Hell House is notable for its introduction of the duo who would eventually become the Ghostfacers, and the comedy chops that guest stars Travis Wester and A.J. Buckley brought to the episode. It’s also notable – for me at least – for how many times Sam and Dean get to laugh and smile and have fun, which warms my heart.
The episode starts, as so many horror movies do, at an abandoned allegedly haunted old house – in Richardson, Texas, which I think is where Jensen Ackles grew up, so nice little shout out in the seventeenth episode of Season 1. Teenagers with flashlights dare each other to go in, the one young woman saying she’s not going, but caving when one of the guys offers to hold her hand – or any other part of her. She slaps him, but for some reason she also goes in. There’s a ghost that is said to go after girls and string them up in the root cellar, which is of course exactly where they go.
Cocky guy: I don’t see anything scary, do you?
Right behind him, in perfect horror movie style, is a young woman strung up. Scream!
Cut to the Winchesters on the road, rock music playing, Sam asleep in the passenger seat. This is the episode where Sam and Dean are having an escalating prank war, so Dean slips a plastic spoon in Sam’s mouth, pulls out his flip phone and takes a picture, grinning happily after.
He turns the music up loud and starts singing to wake poor Sam up, and as he spits out the spoon, Dean slaps the steering wheel happily.
Sam: Haha very funny. Man, we’re not kids anymore Dean, we’re not gonna start that prank stuff up again.
Dean: Afraid you’re gonna get a little Nair in your shampoo again, huh?
Sam shakes his head, warning Dean to remember that he started it.
Dean: Aww, bring it on, Baldy!
As ridiculous as their little prank war is (and as quickly as it’s abandoned), I love it for the part it plays in getting Sam and Dean back to being brothers again. It evokes their childhood, when they only had each other to get through long car rides and lonely motel rooms and nobody to play a game of catch with. There’s an edge of cruelty that’s often there between siblings, a jockeying for position of who’s going to get the upper hand, but it’s also a way of finding things to laugh about in the midst of a frightening and stressful time – even if it’s sometimes at your brother’s expense!
Meanwhile, they’re working in between pranks. Sam gives Dean the run down on the house that’s haunted by that apparently misogynistic spirit. When the cops got there, though, the body was gone. Sam says he read a couple of the kids’ firsthand accounts and Dean asks where – Sam searched some local paranormal websites, specifically HellhoundsLair.com.
Dean (scoffing): Streaming live out of mom’s basement…
But Sam says they need to find something to hunt in the meantime while they wait for something to happen with their dad and the demon – in other words, Sam makes the case of a classic Supernatural Monster of the Week episode, which I have come to love and appreciate far more than I did at the time this season was airing. The MotW episodes have so much atmosphere – the boys on the road, staying in kitschy motel rooms, traversing the country, saving people hunting things. I miss it so much!
There’s a hilarious montage when Sam and Dean try to talk to locals who know something about the haunted house or witnessed something and they all say something different, at times directly contradicting each other.
There were pentagons… pentacostals… (pentagrams)… it was red… it was black… it was kicking…it was not even moving…
They talk to the manager of an old school record store, posing as reporters. The guy tells them he’s a writer too, for the school’s literary magazine.
Dean: Good for you, Morrissey.
The guy tells them that in the 1930s a farmer named Mordecai lived in the house with his six daughters. When the crops failed, he thought it would be better if the girls died quickly instead of starving, so he strung them up one after the other and then hung himself, trapped in the house forever. He also swears that girl was real and she was dead and it was not a prank (the theme of the episode)
Sam and Dean check out the abandoned house, finding that their EMF doesn’t work because the house wiring still has some juice in it. Inside it’s dark, outside cloudy and threatening looking, and the house is a creepy set that looks as spooky as it’s supposed to. There are symbols painted on the walls.
Dean: Old man Murdoch was a bit of a tagger during his time…
Sam: (equally cynical) After his time too. This sigil didn’t show up in San Francisco until the 60s.
Dean: This is exactly why you never get laid.
(And the obsession continues…)
Dean swears he’s seen one of the painted symbols before (it’s paint, not blood) but can’t place it, but both start thinking maybe it’s not their kind of thing.
Dean: I hate to agree with authority figures of any kind but the cops might be right about this one.
Just then the front door opens. Sam and Dean, in perfect unison, flank the door – and in bust Ed and Harry. They claim to be professional paranormal investigators – with business cards.
Dean: Oh you gotta be kidding me.
He quickly jumps into manipulation mode.
Dean: Oh, we’re huge fans.
Ed: We know who you guys are too.
Sam and Dean: You do?
Ed: Amateurs, looking for ghosts and cheap thrills!
There’s another hilarious segment when Ed and Harry mansplain to Sam and Dean what EMF is while Sam grins and plays along.
The brothers exchange a look and a smirk as Ed and Harry get all serious about how “something like that…it changes you.” It’s a small moment, but it’s so indicative of how on the same page they are, prank wars notwithstanding.
Sam: We should go, let them get back to work…
They decide the job is a bust.
Dean: Let’s find ourselves a bar and some beers and leave the legends to the locals.
Dean starts the car and the radio comes on at full blast, windshield wipers going back and forth, startling him.
Sam (grinning): Score one for me!
Dean: That’s all you got? Weak.
Look how pleased with himself Sam is, and Dean’s grumpy unimpressed scowl. Adorable, both of them.
Meanwhile, more teenagers are daring each other to go in the house. Once again the young woman makes a bad choice after some weird sexual coercion, choosing the dare instead of making out with one of the guys.
Girl: I’ll take homicidal ghosts.
I mean, I get it, the guy’s a jerk, but…
We follow her as she makes her way downstairs — alone, because horror movie trope — hearing noises and calling “Hello? Anybody there?” like everyone does in those films, as though if there is a monster there it might just politely say oh yes, it’s me, sorry to startle you.
Down she goes to the cellar, picking up a jar and dropping it, and as she looks for another, something grabs her and boom, another girl strung up.
Sam and Dean return to the house to hear that the cops are calling it a suicide, though a local person comments that she was a straight A student with a full ride to UT, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Dean: I think maybe we missed something.
The cops aren’t letting anyone in, but when they hear Ed and Harry approaching, Dean gets an idea about how to get around that.
Dean (loudly): Who you gonna call?
He sets Ed and Harry up and the cops go after them while Sam and Dean get inside. Smart boys, my favorites.
They head back to the damn root cellar by the light of their flashlights. Inexplicably, Dean picks up a jar of pickled something/someone and dares Sam to take a swig of it.
Sam: What the hell would I do that for?
Dean: I double dare you.
Dean finds this inexplicably amusing too. The boys do a lot of smiling and laughing in this episode, and I realize we don’t often get to see that, so I’m grateful.
There’s a noise to interrupt that ridiculousness, and the boys snap back into action. In tandem, with unspoken coordination, they open the door – and out come some rats.
Dean: Aw, I hate rats…
Sam: You’d rather a ghost?
Then the ghost comes at them, proving itself immune to rock salt, throwing them around as things shatter. Meanwhile, Ed and Harry return, Ed encouraging them to find their center and get some work done, Harry not so sure he wants to go in there.
At just that moment, the front door slams open and Sam and Dean come tumbling out the door, yelling GOGOGOGOGO!
Harry: Sweet Lord of the Rings…
Poor Ed and Harry run right into the cops, who take them in as Sam and Dean get away.
Back in their decorative Western themed motel room, Dean sketches the symbol they saw at the house, trying to figure out where he’s seen it before.
He stops to tease Sam that if the spirit goes after girls that explains why it went after Sam, but why him?
I agree with Sam, not really hilarious and vaguely misogynistic, but it was 2005.
The boys are smart, though. They figure out that something is weird, because ghosts usually follow the same pattern over and over, and this one keeps changing. Meanwhile, a new post on HellhoundsLair theorizes that the killer is really a Satanist who chops up victims with an axe.
Sam and Dean realize they need to find out where all of this started. Back to the record store they go, and Dean pulls up an album, saying he couldn’t figure out what that symbol was – then realized it’s the logo for the band Blue Oyster Cult.
Dean: So Craig, you into BOC or just scaring the hell outta people?
Craig fesses up to painting the other symbols that he and his cousin found in one of her textbooks and then making up the fake hanging and the story.
Craig: Then those two guys put it on their stupid website and it took on a life of its own. It was just a joke!
Theme of the episode again. Back at the motel, the prank war escalates. Dean puts itching powder in Sam’s underwear while he’s in the shower – and we get one of the most well known scenes of the entire series as Sam Winchester saunters out in a low-slung towel and Dean gets flustered.
Sam thinks he needs to explain what a tulpa is, because Dean’s acting funny.
Dean: Yeah I know what a Tulpa is… Uh, get dressed and we’ll get something to eat…
He goes into the bathroom, awkward, and Sam puts on his shorts. And starts itching.
Even as distracted as he is, Sam Winchester manages to figure out that there were monks who meditated so hard and visualized a golem that they brought it to life.
Sam: Imagine what 10,000 web surfers could do…
Dean: But people believe in Santa – how come I’m not getting hooked up every Christmas?
Sam: (without missing a beat) Because you’re a bad person.
This is a quintessentially brothers episode, that’s for sure.
They manage to figure out what’s going on anyway – the teenagers painted a real sigil not knowing what it was, and the website did the same thing as those long ago monks concentrating meditative thoughts – which might bring a tulpa to life. As the legend changes, Mordecai changes, like a deadly game of telephone, and once created, it takes on a life of its own.
Sam: I think I’m allergic to our soap or something.
Dean cracks up and Sam realizes.
Sam: You did this?? You’re a jerk!
It’s true, I agree with Sam.
At the RV park, Harry and Ed argue about whether to go back to the house, with Harry very freaked out because he finally saw a real ghost.
Ed: This is our ticket to the big time. Sex! With girls! So be brave. What would Buffy do?
Sam and Dean pay them a visit, Dean making a crack about action figures in their original packaging. Sam and Dean say that someone could get hurt and insist they take down the website.
Ed and Harry: No we can’t, we have an obligation to our fans.
Dean: Well I have an obligation to kick your asses…
Sam pretends to calm Dean down and they basically play Ed and Harry like a violin, Dean saying “it’s a secret, Sam!” and Sam “spilling” it anyway – that if you shoot him with a .45, you kill the sonofabitch.
Ed and Harry promise to shut down, then break into a run to go post the new theory. Mission accomplished! Sam and Dean go to a diner while they wait for the internet to do its thing, where Dean keeps pulling the string on a weird fisherman clock to make it make noise.
Sam: Do that again, I’ll kill you.
Dean: Man, you need more laughter in your life, you’re way too tense.
Seconds later, they see that Ed and Harry posted the new theory, and Sam toasts Dean with his bottle of beer.
When Dean lifts his, his hand sticks to the beer bottle and Sam laughs.
Dean: You didn’t.
Sam: (grinning) Oh I did!
Sam rings the laughing fisherman, delighted.
Me thinking about how hard that will be to get off: Ouch.
The brothers are really enjoying themselves though, their laughter and smiles a wonderful thing to see. Not sure I could take it all in stride as much as they do though!
Look at that laughing happy handsome boy!
That night the cops hear something at the house and go to investigate – it’s the laughing fisherman, who lured them away from the house while the Winchesters went back inside, with their .45’s ready.
Dean: I barely have any skin left on my palm.
Sam: I’m not touching that line with a ten foot pole…
Oh boys. Back to the sex jokes.
Harry and Ed end up back at the house too, scared to death but hoping to get a book and movie deal. Mordecai comes out and Sam and Dean shoot him as planned – but he keeps coming. Ed and Harry attempt to film the footage they hope will make them famous, terrified.
Dean: Didn’t you guys post that BS story?
Harry: Yeah but our server crashed…
Dean: So these guns don’t work. Great. Sam, any ideas?
Harry and Ed try to run away, but Mordecai stops them – with an axe. Sam distracts him, luring him away from Ed and Harry like the big damn hero he is, and tells Ed and Harry to get out of there. Mordecai gets Sam pinned, choking him with the handle of the axe, while Dean in desperation makes a flame thrower.
Sam calls out for Dean and he comes running, spraying the flame thrower and banking on the fact that Mordecai can’t leave the house.
Dean: Mordecai can’t leave the house and we can’t kill him – so we improvise!
They run outside as the house goes up in flames.
Sam: (incredulous) That’s your solution??
Dean: Well, no one can go in anymore…
Sam: What if the legend changes again?
Dean: We’ll have to come back.
They wonder, though, how many things they’ve hunted in the past might have existed just because people believed in them.
The boys visit Ed and Harry the next day, who are packing up their car and preparing to drive away.
Ed: We got a phone call from an important Hollywood producer – he wants to option the motion picture rights…and create the RPG too… a little lingo for ya. We’re off to LaLa land!
Sam and Dean: That’s awesome, best of luck.
Ed and Harry: It’s not luck, it’s sheer unabashed talent.
Ed and Harry are undeniably obnoxious but they are also amusing.
As Harry and Ed drive off, Sam and Dean share a laugh, on the same page this time.
Sam: I have a confession to make. I was the one who called and said I was a producer.
Dean: (laughing) Well, I’m the one who put the dead fish in their back seat.
This time they’re laughing together, some shared joy at being able to stop the monster this time. They call a truce on their own prank war… at least for the next 100 miles.
Seeing their smiles makes me emotional now – it was too rare, over the course of fifteen years, to see Sam and Dean this happy, this free. Little do they know what lies ahead.
For now, they’re back on the road. Together.
The Impala roars to life and rock music starts to play as they drive out of the trailer park, “I’m burning I’m burning I’m burning for you.”
Blue Oyster Cult, what else? And another perfect music cue.
This episode’s idea of making something manifest if a bunch of people all wish for it hard enough was adopted by fandom quickly enough, resulting in tweets of “Tulpa tulpa tulpa” whenever fandom was hoping something would happen – like we’d get to see what Jensen Ackles’ new Soldier Boy super suit looks like, for instance…
Come on, tulpa tulpa tulpa!
Caps by kayb625
Next episode is one of my all time favorites, the heartbreaking ‘Something Wicked’ – stay tuned!
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