Picture a haunted house. Or merely a creepy one. It’s probably a Victorian Gothic something or other with a few stories and a foreboding porch, right?
Creepy old abandoned houses have long been a prerequisite in horror stories, usually with overgrown lawns, too many mirrors, Big Nope attics, and white sheets draped over antique furniture that suddenly moves.
Stranger Things Season 4 has met the challenge with the Creel House. Vecna's lair and pivotal anchor of evildoing, the house is one of the most important locations in the Netflix series' fourth season, and something I’d certainly avoid investigating with a torch and a bunch of pals in the middle of the night.
The real Creel House is located in Rome, Georgia, about an hour and a half from the city of Atlanta. Yes, it has a real address, and yes, it’s private property so do not go and march all over their lawn for your selfies or harass residents.
Netflix told Mashable the Stranger Things production team were specifically looking for a spooky house with vertical architecture and an attic on the third floor. And, according to the streaming service, production designer Chris Trujillo associated the house with the Bates House from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, so the team approached the owners.
Built in 1882, the real Creel House used to be a bed and breakfast. According to Zillow, the 7,122-square-foot house was sold for $350,000 in 2019. As the listing by Toles, Temple, and Wright details, the house is known as Claremont House, built by solicitor and attorney Colonel Hamilton Yancey with six bedrooms, eight fireplaces, and yes, a walk-up attic.
When the locations team for Stranger Things found the house, the current owners had just closed on the sale a month beforehand and were about to renovate it — luckily the Stranger Things team were able to film onsite before then, boarding up windows and distressing the exterior as the creepily abandoned Creel House in the '80s. The house was replicated by the production team for later shooting on sound stages.
As seen in episode 4, Victor and Virginia Creel bought the house in 1959 with an inheritance from Virginia's great uncle, moving in with their kids Alice and Henry hoping for a "fresh start" for their son (it's still a little vague on what happened before this). As Victor (played by Freddie Krueger himself, Robert Englund) tells Nancy and Robin, "We had one month of peace in that house." That's actually more time than say, the Perrons get in The Conjuring or the Harmons get in American Horror Story before shit happens in their creepy homes. But it's still quick, poor Creels.
In 1959, the Creel House's interior has everything you need from a soon-to-be-haunted movie house: sweeping staircase, gilded mirrors, Tiffany lamps, dead-eyed taxidermy, and of course, the family's ominous grandfather clock. Victor describes it as "a magnificent home," one his daughter, Alice, describes as looking "like a fairy tale."
"We scoured the earth looking for interesting grandfather clocks," Trujillo told Netflix's Tudum blog. "Set decorator Jess Royal looked at dozens of options — I want to say she found it either in an estate sale or from an antique vendor. It was somewhere in the Southeast, maybe even Georgia. We modified it to our purposes, and we made copies of it. Who knows where it was from originally."
And of course, it has a claw-foot bathtub because what haunted house is complete without one?
In 1986 (the year the Stranger Things gang go exploring in it), Royal's set dressing remains on point with everything completely left as it was on that night — "I guess a triple homicide isn't good for resale value," Robin remarks — but covered in as much dust and cobwebs as The House on Haunted Hill, while the wallpaper peels from its bones. You can even spy a creepy old rocking chair in the room beyond the lobby covered in webs. There's a secret door to the attic, which Lucas makes a perfect Goonies joke about needing to play the piano correctly to open.
The Creel House isn't as grand as the grand halls of Bly Manor, Muppets Haunted Mansion, The Others, or Crimson Peak, nor does it have the scale of the Overlook from The Shining, or the cleverness of the secret rooms of House on Haunted Hill, The Haunting of Hill House, or the very real house from Winchester. It's on a smaller, creepier neighbourhood scale, looming like an empty, sinister shell on your street, more akin to the flat-fronted house of The Amityville Horror or the Well House in Stephen King’s IT, the entrance to Pennywise's lair.
It would not be the only King reference in Stranger Things, and the author knows it.
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I'll say it. The Creel House even looks like Stephen King's actual house.
It's classic wealthy Victorian Gothic suburban neighbourhood spookiness — tell me the Creel House is not on the cover of R.L. Stine's 1999 Welcome to Dead House, the first ever Goosebumps book illustrated by Tim Jacobus.
Of course, sitting pretty in 1959 and crumbling in 1986 is not the only state in which we see the Creel House. It's awash in blue in the Upside Down when we see Vecna plugged into those clawed tentacles in the attic. We also see it in pieces within Vecna's own mind, within the realm Steve calls "Vecna's red soup mind world," broken into floating pieces but for that recognisable staircase.
The Creel House is not the only horror homage the Stranger Things location team managed to wrangle for the season. The scenes in which Nancy and Robin visit Victor Creel at the Pennhurst Mental Hospital in Kerley County, Indiana, were actually shot at the largest college campus in the world: Berry College, also in Rome, Georgia (a few miles from where the real Creel House is). According to Netflix, the design for Pennshurst was influenced by a couple of films — One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in the upper levels, and The Silence of the Lambs in the lower cells where Creel is incarcerated.
Granted, the Creel House may eventually not be as memorable as other horror houses onscreen that immediately spring to mind (hello, Poltergeist), but it certainly pays tribute to them in tried and true Duffer Brothers nostalgic form. There are still secrets to unravel within the walls of the Creel House, and we're sure to learn them all when the final episodes of Stranger Things 4 arrive on July 1. In the meantime, we still have so many more questions.