The idea of a haunted house brings quite a specific image to mind. On the edge of a craggy hill, a rambling mansion sits silent and brooding, its many turrets and gables jut sharply into a sky bleached white by lightning flashes. The wind is always howling, the moon is always full, and a pair of glowing yellow eyes can be seen blinking behind the curtains in one of its many windows. This Gothic horror house may be the first thing that jumps into your imagination, but over the years, Hollywood has shown us that even the newest, most innocuous abode can contain an eternal evil.
In my movie watching career, I’ve seen my share of terrifying tales play out on screen, from the subtle, slow burns to the in-your-face jump scares, and it seems as if every possible haunted house story has been told. When it came time to pick my favorites, I gave myself some parameters to narrow down my list, choosing only films about houses (leaving out The Shining’s motel and The Watcher in the Wood’s other dimension) that are haunted by ghosts (dropping Insidious and Paranormal Activity from the list, both for the demon aspect and the fact that a specific person was plagued rather than a dwelling). Each of these choices stand out in some way from the average white sheet wearing spook. With that in mind, here are my top 12 favorite haunted house movies.
12. We Are Still Here (2015)
In 1979, Anne and Paul Sacchetti move to an old farmhouse in rural New England after the death of their adult son, Bobby. Immediately, Anne starts feeling her late son’s presence in the house. It’s not until a visit from neighbors that they learn the house’s history – in the 1800s, the Dagmar family used the building as a funeral home, but instead of burying the town’s loved ones, they sold the dead bodies and sunk empty coffins into the graveyard. Is it Bobby that the Sacchettis felt in their home or the restless spirits of the Dagmars’ victims?
There is no shortage of ghost stories in New England… just ask Stephen King, Peter Straub and Ed and Lorraine Warren. But We Are Still Here is different in the fact that it’s the house itself, rather than its ghostly inhabitants, that needs to be satisfied. The characters were such everyday people that it was easy to imagine myself caught up in the same terrible nightmare. The movie kept me guessing right up until the eerie twist at the end, and with the amount of horror movies I’ve watched, this was a feat in itself.
11. The Haunting (1963)
Hill House has suffered much tragedy and death in the 9 decades since it was built. Many years later, Dr. John Markway hears about the house and decides to study the reported paranormal activity going on there by bringing in psychic Theodora and timid sensitive Eleanor, along with the current owner’s grandson, Luke. The longer the quartet stay in the house, the more intense and unbelievable paranormal disturbances they experience. So why is meek Eleanor so intent on staying?
Based on the 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, The Haunting brings a subtle, creeping terror that many films of recent times dismiss over bloody gore and rampaging, psychotic killers. The imperfect camera lens used by director Robert Wise gave the final product a twisted, off-kilter feel that leaves you feeling wonky and slightly seasick. Although the 1999 remake had many more shocks and in-your-face ghost action, nothing can top the sinister feeling from this ’60s gem.
10. Rose Red (2002)
Similar to The Haunting on the surface, Stephen King’s Rose Red is an ABC miniseries about an abandoned, rambling, Gothic style Seattle mansion named Rose Red, a place that is rumored to be haunted. Parapsychologist Dr. Joyce Reardon gets a team of psychics and mediums together to spend time in the home and test these claims. Rose Red, however, has the ability to change, creating rooms and hallways where none had been before. How do you escape a house that can keep changing the location of its exit door?
Initially, King had wanted to use Rose Red as a vehicle to remake The Haunting, but the proposed rewrites and extended shelf time encouraged the horror master to add other elements, most notably the Winchester Mystery House homage and the expanding interior room similarities to the novel House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski. After being hit by a car while walking near his home in 1999, King used the work of rewriting this screenplay as therapy to get himself back on the road to both physical and mental recovery. Rose Red healed Stephen King while the rest of us were left with phantom induced nightmares.
9. 13 Ghosts (2001)
Widower Arthur moves his two children and their nanny into the mansion he inherited from his Uncle Cyrus. It isn’t until he gets there that he realizes the place holds more than just his Uncle’s memories. Imprisoned in the house and held captive by the Cyrus’ written barrier charms are 12 ghosts, each one more violent than the last. When a tripped booby trap releases the vengeful spirits one by one, it’s up to Arthur to keep his family members from becoming the 13th ghost.
A remake from the 1960 film of the same name, 13 Ghosts – or Thir13en Ghosts – takes haunted houses to a whole new level. Not only does Cyrus want to live with spooky revenants, he goes out of his way to collect the worse ones he can find and traps them right there in his living space. As each ghost is revealed and released, you can’t help but imagine how that specter came to be as they flash around in all of their flesh torn and blood stained glory. When the real reason for the ghost containment is uncovered, Arthur’s final act in the film is one that petrifies even the most lackadaisical parent.
8. House (1986)
The first movie on my list that has as much comedy as it does horror, House tells the tale of poor Roger, a recently divorced writer who is still trying to come to terms with the disappearance of his son and the suicide of his favorite aunt. He has no idea what’s in store for him when he moves into his late aunt’s house. What’s real and what’s not? Could the whole thing just be a Vietnam war related PTSD dream?
House was one of the first horror movies I had watched on my own as a kid. While the laughs are there, the hideous, red0lipped Sandywich and the rotting, vengeful Big Ben zombie are enough to make this black comedy a startlingly terrifying first watch for this newb horror movie lover. As an adult, I recognize that Roger’s experience may not have had anything to do with the house at all, and may in fact have all stemmed from his guilt over letting fatally wounded fellow soldier Big Ben be taken alive by Viet Cong soldiers, his aftermath never officially known. Was it all in Roger’s head?
7. The Grudge (2004)
Japanese tradition holds that a person who dies in the grip of extreme sorrow or rage can turn into an onry?, a vengeful ghost that curses the place where he or she was killed and can interact and harm the living. To make things even worse, anyone who encounters the onry? repeats the curse and passes it on like supernatural cooties. Is there any way to end the terror?
Japanese horror films have become a staple in every horror lover’s collection. While Hollywood tends to scare us into a more mature moral fiber, Japanese horror can strike even the most innocent of us. You don’t have to be a sex crazed, drugged out teenager reading Latin from a book bound in human skin to be caught in a supernatural catastrophe in Japan. This shit can happen to anyone. Oh, and guess what? There’s no magic spell that’s going to wrap these movies up in a happy little bow before the credits roll. Consider yourself screwed.
6. The Others (2001)
WWII has just ended, and Grace Stewart and her two children mourn the death of Grace’s husband, Charles, who was lost in the war. The children suffer from a rare disease that makes them allergic to the sun, so much of the home is kept closed off from the outside world to keep them safe and healthy. After the unexpected arrival of three servants, strange things begin to happen that makes Grace think something sinister is going on.
This Award winning ghost story is like no other in its unforeseen twist that sends the viewer reeling. As one that prides herself on figuring out the surprise before anyone else (I figured out what was going on in The Sixth Sense during the non-communitive restaurant scene), I did not see this one coming. Director Alejandro Amenábar created a dreamy atmosphere that was a perfect combination of throwback Gothic horror and an intense slow burn that hypnotizes you right from the get go.
5. Beetlejuice (1988)
After dying in a car accident, spectral young couple Barbara and Adam find themselves stuck in their humble abode for the next 125 years. Although not ideal, the situation is tolerable until their house is sold to a New York couple who change the place’s country motif into garish modern art. Unable to stand it, Barbara and Adam try to scare the new homeowners away, even going so far as asking for help from the New Yorker’s teenage daughter, Lydia, who, for reasons unknown, can see the ghosts. When nothing they try works, they decide to call on the crude yet energetic bio-exorcist ghost, Beetlejuice. But could the cure be worse than the disease?
A list of haunted house movies wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the moldy savage, Beetlejuice himself. The ultimate in hilarity with just the right amount of creepiness, this film shoved director Tim Burton into the spotlight and made him a household name. Michael Keaton was the perfect actor to play the ghostly exorcist, pulling off the ghoulish look and crass attitude with perfection. Even now, 28 years after its release, Beetlejuice still packs an ectoplasmic punch with audiences, finding new fans as faithful diehards continue to spread their love of the Ghost with the Most to newer generations.
4. Stir of Echoes (1999)
After being hypnotized by his sister-in-law to be more open-minded, Tom begins to have hallucinations of the assault on a missing neighborhood girl, Samantha Kozac. Unable to control these visions, Tom must solve the mystery of the lost girl before she makes him completely insane.
Samantha is one ghost who will not be ignored. Once she realized she had the attention of poor Tom, she assaulted him day and night with both visual and auditory hallucinations that kept him whirling and threatened his sanity. The worst part was the inability to escape. No matter where Tom went, this ghost was attached to him and could inflict her messages on him at will. A constant battering of imagines and sounds you know are not there – sounds like a psychotic break. How would you know the difference?
3. The Changeling (1980)
Composer John Russell has moved to a creaky old Victorian house after the death of his wife and child. Before long, windows start smashing and doors start slamming as the ghost of a murdered little boy makes himself known. As the boy’s history unfolds, an unbelievable tale of murder and imposters comes to light even as the meaning of the title of the movie becomes clear.
In a world run by the almighty dollar, it should be no surprise what people will do for money. With that being said, I’m still shocked at the lengths Richard Carmichael went through to keep his family’s fortune. Although young Joseph may have been weak and sickly while alive, his ghostly revenge was carried out to its fullest. Although technically innocent, even the second Joseph suffered at the hands of the wheelchair bound ghost. And who could forget the iconic scene of that lone red rubber ball bouncing slowly down the stairs towards George C. Scott?
2. The Amityville Horror (1979)
George and Kathy Lutz and their blended family move into their new home at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York. It’s not long before weird things begin to happen: a priest is attacked by a swarm of flies while trying to bless the house, George’s normally cheery personality becomes angry and sullen and the couple’s daughter talks about an imaginary yet malevolent friend named Jody. Upon investigation, the Lutz’s learn that their house was the scene of a horrific murder several years previous. After only 28 days, the supernatural incidences increase to such intensity that the family flees in terror, with them asking only one question… Did the murder of the previous homeowners cause the evil to dwell in the house, or was the evil already there, instigating young Ronnie DeFeo to kill his family?
Anytime you move into a new house, the excitement of having fresh living quarters can make you overlook a lot of unpleasant things. A crack in the foundation or a stain in the wallpaper are nothing compared to marble countertops and an extra 1,000 feet of living space. It’s every homeowner’s nightmare to find out that their beautiful new house has some horrifying history behind it that will ruin their feelings about their fantastic deal, never mind try to take their lives. The Lutz’s not only found out that their house was once the scene of a multiple murder committed by the son and brother of the victims, but that an ancient evil occupied the home and would soon try to force them out in a screaming panic. Hey, are those glowing red eyes staring at me through the window?
1. Poltergeist (1982)
In a neighborhood full of cookie cutter houses that are so recently built you can still smell the wet paint, the thought that one of those brand new homes may be haunted is the furthest thing from your mind. Unfortunately for the Freelings, new sheetrock and a swimming pool can’t cover up what happened to the land in which their house now sits.
My favorite haunted house movie of all time, Poltergeist is one I can watch over and over and still find myself huddling in terror behind a bowl of popcorn every time. The scariest part about this story is the ordinariness of it. These people are your garden variety family living every day like it’s a Pleasant Valley Sunday. The teenage daughter goes out with her friends, the younger kids squabble, the parents bicker over humdrum things. They could be your family. If something this terrible can happen to them, then it could happen to anyone. The premature deaths of several stars, including Heather O’Rourke and Dominique Dunne haunt both the people who had worked on the film and the ones who watched the finished product on the big screen. If real life disease and murder don’t scare you, then maybe that freaky clown doll or the little girl’s closet that leads to another dimension will get you to cancel your appointment with the real estate broker.
So, PopHorror fans, this s my list of my top 12 favorite haunted house movies. Which one is your favorite? Is it listed here? If not, add it in the comments!