I'd like to dispense immediately with any connections of these terms to the American tradition of Halloween. I don't mean "creepy", "spooky", or "haunting" in any kind of semi-silly way or as words to promote a Halloween spookhouse or something. I mean these terms in their most serious incarnation, in which someone feels genuinely "creeped out", spooked, or haunted by something. My take on it is completely subjective -- especially what, in the world (or my mind), I find creepy, spooky, and/or haunting.
Here's what I came up with:
Creepy: having to do with a person or people making one uncomfortable in a significant or memorable way. A person who's a "creep." A person lacking social or interpersonal boundaries in a dangerous, dark, or unsettling way. Sometimes sexual; violence, stalking, torture. There is a certain cleverness in creepiness on the creep's part, a twisted intelligence. Weird in a bad way. Something, to me, specifically human, although it could be the Flying Monkeys in film The Wizard of Oz. Parasites, bot flies, the smell of maggots, even ants. Stockholm Syndrome. Any of the various things one can find without too much effort in a few mouseclicks on the internet.... (these internet discoveries can also be haunting.)
Spooky: Having more to do with internal mental confusion in a bad way. An uncertainty about reality in a not good way. Altered states of consciousness that are not necessarily positive mind expansions, but darker. Spookiness isn't altogether unpleasant, like a marijuana experience that's not a "bad trip", but nonetheless..spooky. Animals who get spooked, if only momentarily. An acid casualty whom I met and knew before and after the acid damage occurred.
Haunting: Sad, indelible, emotional, lasting, an image that burns in the mind. A single shoe on a road. A ratty, frayed rocking chair. A blind, featherless baby bird I once found that'd fallen out of the nest too soon. Genocides throughout history ; cannibalistic infanticide in chimpanzees; frightening childhood experiences; etc. A haunting piece of music. Things that are hard to "unsee." There of course can be a beautiful or sublime aspect of something haunting.
The below I find haunting.
Spookiness is a bit more difficult to capture, especially visually (unlike the above three examples), but I find some of the more unusual experiences of sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick to approximate spookiness.
Or, someone's drug anecdotal experience of a novel hallucinogenic compound, described thusly:
Specifically, there was one substance that nobody had ever tried before. It was something completely new, and what I experienced on it was above and beyond anything I can describe. Because it was like looking... It was like it turned reality into this whole… I mean, it was reality, but like a layer over reality. It’s hard to explain, but afterward I felt like it taught my brain that there was a neurological switch I could just flip and enter an altered state at will.
(Source: LIFE IS A COSMIC GIGGLE ON THE BREATH OF THE UNIVERSE - A Tour of Gordon Todd Skinner’s Subterranean LSD Palace - Vice Magazine)
An example of something that combines all three elements of creepiness, spookiness, and hauntingness might be:
The famous riverboat sequence in the film Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, especially in its context as a musical, G-rated children's film. "Willy Wonka was ranked #74 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments for the "scary tunnel" scene and, in fact, the whole movie." (Wikipedia.)
A Clockwork Orange.
The film Session 9 and specifically the jar of peanut butter scene in the abandoned (haunted) asylum.
Pogo the Clown (John Wayne Gacy; see painting at top). His crimes are haunting, his personality creepy, and the fact that he appeared to be one thing (friendly clown), but actually another (serial killer), spooky.
David Lynch's Rabbits.
As I said, this is just my take on these three concepts, and I was even thinking of doing a Venn diagram for them, but that's probably overkill. And to some extent, all three of these word-concepts overlap, can be synonymous. And there can even be an element of humor, absurdity, or enjoyable ambiguity and provocativeness/evocativeness to these rather weighty concepts, such as some of the humor of Andy Kaufman, Tim & Eric, a performance artist such as Chris Burden (notably "Shoot"), or John Waters' Pink Flamingos, which certainly, at times, touches on the creepy, the spooky, the haunting!
All of this was sparked by my posting a photo I took and placed on Facebook of my stepdaughter's (unintentionally) creepy doll that my stepdaughter had placed in her bed, lying on its back, its body under the covers, before leaving for school; I was in the apartment alone and the doll startled me for a moment. Someone found it noteworthy that I, who gravitates toward, and is fascinated by, the creepy, spooky, and haunting, found it creepy. This got me thinking....
I don't know. Just thinking aloud, as blogging largely is. Your thoughts?..