Mills View and Stimson House served as the filming locations for the cinematic haunted houses of two creepy and quirky 80s horror movies.
When I was just a young weirdo navigating the bizarre world of the 1980s, my formative years were influenced in no small part by two uniquely strange cinematic oddities: House and House II: The Second Story.
80s horror was dominated by slashers like Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger who splattered the silver screen with buckets of debaucherous teenage blood.
House did something different.
The bogeyman wasn’t stalking you from behind the neighbor’s hedge. He wasn’t taunting you in your dreams. He wasn’t creeping in the woods at summer camp. No, the evil wasn’t fumbling around in the steaming entrails of babysitters and camp counselors. Rather, it was oozing from dark, impossible voids between the very walls of the place you called home.
It was a weird and fun take on the haunted house with alternating moments of camp and dread and grotesque rubber monsters that only the 80s could pull off.
I watched those movies over and over again on VHS. They inadvertently kindled my early interests in history, archeology, and architecture, as well as a distrust of taxidermy and general feelings of unease around closets, crawl spaces and other strange spaces within a home.
The influence of these films on my young psyche cannot be overstated.
Ding Dong. You’re Dead.
House hit theaters in 1986 alongside other 80s horror classics like Critters, Chopping Mall, TerrorVision, The Fly, Poltergeist II, Psycho III, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives and more. It was directed by Steve Miner and produced by Sean S. Cunningham, who had previously worked together on the Friday the 13th franchise. Another Camp Crystal Lake alumni, Kane Hodder, was the stunt coordinator.
The script was based on a 15-page story written by Fred Dekker, the writer and/or director behind some all-time favorites like Night of the Creeps, The Monster Squad, and a handful of HBO’s Tales from the Crypt episodes. After watching the (ill-fated) 1983 Twilight Zone movie, Dekker and Miner, along with their friends Ethan Wiley and Shane Black, planned to make a similar anthology film. They never got around to it, but Wiley turned Dekker’s story into a full-fledged script that became House.
House II premiered in 1987. It was not a continuation of the previous film, but a new story in an entirely different house.
Both films feature some very familiar faces from the 80s, including William Katt, George Wendt, Richard Moll, Bill Maher, and John Ratzenberger.
But the real stars of these films are the huge and massively creepy haunted houses in which the epic battles against supernatural evil take place. Interiors were built on sound stages, but the houses used for exterior shots for both films are real and have fascinating histories.
Mills View Mansion – Monrovia, CA
In House, horror author Roger Cobb inherits an old mansion from his aunt after she hangs herself in the home. He decides to use the house as a getaway to focus on writing his next book – memoirs of his time in the Vietnam war.
It’s not long before the horrors lurking inside the old mansion’s walls rear their hideous, skeletal heads.
The actual estate standing in as Cobb’s house of horrors is the Mills View mansion at 329 Melrose Ave in Monrovia, California. It is an Eastlake-style home built in 1887 as a wedding gift for Milton Monroe – whose father the town of Monrovia was named after – and his wife Mary.
Today, it is considered one of Monrovia’s premiere mansions.
Milton and Mary eventually divorced and, in 1899, Milton was killed tragically in a railroad accident at the age of 33.
Col. John H. Mills and his wife Elizabeth bought the house in 1893 when Mills retired. They marveled at the view. On a clear day, they could see all the way to Catalina Island from the third floor windows, which is how the house got its name.
Just three months after moving in, the colonel died of heart failure.
Photo of Mills View from a 2015 real estate listing
Elizabeth continued to live there until her death in 1905. The house had a handful of owners after that, and was up for sale as recently as 2015.
The mansion was originally built on Banana Ave (now Hillcrest Boulevard) but when Melrose Avenue was extended past Hillcrest in the 1920s, the entire house was rotated 90 degrees to face Melrose. Patch reports that remnants of the original garden can still be found in the backyard of the house across the street.
Mills View has been used in 20 film and television productions since 1980. It can also be seen in a 1992 episode of Picket Fences, in which I’m sure it didn’t appear nearly as ominous.
While it may not have any real ghosts, I would still be cautious of the closets at midnight. And maybe try to avoid the medicine cabinets.
Stimson House – Los Angeles, CA
In House II, Jesse McLaughlin returns to an old mansion that has belonged to his family for generations – the same house where his parents were murdered when he was a baby. When Jesse discovers his great great grandfather is buried, but still alive, in a nearby cemetery because of a magical Aztec relic, the house’s dark secrets are soon revealed.
The McLaughlin place is actually an imposing red stone mansion located at 2421 S. Figueroa St. in Los Angeles with its own unusual history.
The “Red Castle,” as it was called, was built in 1891 for Michigan lumber and banking millionaire Thomas Douglas Stimson when he retired.
The Pacific Coast Architecture Database calls it a “flamboyant essay in the usually more sedate Richardsonian Romanesque Style.”
When it was completed, the Los Angeles Times wrote that it was “the costliest and most beautiful private residence in Los Angeles.”
Of course, that kind of notoriety often comes with a price.
In 1896, an explosion rocked the mansion and tore a hole in the wall.
Neighbors saw someone lighting dynamite and fired shots in that direction, but the perpetrator escaped. The Los Angeles Times reported that “dynamite fiends” attempted to blow it up, but the “redstone walls resisted the terrific explosion.”
Stimson eventually discovered the culprit was Harry Coyne, a private detective he had been employing. For some time, Coyne had been convincing Stimson to pay for his services to protect him from a notorious Mexican criminal he said was out to get Stimson.
Prior to the explosion, Coyne even went so far as to poison Stimson’s dog, claiming it was the work of this fictitious criminal.
After the bombing, Coyne said there would be another attack. But Stimson soon began to suspect Coyne’s scheme and confronted him. Coyne was sentenced to five years in Folson Prison.
Stimson died of heart disease two years later in 1898. His widow lived in the house until her death in 1904.
Beer baron Edward R. Maier bought the house, moved his family in, and used the labyrinthine, catacomb-like basement to store wine and other spirits.
Later in the 1940s, the mansion served as a fraternity house for USC’s rowdy Pi Kappa Alpha. After years of loud parties and other annoyances, neighbor Carrie Estelle Doheny bought the house from the fraternity and donated it to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet for use as a convent. From 1969 to 1993 the sisters allowed Mount St. Mary’s College to use it as school housing. The nuns moved back in the fall of 1993, just before the Northridge earthquake of 1994 shook California and caused considerable damage to the house.
The Stimson House in The Bionic Woman episode “Black Magic”
In a 1976 episode of The Bionic Woman called “Black Magic,” the Stimson House became a remote island home in the Louisiana bayou for a deceased millionaire who sends his greedy, backstabbing family on a scavenger hunt through the house for their inheritance.
The episode guest stars Julie Newmar, Abe Vigoda, and features Vincent Price as both the contemptuous Cyrus Carstairs, as well as his conniving brother Manfred who hopes to steal his fortune.
Price loved the acoustics of the mansion, and returned later to record some of his own audio productions.
The house also appeared in the 1989 horror anthology After Midnight, as a mortuary in the series Pushing Daisies, and more recently in an episode of Mad Men.
I’m guessing the original blueprints did not include alternate dimensions like the prehistoric jungle bedroom or the Mayan temple, but I like to think they’re in there somewhere.