Although we often tend to equate cinematic horror these days with gratuitous gore, cheap jump-thrills and completely uninspired storytelling, AITH is proud as f*ckin' punch to shine some light on the kind of horror flick that's been around since the dawn of Hollywood's Golden Age; the haunted house flick. Rather than the watered down formula of onscreen violence as a purveyor of terror, we're celebrating the films able to incur, often with little resources, true heart-stopping fright. And with Tod Williams' PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 just around the corner, what better way to call out a gimmicky film franchise than to remind us all how true hair-raising, spine-tingling, blood-curdling haunted house flicks ought to be constructed?!? Here now, is our Top Ten Haunted House flicks...
WARNING: MINOR TO MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW!
#5. THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE
Likely our most recondite list entry, John Hough's 1973 flick THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE brings acclaimed author Richard Matheson's novel and script to life (or death, should I say?) like few directors have. In this tale - about a throng of parapsychologists who are sent to a ghastly mansion to exorcise a supernatural force that has rendered all prior inhabitants either 6 feet deep or bat-shit insane - you'll find all the staples of grimy 70s horror on display...even going so far as to pit science vs. religion in an unnerving way as well. Roddy McDowall headlines a minimal off-kilter cast, which, confined inside the Hell House for the duration of the picture, really lends to the cornered, claustrophobic feeling of not being able to escape.
Perhaps the most palatable demonstration of suburban dread, Tobe Hooper's 1982 classic has long been a point of polemic speculation. Written and produced by the most popular filmmaker there ever was, if and how much Spielberg actually directed has never officially been disclosed (Hooper was said to be replaced mid-shoot), but the film irrefutably has a Spielberg tenor. What works so well in the film is just that: juxtaposing the chimerical and supernatural with the mundane banality of everyday life in the burbs. Of course, the so called "Poltergeist Curse" only adds to the intrigue, as after every entry in the series, a cast-member perished, often in a way far more grueling than onscreen. Honestly though, it's Reverend Kane from part two that spikes my nape-hair most.
#3. THE CHANGELING
George C. Scott anchors this harrowing tale of a bereaved music professor who lost his wife and child in an auto-wreck. When he assumes residence in an old Seattle mansion, he soon witnesses all kinds of paranormal occurrences: noises echoing throughout his room at the same time every morning, his little girl's ball bouncing down the stairs, a connection via séance with another deceased child who used to reside in the home, etc. As he vets the disturbing history of the abode, a series of ineffable and forever damaging revelations alter the course of the professor's life forever. This a quiet, reserved performance by Scott that you just don't find in horror movies...under the careful direction of Peter Medak, who retains a glum, ambient 70s sensibility. A true spine-tingler!
#2. THE HAUNTING
A true testament to the axiom "more is less," Robert Wise's seminal haunted-house thread relies on the simplest of terror-techniques: creaking windows, rattling floorboards, flittering doorknobs, a pop-up scare now again...all of which boil fear down to its basic essence. For those in the know not, the plot concerns a foursome of strangers who agree to stay at the garish Hill House, which is said to be fraught with a malefic presence. Made in 1963, this isn't a film heavily reliant on shock-gore, digital augmentation, expensive makeup and F/X or the type of iconographic violence we largely come to associate with a horror flick (hell, we don't even see an apparition). No, this is simple suspense-mounted storytelling done the old fashioned way...almost 50 years later, THE HAUNTING still holds up.
#1. THE SHINING
How the hell could you not see the Overlook Hotel as our number one destination? Stanley Kubrick's 1980 masterpiece not only cemented what horror in the late 60s and 70s proved true...that the genre could warrant Oscar Caliber talent and product (THE EXORCIST, CARRIE, ROSEMARY'S BAB, etc.), THE SHINING still holds as the preeminent filmic Stephen King adaptation. With Kubrick's revolutionary visual panache...the low angle steady cam work, his ability to slowly mount a sense of the foreboding, not to mention the spellbinding (if over the top) performances by Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall - all of it come together to remain, 30 years later, as one of the best made films ever assembled, in and out of genre. An undisputed masterpiece!