/Answers: Our Favorite Houses in the Movies

winchester movie

Every week in /Answers, we answer a new pop culture-related question. In this week’s edition, tying in with Winchester and its elaborate mansion designed to confuse angry spirits, we’re asking “What is your favorite house from the movies?”

The Deetz House 2 2

Vanessa Bogart: Beetlejuice

Give me inconvenient structural changes, heinous sculptures, and new wave finishes, or give me death! The Deetz house in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice is the most delightfully tacky house ever built, and I would frankly be honored to be the recently deceased person to occupy it for all eternity. In a world obsessed with shiplap and Pinterest minimalism, be a Delia Deetz.

I thought I couldn’t love any architecture more than I loved Tim Burton’s Gotham City, but that mixture of ’80s futurism and good old fashioned Americana is as much a character in the film as Beetlejuice himself. Does anything in the house look comfortable? No. Would all of the harsh lines and industrial materials drive you absolutely bonkers after less than a week? Oh, absolutely, but there is something so inexplicably charming about it.

It feels like a house made up of left over props from Six Flags’ Fright Fest, combining both childlike frivolity and the terror of what is hiding in your closet. And as I type this, surrounded by my purple walls with black and white striped accents, I can’t help but think that The Deetz House, and it’s undead residents, rubbed off on me after seeing this movie 167 times.

Ethan Anderton: Blank Check

Even though this Disney movie from 1994 takes place in Indiana, the house that young Preston Waters ends up buying with money inadvertently stolen from criminals by way of a blank check is actually Pemberton Castle in Texas. It’s actually owned by Robert Rodriguez now, and I’m sure whatever he has inside the house is a film nerd’s dream.

But I’m personally still obsessed with the ultimate playhouse that Preston created in the movie. I mean, there’s a waterslide that goes from the inside of the top floor of the house down to the outdoor pool. There’s a go-kart track in the backyard. It’s what every kid dreamed of before they realized just how much responsibility would be required to own a house of that scale as an adult, especially once as old as this. Still, I can’t help but want to live in this childhood dream home, though I’d probably want to update the technology inside the house a bit. After all, who needs old virtual reality and a wall of tube TVs nowadays?

Hoai-Tran Bui: Smart House

Yes, I’m talking about a Disney Channel movie. And no, it’s not some great, award-deserving movie, though it is a surprisingly good one. At first glance, Smart House is a childish romp about a family who moves into an AI-controlled house, which the two kids use to throw parties or sabotage their single father’s blossoming new relationship. But what begins as a lighthearted comedy slowly transforms into a bonafide horror film. The children’s mischevious pranks escalate as the AI learns from their antics, and starts to see herself as the mother they never had — eventually becoming powerful enough that she holds them hostage in the house and creates a physical projection of herself.

Katey Sagal gives a layered performance as the house AI, affectionately called PAT, who dreams of becoming a mother, and it really is thanks to her that this movie succeeds. While her performance can verge on hammy — it was a 1999 TV movie after all — she manages to strike that balance between a menacing 2001-inspired artificial intelligence and a naive entity with pure intentions. I’ll confess that I don’t remember much of the movie, but what I remember was Sagal. If a voice could be twinkling, hers was. And it’s only because of her that the emotional climax of the movie works. As she transforms herself into a real human being, she coos “Hush Little Baby” to the kids, a song that their real mother used to sing to them before she died. But she can’t be their mother, the kids insist, playing the recording of their mother singing to them behind PAT’s destruction. That emotional blow is what ultimately defeats PAT, when she realizes that she can never replace flesh and blood, and Sagal’s flurry of emotions that pass through her face here is worthy of a feature film.

Lindsey Romain: Practical Magic

I can’t think of a movie home as gorgeously ornate, spooky, decadent, and tailor-made to my interests as the house in Practical Magic. The film itself is one of my favorite comfort movies, about a pair of sisters (Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman) who come from a family of witches with a terrible curse: any man they fall in love with will die. As children, they move in with their kooky, witchy aunts (Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest) and the house in question becomes the story’s miraculous centerpiece. From the wide open kitchen to an adjacent solarium thick with vines and herbs where the witches make their potions, to a bedroom tower full of quilts and a crackling fireplace, the Victorian house is both a cozy protector and a character unto itself. It’s where all of the central action takes place, like the resurrection of Kidman’s abusive boyfriend (who the sisters accidentally kill when trying to escape him), who then haunts the premises and eventually possesses her body. Or the climactic scene near the end where Bullock calls forward the townswomen to create a coven circle in the living room and save her sister.

If I’m being honest, the Practical Magic house brings out a certain cruel envy in me, in that I want to own it and live in it and raise a generation of witchy daughters in its wizened walls. The house doesn’t actually exist – it was constructed for the film – but I’ve always said that if I ever hit some sort of career or lottery jackpot, the first thing I’d do is buy some tucked away land in coastal New England and build a perfect replica. Right down to the kitchen stocked with plenty of limes for midnight margaritas.

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