MY 13 FAVORITE FILMS ABOUT HAUNTINGS
I get asked all the time: “What’s your favorite ghost movie?” And I find that’s an almost impossible question to answer. There are a lot of movies that been made about ghosts, hauntings, and haunted houses over the last century or so – some great, some good, and many terrible. I love horror films. I have since I was a child, but there are only a few dozen that have really stuck with me. So, with this list, I decided to post the 13 films that I know that I will be re-watching this Halloween season. Since I have seen all of them multiple times, I think that qualifies them as my *favorite* ghost movies. I didn’t put them in any particular order, but I did list some of the older ones first.
I first saw this one as a kid and never forgot it. It was on the “Early Show,” which usually offered old, black-and-white films each afternoon at 3:00 in the days before talk shows became popular. Around Halloween, they always broke out the classic horror films. There was also “Tales of Terror” on Friday nights at 10:30. Anyway, I have always loved this film, starring Ray Milland, about a brother and sister who move into a haunted house. The ghost effects really gave me the creeps as a kid, and they still work all these years later.
Deborah Kerr plays a governess in this film adaptation of “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James. Is the house haunted? Is she going crazy? This is a really effective and creepy film and was another that stuck with me as a kid and is still worth watching today.
I’m not sure that haunted house movies can get any better than this. Julie Harris is fantastic in a film that never should have been re-made (we’re not going to talk about the horrible 1999 version) and is the spookiest, creepiest ghost movie that I have ever seen. If you have not seen this classic, then you need to get a copy of it TODAY and watch it – with all of the lights off, of course.
This is an *almost* great haunted house movie. It has everything – fantastic acting by George C. Scott, a creepy house, a great backstory, an eerie haunting, a chilling séance that is conducted at the house, scary scenes, a red rubber ball…. And then it has the one thing that make it *almost* great – the ending. It’s the one little glitch that keeps it from being the greatest haunted house movie of all time, but even so, it’s better than hundreds of others, so watch it anyway. You won’t be sorry!
THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE
I have two Spanish-language films on the list, both of them connected to filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, as director and then producer. Both of them are excellent and both are must-see films, if you have not watched them already. The first, set in an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, involves the ghost of a murdered boy whose appearance is unlike anything else I have ever seen in the movies. Don’t miss this one!
This is the second Spanish-language, Del Toro produced film, which is set in a group home that has been converted from what used to be an orphanage at the site. The plot for the movie is too complicated to try and explain without giving the story away, but trust me when I tell you that this has everything you want in a creepy horror film – ghosts, a terrifying backstory, a mystery, psychics, a really scary game, it’s all here. I really love this film! Before it came out, some of my longtime readers may remember that we gave away free passes to an advance screening for American Hauntings fans at the haunted Avon Theater in Decatur, Illinois. It made for a really fun night!
I think this makes everyone’s list of chilling ghost films! Nicole Kidman stars as the mother of two unusual children, locked away in a British country house during what seems to be World War I. She starts to reach her breaking point when the children come to believe the house is haunted and strange things start to happen. This was one of those great “twist-ending” films of the late 1990s and early 2000s and even after you have it figured out, it’s worth seeing over again.
THE SIXTH SENSE
And speaking of “twist endings,” this was, of course, the really big one of the same era. Starring Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment as the kid who “sees dead people,” this was the big-studio ghost film of the summer and the one that really started the career of director, M. Night Shyamalan. Without giving it away to perhaps the one person who might be out there that still hasn’t seen this film, it’s worth watching over again, even if just to see if the director “cheats” with it comes to the big twist. Trust me, he doesn’t.
STIR OF ECHOES
Cursed with coming out the same summer as THE SIXTH SENSE, this film, which also has a little boy who “sees dead people,” stars Kevin Bacon in one of my favorite roles of his career. After being hypnotized at a party and urged to “open his mind,” he moves into a house in Chicago and starts experiencing the horrific things that occurred there in the past. I really, really *love* this movie and consider it an underrated horror classic – and yes, better than the film that overshadowed it that summer.
The early 2000s saw the American remakes of a number of Japanese horror films, with very mixed results. A couple of them stood out and have ended up on my list of favorites. When it came out, THE RING was terrifying. Of course, there were still VCR’s around in those days. Even now, though, it still holds up pretty well and it has some really eerie stuff in it. The sequel was horrible and I don’t know what the next installment will bring. We can just hope for the best and keep watching this one over again.
Of all of the remakes of Japanese horror from that era, this one is probably the best. Shot on the same sets, with the same director, and with even some of the same actors, it really works – and it’s really scary. These are not the ghosts of American haunted houses – these are angry, vengeful, horrifying spirits that are wreaking havoc on the living. Don’t miss this one – and leave some lights on when you watch it!
This is a slow burn, British ghost film that never got the distribution that it deserved in the United States. It has a great cast, great set, and a really spooky story behind it. Rebecca Hall stars as a “ghost hunter” in the early 1900s, seeking to debunk stories of things that go bump in the night. But she finds more than she bargained for when she is called to a boy’s school that is reportedly very haunted. But there’s a lot more to the story than just a ghost hunt. It’s a great movie and if you haven’t seen it, track it down.
There is a single movie that I re-watch – always and without fail – every Halloween season and it’s this one. Yes, it is a ghost movie and yes, it is still one of the spookiest movies that I have ever seen. I first watched it while living in a haunted house back in the late 1990s and, several times, had to pause the film because I swore that I heard someone whispering my name. My imagination? Most likely – but I had good reason to be scared! This movie was filmed on location at Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts, and is about an asbestos crew working on cleaning the place up for a proposed renovation. It stars a post-NYPD BLUE David Caruso and not-yet-a-star Josh Lucas as members of the crew, who quickly find themselves in over their heads. This is NOT an over-the-top horror film – the scares are mostly subtle, as is the story itself, and you have to be paying attention to all of the clues to understand what’s going on. This is a really great, underrated, unappreciated film and I have never gotten tired of it, even after at least two dozen viewings. And to top it off, the cast and crew even reported ghostly happenings at the abandoned hospital during the filming – how many movies can claim that?