Top 10 Ghost Movies of All Time (Video Edition)
The latest iteration of Hammer Horror's slate of films has been very ghost-centric. First there was Daniel Radcliffe in THE WOMAN IN BLACK and now we have Jared Harris and Sam Claflin in THE QUIET ONES. Bringing back the atmospheric horror of the 1970s that doesn't rely on gore to be scary, THE QUIET ONES looks like it may be a winner. Here are ten other great ghost stories from movie history, including some underrated gems that should make for a spooky night. If your favorite didn't make the cut, feel free to mention it in the talk backs below.
An underseen film from 1988, THE LADY IN WHITE is the horror equivalent of A CHRISTMAS STORY. It is a haunting tale set in the early 1960s that follows a kid as he encounters the spirit of a dead girl that leads him to the mysterious title character. Like A CHRISTMAS STORY, THE LADY IN WHITE is one of those movies I can watch over and over and over and never get tired of. There is something ethereal about it that makes it less scary than, well, haunting.
Based on a story by the great Richard Matheson, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is a superior movie to the classic THE HAUNTING if only because it embraces that very British feel while also being incredibly fun. Even 40 years after it was released, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is still a strong haunted house movie that doesn't rely on special effects to sell you a realistic phantasmagoria.
The early 2000s saw a glut of remakes of Japanese horror movies that all showcased similar spectres like Samara. The long black hair and white skin has become a cliche due to overuse, but the shocking scares in THE RING still work as well today as they did twelve years ago. Very few movies are genuinely scary but THE RING will forever remain in that list.
The movie that kicked off the current found footage trend is also a handbook on how you can make a scary ghost story with almost no money and just a really good idea. Using shaky handheld cameras, some creative sound effects, and the hint of menace, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT achieves scares that even some big budget films cannot muster.
The biggest surprise of THE SIXTH SENSE was the twist ending that became the over-used crutch that also brought down M. Night Shyamalan's career. But, that does not undermine the brilliance of this Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment masterpiece. Giving us a ghost story that broke with convention to tell a unique tale does not come along all that often. Even once you know the twist you can go back and see where all of the layers are planted to sell you on the intricacies of Shyamalan's tale.
It is a shame that some folks don't watch foreign films as they are missing out on some of Guillermo Del Toro's best films. Aside from CRONOS or PAN'S LABYRINTH, Del Toro's THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE is a masterpiece that warrants a watch. On the surface, the film is a historical tale set during the Spanish Civil War, but the underlying ghost story serves to enhance the aura of dread in the whole film. This is most definitely a horror movie and a ghost story but Del Toro manages to make it so much more than just a genre flick.
Speaking of gothic horror, Alejandro Amenábar's THE OTHERS felt like a classic Hammer horror movie when it was released in 2001. Featuring a twist like THE SIXTH SENSE, THE OTHERS was both very scary and very grand. Nicole Kidman is perfectly cast as the harried mother whose abandoned home may be haunted. THE OTHERS echoes classic movies like THE HAUNTING and THE INNOCENTS and remains one of the better horror films of the 21st century.
How could I make this list without GHOSTBUSTERS? I always have looked at Ivan Reitman's comedy as the INDIANA JONES of horror movies. Mixing humor, thrills, scares, and brilliant special effects, GHOSTBUSTERS is an indelible classic for movie fans of all kinds. There is no one I have ever met who doesn't love this movie but nobody ever really stops to categorize it. That is what makes it such an enduring classic: it is just a great movie.
One of my favorite scary movies, GHOST STORY is one of the few I put on this list that relies on visually scaring audiences. Maybe it is Alice Krige's surreal performance or the collection of iconic actors from Old Hollywood, but GHOST STORY is just f*cking scary. Maybe it hasn't aged as well as some other movies, but it is definitely a sentimental favorite for me and one I always recommend when you want to spook someone unsuspecting.
Steven Spielberg may have only produced this Tobe Hooper film, but it definitely feels like the supernatural equivalent of his CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. Both incredibly scary and exhilirating to watch, POLTERGEIST remains one of the most terrifying horror movies of all time. But, it also feels very accessible for general audiences since it does not rely on buckets of gore or nudity to sell it's scares.
Stanley Kubrick's slow burn of a horror movie ranks as the scariest potrayal of ghosts on the big screen. It achieves this feat without showing us very much aside from fleeting glimpses of dead girls, costumed spirits, and a rotting naked old woman. It is the anticipation and feeling that something is very wrong at the Overlook Hotel that makes it so frightening and I would never trade that for more direct manifestations like in the lackluster TV mini-series version of the novel.