Where does evil come from? Where did it start? What about its sinister manifestations in the world, those ghoulies and ghosties, the things that go bump in the night? Monsters and nightmares and haunted houses that trap the soul; evil things have to come from somewhere. To explore this, Hulu has built an incredibly cool Halloween campaign of interconnected horror video shorts built around one concept: the origin of the first haunted house.
We tend to think of a haunted house as being haunted by malevolent spirits; less often do we think about the house on its own. But what if it's the haunted house itself that is evil, evil that exists in the very grains of its wood? That's the premise of Hulu's sinister mythology.
It all started with a tree. The tree sits, ancient and massive and gnarled, in the middle of an idyllic paradise. The paradise is the Garden of Eden; the tree, the Tree of Knowledge. But the tree has been tainted by something—Satan, the origin of all horror and terror in the world. As he slithers around the tree as a snake, his touch corrupts. His evil becomes part of the tree, soaked up into its roots and bark and leaves like bitter water.
Decades pass, then centuries, then millennia. Anything that comes into contact with the tree meets a grisly end, evil manifested. It is the knife that turns wrong in a hand and nearly severs a finger; it is the first sliding misstep of a tumble down a flight of stairs that ends in a broken neck; it's the whisper in the ear of a man who chokes the life out of another. A squirrel eats of the fruit of the tree and falls over, dead. A pair of lovers quarrel under its branches and their fight ends when she stabs him with the very knife he'd just used to carve their initials into its trunk.
Time moves on. The land changes, but the tree remains; the forces of nature that return everything around it to dust leave the tree untouched, as if Mother Nature herself recognizes she doesn't want to draw its terrible attention to her.
Eventually, it is discovered by woodcutters, but something always goes wrong when they turn their blades to its trunk. One of them dies in a grisly accident and the job is abandoned. The tree waits. Another few centuries later, new men arrive and finally succeed in cutting it down. Its wood is split and cut into planks, and, eventually, becomes a house.
No one seems to be able to live in it for long. Families move in, full of excitement for a new beginning, and just as quickly move out. They are the lucky ones, smart enough to listen to the self-preserving instinct that tells them something is not right and move away before becoming victims. Others are not so lucky and meet a terrible end. The house is everything and nothing, not a haunted house, but the haunted house. It is all haunted houses that exist, appearing wherever and whenever it wishes.
The house appears in Massachusetts; the young woman living there goes crazy and butchers her father and stepmother with an axe. It jumps to Germany; centuries later people know it as the candy-covered hut of a witch who ate children. It appears in a forest in Japan; the lost and despairing are drawn to it, disappearing into the ancient trees and never heard from again. It reappears in a small town in the middle of nowhere; children test their bravery by daring one another to enter until there is an accident, a death—later, none of the boys can say for certain what happened, only that the house kept...changing. It is Amityville and the Overlook Hotel and Hill House and the home Norman Bates shared with his mother and the house on Neibolt Street.
Eventually, a small brownstone in Brooklyn goes up for sale and is bought by a young family. They are overjoyed that they managed to close the deal; who would have thought a house this lovely could be bought at such a steal? A surge of pride hits the parents as they drag luggage and boxes up the stairs—this will be the home they'll grow old in, where their children will grow up. The door swings open, seemingly of its own accord, as if it's inviting them in, as if it knows they are meant to be there.
They drag their suitcases across the threshold and into the darkness beyond. If you were to look, right then, you might catch a flicker of something low down on the corner of the door as it closes behind them: a worn pair of initials in a heart, carved into the wood long ago. The door slams shut and the house is quiet once again.