) — all earning over $250 million at the worldwide box office. And 2018 is off to a spooky start as well, with Insidious: The Last Key (associate producer Laura Altmann) already a box office success and Winchester (art director Janie Parker) arriving soon. But how scary is Winchester? The film, which stars Helen Mirren as an old widow building a house, doesn't look like your typical horror film, but its origins are far creepier than you might imagine.
The thing that makes Winchester so scary is that it's based on a true story. And while many scary movies like to claim that they were inspired by actual events, Winchester has a stronger claim than most of them, given that you can visit the actual supposed haunted house where the movie takes place. The film is based on the real life story of Sarah Winchester, the widow of William Winchester of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company and heiress to his vast fortune. Sarah was greatly affected by the death of her only daughter, Annie Winchester, who died at one month old. Several years later, Sarah's husband passed away due to tuberculosis, and it was not long after that when she began construction on the Winchester House that would come to define her life.
The Winchester Mystery House, as it is often labeled, is today a popular tourist destination in San Jose, California. The mammoth mansion is estimated to contain 160 rooms — estimated because not all rooms are accessible — and contains many curiosities like hallways and staircases that lead to nowhere, windows that offer views into other rooms, and a door that opens to a two-story drop. Construction on the home began in 1884 and it wasn't finished until Sarah Winchester passed away in 1922, with work on the house continuing 'round the clock with virtually no stops over that 38 year span. But it's the story behind the home's never-ending construction and oddities where things start to get creepy.
Though unconfirmed, there have long been legends that suggest the reason for the house's unorthodox layout and constantly changing construction was to placate the numerous ghosts who dwelled within its walls. The most popular theory behind the home's origin claims that a Boston medium told Winchester that she should build a mansion on the west coast to house the ghosts of all those killed by Winchester rifles, and that if construction on the home were ever to cease, the spirits would see to her demise, according to the Los Angeles Times. The home is also known to contain a séance room, and while she was alive, Winchester held the only key to this room's single entrance; though it had three exits. It is alleged that she came to this room every night to communicate with spirits, who would then instruct her on how to proceed with the construction the following day, according to the Winchester Mystery House's website. Furthermore, many people who have toured the home over the years have reported strange sightings, and it's a popular destination for ghost hunting, and has been featured in an episode of Ghost Adventures.
As for the film, its story takes the most paranormal claims about the Winchester House and blows them up to the extreme. The movie features a fictional character, a psychiatrist named Eric Price (Jason Clarke), who is sent to the house to determine if Sarah Winchester is crazy for believing her house to be haunted. What he finds instead is that ghosts are very real, and they are very much in control of the giant spooky house.
Although Winchester may look like your typical haunted house movie on the surface, the fact that the film takes place in a real mansion that is said to be haunted and tells a widely-circulated story about the home's alleged paranormal origins makes Winchester far scarier than the average ghost story movie.