By Melanie Moyer.
Horror wears many faces. There’s psychological thrillers, slashers, body horror, the list goes on. But no staple of horror has lasted so long as the haunted house. There’s something impossibly timeless about the idea of a haunted house and spirits from the beyond invading your home. There’s some anthropological truth to why this is scary, just look at the rule of proximity found in many traditional folk tales: the outside world is dangerous and the home is safety, so when it’s invaded, it’s terrifying.
We’ve put together a list of some of the best haunted house horror movies you can watch. In no particular order; we’re not making any sweeping statements, scare yourself silly with some classic tales of ghosts and ghouls in the attic and all things that go bump in the night.
House on Haunted Hill (1959)
This is a creepy tale that combines a couple different motifs of horror. You’ve got the psychological component thanks to the setting in an old asylum in the remake, but the scary part here is the malevolence of the spirits that still reside in this old house. The story follows an eccentric millionaire couple who invite five strangers to spend the night in this famously terrifying house for the chance to win $10,000. But things don’t go as planned when the house has tricks of its own. The guests slowly begin to turn on each other as the ghosts wreak havoc.
The Changeling (1980)
This ranks among the creepiest films I’ve seen and one of the best examples of Canadian horror films. The Changeling follows a widower trying put his life back together while staying in an old Victorian mansion. The plotline is full of twists and turns as the widower, John, finds himself pursued by the ghost of a young man begging him to help solve his untimely murder and bring the culprit to justice. What he finds is a conspiracy several decades in the making and a very vengeful spirit. If that’s not enough for you, just know screenwriter Russell Hunter wrote the film based on his own experiences in the Henry Treat Rogers mansion.
Available on Amazon.
Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
If you liked It Follows, then you’ll want to check out the original perpetrator of an evil curse passed from victim to victim. Ju-On: The Grudge revolves around an entity of rage and revenge which is born when someone is murdered and how it can haunt and jump from person to person. You probably recognize the terrifying visual of the pale, dark haired ghoul, if nothing else. But this is a pretty terrifying movie about crimes of passion and the rage that follows.
Available on Amazon.
The Conjuring (2013)
This film has been described by many as the true successor to films like The Exorcist. James Wan’s take on the alleged true story of the Perron family haunting, as investigated by infamous paranormal team Ed and Lorraine Warren. After a family of five girls and their parents moves into their new farmhouse, strange things start escalating as a presence in the house seems fixated on harming the girls and using their mother to do it. The Conjuring is full of old fashion scares, amazing atmosphere, and great cinematography. It also spawned a series of sequels and spin-offs creating an entire franchise universe bearing Wan’s stamp.
One of the most interesting films on this list, Ghostwatch is a BBC mockumentary film, scripted and shot but presented as if it were live television on the night it aired. The 90-minute made-for-TV-film followed a group of paranormal investigators as they looked into poltergeist activity in a London home caused by the spirit of a disturbed and malevolent ghost known as ‘Pipes’. The investigation escalates to violent proportions and the result was a culture fervor as many of the viewers believed they were watching live television. The now infamous show, which was largely based on the real-life Enfield Haunting case, has never been broadcast in the UK after it was banned for a decade after its initial air date.
Available on Amazon.
The Others (2001)
The supernatural gothic horror film The Others, pays homage to the classic psychological ghost story. A mother lives with her two sickly children in their remote country home on the island of Jersey in the midst of World War II. Due to her children’s severe photosensitivity, the house is kept in almost utter darkness. But, when three new servants appear and start exhibiting odd behavior, she begins to suspect there are others in the house who mean to do harm to her and her family. The real truth behind the events is a shocking twist, if not entirely original, making this one worth a look.
The Innocents (1961)
The Innocents is another film that blends psychological terror with the theme of a haunted house. Based on the novella The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, the plot follows a governess who comes to believe her place of employment is haunted and the children under her care are possessed by evil spirits. You won’t find many jump scares in this, it’s all about mood, lighting, and directing to achieve the subtle yet highly effective sense of terror without any unnecessary gimmicks.
Available on Amazon.
“They’re here!” Possibly the most famous film about a haunted house, scaring audiences for decades now and making them afraid of their televisions. Poltergeist tells the story of a family tormented by poltergeist activity, culminating in their daughter being kidnapped by the spirits, as a result of their house being built over a Native America burial ground. This is the source of many motifs seen today in haunted house tales: moving objects, bumps in the night, and the age old “ancient Indian burial ground” urban legend.
The Haunting (1963)
If there is one on this list that deserves the to be definitively ranked among the greatest horror films ever, The Haunting is one of them. This adaptation of the Shirley Jackson novella of the same name, tells the story of a group of volunteers contracted for a paranormal investigation of Hill House, a mansion with a dark past, feared by locals. It famously makes use of terror over horror, creating an atmosphere of discomfort and danger rather than outrightly showing the supernatural terrors.
The Amityville Horror (1979)
The most famous haunted house in America also serves as one of the most famous staples of haunted house horror. Ed and Lorraine Warren don’t appear in this film, but it was their investigation that brought this haunting to the American consciousness and served as the basis for this movie. The Amityville Horror follows the Lutz family who moves into a house that was the location of a brutal murder of an entire family by their disturbed son. As activity escalates in the house, it becomes clear malevolent spirits are responsible for the gruesome history and the present horrors.
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