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The House Next Door (1978): Architectural Southern Horror


The House Next Door (film)

The House Next Door (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I will admit up front that if Stephen King had not written about The House Next Door in his own book Danse Macabre, I would have never heard of Ann Rivers Siddons let alone read her book.

King’s Danse Macabre was a look at horror as a medium in radio, film, television and literature. Before I go into Siddons book, I’d like to recommend that you have a peek at Danse Macabre (or hell, why not go all out and read the whole book). You might just find that he writes about some old friends or, like my own experience with the book, make some new ones.

Ann Rivers Siddons was born in the south and she still lives there. She writes southern based literature and does so very well. She does not write horror novels and except for The House Next Door she hasn’t visited the area of Southern Gothic stories.

The House Next Door is set in a modern day southern suburban neighbourhood. The books main protagonist is Colquitt Kennedy and although she is later joined by husband Walter, she alone is the one who recognises the threat that the house poses.

Coquitt and Walter are a childless couple who are rapidly approaching that time of life that is referred to as middle age. They are happy with their lives and do not miss having children. The Kennedy’s are the very picture of mediocrity. She has a part-time job and maintains her house, garden and pets equally. She is the more social of the married couple and she is to a degree, vain,  superficial and unchallenged by life.

The Kennedy’s live next to a  lot that has been, for years, vacant because building a house there would not only be difficult but expensive. The lot is wooded and too ‘wild’ to be turned into a building plot.

That changes with the arrival of architect Kim Dougherty. A charming and brilliant young man who has developed house plans for the plot next door for a young up and coming couple, the Harrellson’s. After initially feeling annoyance that they hadn’t bought the empty lot sooner, Colquitt and Walter warm to the young architect and they visit with him while the house is being built.

When the house is finished it is breath-taking to look at. It looks as though “it is literally growing out of the ground.” The Harralson’s move in and thus begins the first of several inhabitants of the house paying a horrific price for living in it.

The story is broken down into three families and the destruction of each when they move into the house. Colquitt and Walter become unwilling witnesses to the house and the way it destroys those drawn to it. Even the architect Kim is not safe from his creation.

The families are the Harralsons, the Sheehans and the Greens. Each family pays a higher price than the preceding family. It’s almost as if the house has developed an appetite for bloodshed, pain and death.

Colquitt and Walter finally decide that they must do something about the house next door and as a result become social pariahs in their own neighbourhood.  They then realise that the action they will have to take must be and drastic and final.

Siddons writes a haunted house tale that will grip you and make you want to discuss it with everyone. It  is a book that clings to your memory like day old custard. It amazes me that she hit the ‘horror ball’ right out of the park with her first horror novel. She knows her territory and the folks who fill it all too well.

Being born and raised, for the most part, in the south I felt that Siddons picture of life in southern suburbia was spot on. I also felt as though I had known most of the people that she wrote about.

Thankfully, I’ve never known a house like The House Next Door and hopefully I never will.

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