10 great haunted house films

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  30 Jan 2015 

“Do you have an imagination?” asks Michael Redgrave’s selfish uncle in the opening scene of The Innocents (1961), Jack Clayton’s definitive screen adaptation of Henry James’s 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw. It’s asked of new governess Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), a study in sexual repression who will come to believe that her two young wards (Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin) have been corrupted by the ghosts of their previous governess, Miss Jessel, and her abusive lover Quint (Peter Wyngarde). The question seems throwaway at first but becomes more pertinent as the film proceeds. We come to question how much of what we’re seeing is really the fault of the supernatural forces that Giddens believes are stalking this country estate and how much stems from her own damaged psyche. It’s returned to many times throughout the film as other characters (including the children) question events that Giddens is certain about. She herself is forced to admit that “sometimes one can’t help imagining things.” As Giddens psychologically unravels, it becomes less clear what the greatest threat to the children in The Innocents really is – the supposed ghosts of Quint and Jessel (who, tellingly, no-one but Giddens ever sees) or Giddens’ paranoia over what she believes they may have done to them. The children are clearly odd but are they really the destructive, corrupting force that Giddens comes to believe they are or just the product of a far from satisfactory upbringing? The answers are as elusive – and potentially as unsettling – as the ghosts that haunt Giddens’ imagination. With The Innocents being rereleased nationwide as part of the BFI’s Gothic season, here are 10 more definitive examples of the haunted house movie to send a shiver down your spines.

genres
10 The Innkeepers
imdb
rating

5.5

The Innkeepers (2011)

Horror, Thriller

Ti West is one of the best of the current crop of horror directors, unapologetically trading on old-fashioned scares in the 70s-flavoured The Roost (2005) and 80s slasher/Satanism throwback The House of the Devil (2009). The Innkeepers draws heavily on The Shining (the rooms and corridors of the Yankee Pedlar Inn are haunted as much by the ghost of Kubrick as it is by the malevolent spirits of its former residents), but creates an identity all its own with its likeable leads (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) and relentlessly creepy slow-burn atmosphere. Not to mention an ambiguous ending that hints (albeit in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fashion) that the haunting is far from over. On the evidence of this and his previous films (with the exception of the disowned Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, 2009), West is a rare modern horror director who realises that the greatest weapon in any horror filmmaker’s arsenal isn’t a disc drive full of CGI images or a makeup bag full of gore effects – it’s the imagination of his audience and its susceptibility to suggestion.

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During the final days at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, two employees determined to reveal the hotel's haunted past begin to experience disturbing events as old guests check in for a stay.

actors:
Sara Paxton as Claire   Pat Healy as Luke   Kelly McGillis as Leanne Rease-Jones   George Riddle as Old Man   Lena Dunham as Barista   Alison Bartlett as Gayle, Angry Mom   Brenda Cooney as Madeline O'Malley   John Speredakos as Officer Mitchell  

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9 Ju-on: The Grudge
imdb
rating

6.7

Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)

Horror

Following the global success of Hideo Nakata’s Ring (1999), Japanese ghosts were everywhere for a few years. Takashi Shimizu’s film The Grudge (Ju-on) welds the stylistics of the new wave of J-horror to a traditional haunted house scenario, while tipping a hat to the always popular anthology-style horror films. A group of loosely connected people fall foul of a curse unleashed by the murder of Kayako and Toshio Takeo in an otherwise unassuming Tokyo house. Poster boy Toshio is the creepiest ghostly child since the Grady twins in The Shining and his mother is a croaking, wild-eyed monstrosity who slithers revoltingly down the stairs to menace anyone foolish enough to invade her home. Inevitably the film was remade in the States, nowhere near as well, in 2004. Later, a series of sequels expanded the story, some (Ju-on 2, 2003) more successfully than others (Ju-on: White Ghost and Ju-on: Black Ghost, both 2009).

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A mysterious and vengeful spirit marks and pursues anybody who dares enter the house in which it resides.

actors:
Megumi Okina as Rika Nishina   Yui Ichikawa as Chiharu   Misaki Ito as Hitomi Tokunaga   Kanji Tsuda as Katsuya Tokunaga   Misa Uehara as Izumi Tôyama   Kayoko Shibata as Mariko   Yukako Kukuri as Miyuki   Shuri Matsuda as Kazumi Tokunaga   Yôji Tanaka as Yûji Tôyama   Yoshiyuki Morishita as Keibiin   Hideo Sakaki as Fukushi Sentâ Jimuin   Takashi Matsuyama as Takeo Saeki   Yuya Ozeki as Toshio   Takako Fuji as Kayako   Chikara Ishikura as Hirohashi   Chikako Isomura as Sachie   Chiona Ôkuni as Erebêtâ no Onna   Miho Fujima as Joshi Ana   Daisuke Honda as Igarashi Keiji   Hirokazu Inoue as Nakagawa Keiji   Mao Kobayashi as Shôgakusei no Izumi   Aki Fujî as Yôko Tôyama   Risa Odagiri as Saori   Kaori Nakajô as Chiaki   Kana Kobayashi as Ayano   Akira Saitô as Sekine Sensei   Hiroyuki Yokoo as Nyûsu no Koe   Isao Yatsu as Saitô   Haruka Yamano as Fukikae   Chiaki Kuriyama as    Yûrei Yanagi as   

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8 The Others
imdb
rating

7.6

The Others (2001)

Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Owing more to Henry James than any other film on this list, The Others may not be the most original ghost story ever told (the twist ending had already been done on TV in an Armchair Theatre episode also titled ‘The Others’ and in Kevin Billington’s big screen adaptation Voices, 1973) but Alejandro Amenabar makes effective use of the creepy location (it’s set in a perpetually fog-bound Jersey just after World War II) and stages some memorable scares. Nicole Kidman does a fine job as the mother so terrified of the harm she believes may befall her sickly, pampered children that she inadvertently becomes their greatest threat (echoing Deborah Kerr’s destructive paranoia in The Innocents), while Christopher Eccleston has a small role as her husband. After years of the horror genre being dominated by violent slasher and special effects-led films, The Others was one of a clutch of films (alongside The Blair Witch Project, Ring and The Sixth Sense) that helped revive the understated supernatural horror movie at the end of the 1990s.

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Grace is a religious woman who lives in an old house kept dark because her two children, Anne and Nicholas, have a rare sensitivity to light. When the family begins to suspect the house is haunted, Grace fights to protect her children at any cost in the face of strange events and disturbing visions.

actors:
Nicole Kidman as Grace Stewart   Christopher Eccleston as Charles Stewart   Alakina Mann as Anne Stewart   James Bentley as Nicholas Stewart   Eric Sykes as Mr. Edmund Tuttle   Elaine Cassidy as Lydia   Renée Asherson as Old Lady   Michelle Fairley as Mrs. Marlish   Alexander Vince as Victor Marlish   Gordon Reid as Assistant   Ricardo López as Second Assistant   Fionnula Flanagan as Mrs. Bertha Mills  

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7 Poltergeist
imdb
rating

7.4

Poltergeist (1982)

Horror

It’s brash and it’s noisy (what else would you expect from a collaboration between Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg?) but it’s also irresistible fun. Hooper brings the traditional ghost story out of the remote, creepy mansion and puts it into an undistinguished suburban home, where supernatural havoc is wreaked on a nice all-American family who are unaware that their new estate has been built on a desecrated cemetery. At a time when home video was starting to affect box-office takings, it’s no surprise that the film’s main villain is a TV set that sucks the youngest daughter into a beyond from which she has to be rescued by her father and an annoying psychic. The accumulation of supernatural menaces becomes rather hysterical towards the end (mouldering corpses in the swimming pool, a strange creature in the closet, a creepy – is there any other kind? – clown doll), yet it’s all done with such gusto that it’s hard to resist.

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Life is very pleasant for the close-knit Freeling family until a host of otherworldly forces invades their peaceful suburban home. It starts with just an odd occurrence or two, but soon their house is transformed into a swirling supernatural sideshow. The forces at work are anything but friendly, and if the luckless Freelings don't clear out soon, they'll all be swept off into nightmarish chaos!

actors:
Craig T. Nelson as Steve Freeling   JoBeth Williams as Diane Freeling   Beatrice Straight as Dr. Lesh   Dominique Dunne as Dana Freeling   Oliver Robins as Robbie Freeling   Heather O'Rourke as Carol Anne Freeling   Michael McManus as Ben Tuthill   Virginia Kiser as Mrs. Tuthill   Martin Casella as Dr. Marty Casey   Richard Lawson as Ryan   Zelda Rubinstein as Tangina Barrons   Lou Perryman as Pugsley  

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6 The Shining
imdb
rating

8.4

The Shining (1980)

Horror, Thriller

To this day Stephen King dislikes Kubrick’s adaptation of his 1977 novel for deviating too far from its source material (though his own disastrous TV adaptation proves that Kubrick got it right). The film strips the novel down to basics and made the appearance of two little twin girls one of the creepiest things to be seen in cinemas that decade. Jack Nicholson is alternately terrifying and hilarious as the family man who may have fallen prey to the destructive forces that haunt the Overlook Hotel. Alternatively, he may just be a madman whose overactive imagination and mounting frustration with his lot in life (he’s an aspiring writer forced to take on a glorified caretaker’s role) drive him to try to murder his family. Kubrick is commendably ambiguous on the matter. When it was first released, audiences and critics alike were perplexed and fans of the novel bemoaned the many changes Kubrick saw fit to make. The film is now regularly – and quite rightly – hailed as one of the classics of the genre.

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Jack Torrance accepts a caretaker job at the Overlook Hotel, where he, along with his wife Wendy and their son Danny, must live isolated from the rest of the world for the winter. But they aren't prepared for the madness that lurks within.

actors:
Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance   Shelley Duvall as Wendy Torrance   Danny Lloyd as Danny Torrance   Scatman Crothers as Dick Hallorann   Barry Nelson as Stuart Ullman   Philip Stone as Delbert Grady   Joe Turkel as Lloyd the Bartender   Anne Jackson as Doctor   Tony Burton as Larry Durkin   Barry Dennen as Bill Watson  

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5 The Changeling
imdb
rating

7.3

The Changeling (1980)

Horror, Thriller

In this largely unsung masterpiece, George C. Scott plays a New York composer grieving the deaths of his wife and child. After retiring to a creepy old mansion in Seattle, he is haunted by the ghost of a murdered child. The pacing may be a touch too sedate for some tastes and the grim back story may alienate some, but an excellent performance from Scott and his dogged investigation of the mystery of what really happened in his new home is nicely handled by director Peter Medak. Italian director Lamberto Bava made an unofficial sequel, Per sempre, in 1987.

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A man staying at a secluded historical mansion, finds his life being haunted by the presence of a spectre.

actors:
George C. Scott as John Russell   Trish Van Devere as Claire Norman   Melvyn Douglas as Sen. Joseph Carmichael   Jean Marsh as Joanna Russell   John Colicos as Captain DeWitt   Barry Morse as Dr. Pemberton   Madeleine Sherwood as Mrs. Norman   Frances Hyland as Mrs.Elizabeth Grey   Helen Burns as Leah Harmon   Ruth Springford as Minnie Huxley   Eric Christmas as Albert Harmon   Roberta Maxwell as Eva Lingstrom   Bernard Behrens as Prof. Robert Lingstrom   James B. Douglas as Eugene Carmichael   J. Kenneth Campbell as Security Guard  

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4 The Amityville Horror
imdb
rating

6.2

The Amityville Horror (1979)

Drama, Horror, Thriller

The half-baked debate over how much of this really happened tends to obscure the fact that is rather a good haunted house chiller that didn’t really deserve the critical drubbing it got when it was first released. The public commendably ignored the critics and the film became one of the most successful independent films released to that date. A series of mostly awful sequels followed as well as a pointless 2005 remake, all helping cement Amityville and the story of its haunting in modern legend. Indeed the word “Amityville” passed into the popular lexicon, becoming as synonymous with anything a bit spooky as the Twilight Zone theme. James Brolin, Margot Kidder and Rod Steiger head the cast list but the real star is the iconic house itself, with those unforgettably sinister eye-like windows staring implacably down on its tormented owners.

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George Lutz and his wife Kathleen, move into their Long Island dream house with their children only for their lives to be turned into a hellish nightmare. The legacy of a murder committed in the house gradually affects the family and a priest is brought in to try and exorcise the demonic presence from their home.

actors:
James Brolin as George Lutz   Margot Kidder as Kathy Lutz   Rod Steiger as Father Delaney   Don Stroud as Father Bolen   James Tolkan as Coroner   Murray Hamilton as Father Ryan   John Larch as Farther Nuncio   Natasha Ryan as Amy  

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3 The Legend of Hell House
imdb
rating

6.9

The Legend of Hell House (1973)

Horror, Mystery

There’s more than a hint of Nigel Kneale (The Stone Tape, Quatermass) about this tale of a scientists and mediums joining forces to purge the notorious Belasco house (“the Mount Everest of haunted houses”) of the malignant forces that haunt it. Adapted from his own novel Hell House by Richard Matheson, who considerably watered down the original’s sex and violence, it’s handicapped by some uncertain and at times overwrought performances, the director’s over-reliance on fish-eye lenses and a disappointing ending (the house is effectively exorcised by someone shouting at it). But it benefits enormously from some impressive set pieces (a poltergeist attack in the dining room is particularly well done) and a creepy electronic score by Doctor Who regulars Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson.

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A team consisting of a physicist, his wife, a young female psychic and the only survivor of the previous visit are sent to the notorious Hell House to prove/disprove survival after death. Previous visitors have either been killed or gone mad, and it is up to the team to survive a full week in isolation, and solve the mystery of the Hell House.

actors:
Pamela Franklin as Florence Tanner   Roddy McDowall as Benjamin Franklin Fischer   Clive Revill as Mr. (Lionel) Barrett   Gayle Hunnicutt as Ann Barrett   Roland Culver as Mr. (Rudolph) Deutsch   Peter Bowles as Hanley   Michael Gough as Emeric Belasco  

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2 The Haunting
imdb
rating

7.6

The Haunting (1963)

Horror, Mystery, Thriller

One of the first truly great haunted house films, which created a template from which films are still being struck today. A group of psychics, scientists and interested parties assemble at the notorious Hill House, a sprawling mansion seemingly composed of spatial and temporal distortions (its internal geography is deliberately and unnervingly confusing). It’s supposedly haunted by the ghosts of the many people to have died there in mysterious circumstances. Beautifully shot in widescreen black and white, with excellent performances from leading ladies Julie Harris and Claire Bloom, an ambiguous stance on the supernatural events it’s presenting (like The Innocents there are hints that much of what we are seeing stems from the mind of its heroine) and possibly the creepiest line of dialogue in any horror film (“I’m not holding your hand”). The Haunting remains the haunted house film against which all others are measured.

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Dr. Markway, doing research to prove the existence of ghosts, investigates Hill House, a large, eerie mansion with a lurid history of violent death and insanity.

actors:
Julie Harris as Eleanor 'Nell' Lance   Claire Bloom as Theodora 'Theo'   Richard Johnson as Dr. John Markway   Russ Tamblyn as Luke Sanderson   Fay Compton as Mrs. Sanderson   Rosalie Crutchley as Mrs. Dudley   Lois Maxwell as Grace Markway   Valentine Dyall as Mr. Dudley   Diane Clare as Carrie Fredericks   Ronald Adam as Eldridge Harper  

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1 House on Haunted Hill
imdb
rating

6.9

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Drama, Horror, Thriller

The title role is this daft but hugely loveable shocker is filled by Ennis House in Los Angeles, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Vincent Price gathers together a group of people in a supposedly haunted house, offering them the then princely sum of $10,000 if they can make it through the night. Inevitably, many of them don’t, as the house’s residents’ ghosts do their worst – or do they? Is the house on haunted hill really haunted or is there a more worldly explanation for what’s going on? Director William Castle – rarely one to let a film go by without a good gimmick – here gives us ‘Emergo’, a hokey device designed to give the impression that ghosts would appear to fly off the screen to terrify audiences in some cinemas thanks to an elaborate pulley system. He cheats at the end, but this is such fun throughout that the mundane ‘twist’ ending (you’ll guess it a mile off) is forgivable.

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Frederick Loren has invited five strangers to a party of a lifetime. He is offering each of them $10,000 if they can stay the night in a house. But the house is no ordinary house. This house has a reputation for murder. Frederick offers them each a gun for protection. They all arrived in a hearse and will either leave in it $10,000 richer or leave in it dead!

actors:
Vincent Price as Frederick Loren   Carolyn Craig as Nora Manning   Richard Long as Lance Schroeder   Elisha Cook Jr. as Watson Pritchard   Carol Ohmart as Annabelle Loren   Alan Marshal as Dr. David Trent   Julie Mitchum as Ruth Bridgers   Leona Anderson as Mrs. Slydes   Howard Hoffman as Jonas Slydes  

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