Home might be where the heart is, but as the new film “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” suggests, sometimes one’s home is where the hell is. Guillermo del Toro’s latest haunt-fest retells that old tale of a family moving into a house where supernatural beings go bump in the night, and adds to the ever-expanding list of cinematically proven signs that it’s time to find a new house. Right now.
When there are people living under the stairs — or in the cellar
When your days are plagued by the possibility of being eaten alive by limbless housemates, it’s definitely not a settling routine. In the 1991 Wes Craven classic “The People Under the Stairs,” a gaggle of desperate robbers led by a thuggish Ving Rhames break into the wrong house, and soon find themselves unable to leave. With a patriarch named “Daddy,” who has a penchant for sadistic torment, bondage and sadomasochistic outfits, and an equally disturbed “Mommy,” even the people who live above the stairs don’t seem quite so nuts.
When your house is the last one on the left
Another Craven creation, “The Last House on the Left,” is so gruesome and vulgar that it overshadows how petrifying the actual story is. Just know that it is best to stay away from homes at such locations, because they are likely inhabited by sex-obsessed psychopaths who find solace in the misery of others.
When your housemates are demons
When you find yourself or another innocent member of your household always wanting to draw eerie pictures of demons for no apparent reason, you’d better get in touch with the moving company. In the horror offering “Insidious,” a red-faced demon and its equally creepy colleagues terrorize a boy and his family, leading them to an unfortunate experience that serves as the worst housewarming gift ever. As “The Amityville Horror” clearly shows, demons just aren’t in the habit of sharing their house.
When your house is on Maple Street
When you’re cursed with some of the most assuredly prejudiced neighbors in existence, the kind who will shoot you because of an electrical blackout, you’d better start boxing up your belongings.
In one of the most popular “Twilight Zone” episodes ever, “The Monsters are Due in Maple Street,” residents are so eager to persecute each other that it barely takes a day for everybody, including retro-looking housewives, to start shooting each other and rioting like madmen around the seemingly idyllic neighborhood. Come to think of it, maybe Maple Street doesn’t seem so far off.
When the kids and pets start acting weird
Like the children and animal companions in “The Legend of Hell House,” “The Amityville Horror,” “The Messengers,” “The Sixth Sense” and many others, kids and pets are the best radar for ghosts, monsters and generally unfriendly things around the house. When they start exhibiting odd behaviors such as habitually staring off into the distance, spinning their heads around 360 degrees or floating across the room, that’s a sure sign to get the heck out.
When your house is an obese circus performer with issues
When your house starts trying to eat you, the neighborhood kids and an ill-fated basketball, it’s probably best to get in immediate touch with the closest real-estate agent. In the computer-animated comedy-horror “Monster House,” which utilized motion-capture technology to create an experience similar to that of the 2004 film “The Polar Express,” a house inhabited by the soul of a dead circus freak-show performer named Constance the Giantess has a rather large appetite.
Having been teased constantly during her lifetime, Constance the Giantess grew to despise children, especially the ones who continue to haunt her even as she turns into a hideous-looking house in an upscale suburban neighborhood. Her retaliation is thus a simple one: Eat everything that touches the lawn.
When your house is rigged with surveillance cameras
As seen in the massively successful and terrifying “Paranormal Activity” and its two sequels, the presence (or urgent need) for an array of cameras should tip you off that something’s not right. Sure, they could be there to keep an eye on a light-fingered maid or alcoholic baby sitter, or they could be there to capture murderous evil spirits inhabiting your body — the ones commanding you to sit on the edge of the bed for hours before going on a dramatic, low-resolution rampage for the entertainment of others.
When handsome rednecks start paying friendly visits
Just as the Tilson family learned in the thriller “Cold Creek Manor,” sometimes even a luxurious mansion isn’t worth the murderous rampage. And when the friendly locals, such as psychopathic charmer Stephen Dorff, start pushing their way into your redecorating project, its best to put on those skeptics’ glasses and hope that you don’t run into any skeletons in the backyard. Literally.