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Structured for Fear: Unsettling Historic Architecture in the Insidious Movies

Architectural doorways to the astral in the Insidious franchise.  

Insidious The Last Key
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  • still shot from 'Insidious: The Last Key' (2018)Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Astral projection is all fun and games until the traveler gets lost on their way back to their historic home.

In the five-film Insidious franchise, each story is set in a stylish old residence. When spirits embark from their physical bodies to visit a spooky dimension known as The Further, they are leaving some nice historic architecture behind. Their corporeal selves await in glorious single-family homes, a fancy apartment building, and an elegant fraternity house.

The creepy Insidious films showcase various architectural styles while suggesting an enduring, multi-generational evil rooted in the oldest parts of our built environment—and ourselves. The message is clear: If we want carefree travel to and from the astral realm, we need a tasteful historic home to which to return.

Insidious (2010)

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  • Photo Credit: Stage 6 Films

When their son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), slips into a coma, Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) and Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne), experience what appear to be hauntings in Insidious (directed by James Wan, 2010). At first, the house in which they live seems to be the source of the supernatural activity. 

Constructed in 1910, the real-life Craftsman style home is located at 4350 Victoria Park Drive in mid-city Los Angeles, positioned along an oval street. 

Growing out of the Arts and Crafts movement, the Craftsman style was meant to showcase craftsmanship in materials and express the quality of design at the exterior and interior. This house is a particularly good example, with eclectic flourishes, especially the Swiss-style fascia, and half-timbering under the gable peaks. 

However lovely their architecture, the Lambert family is concerned about the way unexplained phenomena in their home may be affecting Dalton. They do what we always wish haunted people would: they leave. 

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  • Photo Credit: Stage 6 Films

The Lamberts move to a new house nearby, but the hauntings only follow them there, suggesting the ghosts have cars, or it is the people themselves who are haunted. Enter everyone’s favorite psychic/paranormal expert/demonologist, Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), who steps in to help find Dalton where his spirit is trapped in an astral plane. 

The Lambert’s second home, constructed in 1927, is located at 1150 South Point View Street in the Carthay Circle neighborhood of Los Angeles. Planned in 1922, this historic district boasts a charming collection of period revival homes from the 1920s and 1930s. The Lambert’s house is a modest building that has sustained some non-historic alterations. However, it retains key elements of the Tudor Revival style, with steeply pitched front gables and diamond pane windows. 

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

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  • Photo Credit: Blumhouse Productions; Peter Gargiulo/Unsplash

Insidious: Chapter 2 picks up where the first film left off, featuring the same cast and director. Much of the story takes place in the Queen Anne style home of Lorraine Lambert (Josh Lambert’s mother). In this house, the film tells of Josh’s childhood, when he was first visited by a demon.

The real-life residence is a c. 1890 stunner at 5905 El Mio Drive in Highland Park, Los Angeles. Known as the Smith Estate, this property is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and a City of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument for its intact early architecture.

Queen Anne homes were constructed in Los Angeles in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Distinguished by their exuberance, they often featured towers, cupolas, projecting bays, complex rooflines, walls clad in wood paneling and fish scale shingles, porches with decorative features like turned posts, spindle work, and applied ornamentation.

Pre-1900 houses are relatively rare in Los Angeles. Setting Insidious: Chapter 2 in such an early residence bolsters the story’s rooting in prior decades, revealing Josh’s haunted backstory. Once again, even an attractive home doesn’t save the Lamberts.

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  • Photo Credit: Blumhouse Productions

When historic architecture can’t solve a problem, Lin Shaye can. The all-seeing Elise Rainier returns in Insidious: Chapter 2 through flashbacks to Josh’s childhood. Elise’s Craftsman style residence is introduced here and used more in later films. 

The real-life house is located at 445 N. Avenue 53, also in Highland Park. Constructed in 1908, this building is in a local historic district. Its hillside positioning offers majestic southerly views, an appropriate vantage point for the all-seeing Elise. 

Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)

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  • Photo Credit: Blumhouse Productions; Peter Gargiulo/Unsplash

Written and directed by Leigh Whannell, Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015) is a prequel introducing Elise’s character prior to meeting the Lambert family. Though distraught by the challenges of her psychic gifts, Elise makes the decision to aid a teenage girl, Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) in connecting with her dead mother. The girl lives with her grieving father (Dermot Mulroney) in a spooky apartment building where she is wheelchair-bound. Supernatural happenings seem to be coming from the apartment upstairs.

The real-life building is played by the Fleur De Lis or Whitley Apartments, located at 1825 Whitley Avenue in Hollywood. Constructed in 1928, at the time of a population boom in Los Angeles, this building was designed in the Chateauesque style and is listed in the California Register of Historical Resources. 

Chateauesque architecture references the grandeur of French castles or chateaus, and often has an imposing nature with an emphasis on verticality. Detailing in an eclectic combination of motifs, such as the first-floor Gothic arched windows, suggests opulence. Stucco quoins along building corners and scored concrete walls imitate more expensive materials like cut stone. 

The way the building wears its architecture to imply it is something more than it is works well to convey the mask the characters in this film must wear to cope with their grief.

Insidious: The Last Key (2018)

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  • Photo Credit: Blumhouse Productions

Insidious: The Last Key (directed by Adam Robitel, 2018) focuses on Elise Rainier returning to her childhood home in New Mexico to help the current owner solve a ghostly problem. Flashbacks to the past reveal Elise’s childhood. Her father worked as a prison guard and the basement led to underground tunnels into a penitentiary where violent executions took place. In reconnecting with her estranged brother and nieces, she must confront the past, managing ghosts that are both literal and figurative. 

Enshrouded in mystery, the real-life house is located in the middle of the Inglewood Oil Field in Los Angeles County, just west of La Cienega Boulevard, with no address. This brick house appears to have been constructed about 1915, according to the assessor, and is positioned at the crest of a hill. For now, the house is vacant (except for ghosts) and used for filming. 

The use of brick on a Craftsman residence is unique, as such buildings typically have wood paneling. The mystery of this building makes it the perfect setting in which to unravel the backstory of the iconic and enigmatic Elise Rainier.

Insidious: The Red Door (2023)

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  • Photo Credit: Blumhouse Productions

The latest installment of the franchise, Insidious: The Red Door (directed by Patrick Wilson) was released in 2023. This story returns to the ongoing saga of the Lambert Family. It follows Dalton (still played by Ty Simpkins), now a young adult, to his freshman year of college where he is studying art. He and his father (Patrick Wilson) have a difficult relationship. Their shared trauma of time spent in The Further is affecting them still—only they don’t know what’s wrong. They were hypnotized to forget. 

The primary setting of the film is Dalton’s college dorm as well as a frat house where he parties amongst the living and the dead.

The fraternity house is the real-life Tilghman House, an academic building at Drew University, located at 36 Madison Avenue in Madison, New Jersey. Constructed in 1894, this Tudor building, with steeply pitched gables and half-timbering, is unique on the campus. It was originally built as a mansion later and adapted for academic use.

Insidious: The Red Door represents a geographic departure from the previous films, which were primarily filmed in Los Angeles. It features one of the oldest and most unique architectural specimens in the franchise, standing thousands of miles away from the original film locations. This shift underscores the vast reaches of the film’s supernatural underpinnings. 

While this is (allegedly) the final film, fans of the Insidious franchise have experienced an enthralling journey through historic residential architecture. Every gorgeous old building opens a doorway to The Further.