Wednesday, October 10, 2018

My Top 10 Favorite Haunted House movies

When it comes to horror films, there’s many different sub-genera’s with a distinct look, identity, and feel. While I’ve seen various great horror movies from different mediums, my personal favorite category is the haunted house genera. This is when I feel horror has the chance to get the most creative, atmospheric and it always makes the scares feel more like a theme park ride. Now I’m directly focusing on real horror films set in haunted locations, so family films like “Monster House” or “Beetlejuice” will not be included. With that said, step right in and make yourself feel at home, these are my personal top 10 favorite haunted house movies.

#10 "Paranormal Activity 4" (2012) 

Let me start by saying that I’ve never really liked any of the “Paranormal Activity” movies, have only seen each installment once, and have never really been able to separate individual films in my mind. 
Paranormal Activity 4” however is the one exception in which I actually remember it, gave it a second viewing, and can separate it from the others. The franchise in general revolved around “reality horror”, as their always shown from the perspective of a hand-held camera, which is the franchises gimmick of making the horror seem real. I felt that “Paranormal Activity 4” took the fullest advantage with its durable premise, had some effective scares, and just had memorable moments that stuck with me. I remember when the kitchen knife was raised up to the ceiling, and held up there without anyone knowing until it dropped. I remember the girl getting trapped in the garage while the car started on its own, and I’m so glad this movie did something different with the swinging chandelier gimmick by actually having it drop. This movie also had the most shocking final image that stuck with me the most, and I really liked the films clever concept of combining the video dots with household appliances. This allowed for spooky imagery to move on screen without showing off too much either.  While I can’t argue that “Paranormal Activity 4” is a great movie, it was at least an exciting and memorable scary movie experience, which for me makes it a huge improvement over its three predecessors.

#9 “The Sixth Sense” (1999) 

Next is a very special Horror film, one that will scare you to death, but also pull at your heart strings all the way. 
Now even though I love this film, I put it lower on my list because it’s not 100% contained in a single house, in fact it actually covers a number of locations. However, it utilizes just enough of the haunted house formula, as well as sequences that I feel it deserves mentioning. The story revolves around a young boy with an abnormal ability to see the spirits of dead people. Every encounter with these ghosts is the stuff of nightmares, but the real horror comes from their back stories. We soon learn that these spirits were all victims of untimely deaths. By communicating with the young boy, these lost souls will have the chance to be given proper closure and move on. The most terrifying aspects of the film come into play when we learn just how tragic and disturbing the events of their deaths were. It conveys more of a real-life horror by focusing on either human monsters, or unfortunate situations. It’s a movie that covers issues of pain, remorse, sorrow, regret, loss, things that are very sad, and emotional. It’s more than just an exciting scary movie, it feels deep and meaningful. Yet the concept of this boy being aware of the dead souls lingering in his house do still lead to some creative and effective haunted house sequences. “The Sixth Sense” has all the makings and style of a classic Hollywood picture, yet it’s packed with all the chills and atmosphere of a modern horror movie. With standout performances, especially from the young Haley Joel Osment, and a twisted, original ghost story make this every bit as haunting as it is poetic.  

#8 “Annabelle Creation” (2017) 

Having a horror movie set in a haunted house is all well and good, but sometimes it just feels all the more special when there’s a single monstrous entity tying it all together … like a possessed toy doll for example. 
In general, the Annabelle doll has become a mascot for modern horror cinema, and giving her a detailed origin was a risky venture, but it worked, as her dark secrets make the doll both more terrifying and subsequently more tragic. The film revolves around two orphaned girls finding a new place of residence, but they each in turn find themselves haunted by the mysterious doll, as well as the secrets revolving around the house keeper’s late daughter. Putting the focus on two girls was a great start, but it's the performances and chemistry between the two that gives this film it's substance, and it make the scares effective, because I genuinely cared about the two. This is also the first time I genuinely felt terrified of a creepy, motionless doll. The various haunted episodes revolving around this doll range from subtle to over the top, but it works in giving the setting it’s atmosphere and seeing it all from the perspective of these two girls make it all the more effective. The film also lends to some terrific haunted house scenarios, like a small wooden elevator, an electronic chair rise on a stair case, and a bottomless well in the backyard. There’s spooky action, great characters and more than enough frightening highlights.

#7 “The Haunting” (1963) 

Practically the poster child for all haunted house films to aspire from, “The Haunting” is a special achievement that was ahead of its time, and is thankfully undated. 
The film revolves around a 90-year-old mansion, which has been the base point for several mysterious deaths. A doctor begins the theorize in the possibility of a real haunted house, and thus a team is dispatched to try and verify his claims. At face value, this film may seem like your typical, run of the mile horror flick set in a haunted house, but the film truly lives up to its title in the darkest and best possible way. Strait to the point, the film never features any ghosts, or supernatural oddities, and is more of a study in the psychology of the main characters. Are the haunts real, or is the main heroine just loosing her mind? Aside from being an intriguing study of a descension into madness, the film is just dripping with Gothic atmosphere, and manages to convey layers of terror without really showing anything on screen. It’s unique, daring and above all, it’s a haunted venture worth experiencing around the Halloween season.  

#6 “Lights Out” (2016) 

From the creators of "The Conjuring" comes "Lights Out", and this is a film that put a new, and original face on the haunted house genera. 
Ever sense the earliest years of human kind, our most instinctive fear was that of being alone in the dark, and this movie is a very exciting take on the trope of why you should stay out of the shadows. A family is being haunted by a mysterious entity that can only lurk in the shadows, so, as long as the family stays in the light their safe, but when the lights go out, their suddenly at the mercy of this hostile beast. I love the simplicity of this premise, and the film knows how to play around with its genera tropes to keep things exciting, and insures it never gets repetitive with the formula. There's an eerie atmosphere and sustained tension that never lets up throughout the film, all while great care is put into the details of both the story and characters. The performances are all very solid, and the characters manage to break away from your typical horror victim stereotypes. These characters are actually quite resourceful, know how to take action while still showing their vulnerability, and there's even some depth to them. When you look past all the scary elements you'll notice that there's a very thoughtful story being told here about family struggles and the sacrifices we make for those we love. So, there's just the right amount of substance to balance out the effective scares. It's simply a perfect late-night horror film to watch with the lights out.

#5 “The Others” (2001) 

When a father disappears in action, a lonely mother is forced to take care of her two sick children in a giant mansion. 
Upon the arrival of three mysterious house keepers, all kinds of strange auditees begin to take shape, and the family soon fear the place to be haunted. This early 2000’s hit in many ways is the spiritual successor to “The Haunting”, as we once again never see any frightening entities leaping out of the shadows, but so much dread and terror still seep through the cracks in this movies brilliant structure. The kids are allergic to sun light, which means they can’t leave the house, thus we the audience are trapped in the shadows with them. Nicole Kidman is also on the top of her game as the lonely mother who’s just trying to provide for her family. Another strength to a great horror film is the mystery surrounding the haunts, and this film is all about slowly pulling back the truth. Without going into exact details, this film is ultimately about ghosts who are being haunted by the living, which is a brilliant concept and, in my view, makes this a superior haunted house tale. 

#4 “The Conjuring 2” (2016) 

Here’s yet another sequel that I’m highlighting over the original, but I can’t lie about my personal opinions. 
Back in 2013 “The Conjuring” made a big impact, launched several spin-off films, imitators and is regarded as a small classic of the modern era. However, while I thought the first was very well constructed, it just didn’t stick with me as either a frightening or memorable experience. By contrast, it’s 2016 sequel “The Conjuring 2” scared me senseless, and has stuck with me as one of the better films in the haunted house genera. The premise is very similar to the first, as it revolves around a family haunted by vengeful spirits, and two paranormal investigators are sent by the church to dispel the demons plaguing their house. James Wan proves once again to be one of the greatest horror filmmakers of our time, as he takes old haunted house clichés and gives them a tense new edge. If you think too hard, you’ll find plenty of details to pick at, but as an experience, this film builds a relentlessly haunting atmosphere, tells a very competent ghost story, and is chalk full of memorable visuals, like the rocking chair, and characters like The Crooked Man. It’s one of those scary movies that still leaves a cold chill in the air after it ends. The most unsettling moment of all is a nightmare involving a painting of a scary nun. The performances are all solid, especially from child actress Madison Wolfe, who’s portrayal of the real-life Janet Hodgson is one of the best the horror genera have to offer. In my opinion, her performances rivals that of the original Exorcist, which I don’t say lightly.

#3 “1408” (2006) 

Time to switch up the location a little, as the setting isn’t a haunted house, but a haunted hotel room, and honestly a more frightening place to be trapped in. 
Based on a story by Stephen King, “1408” is the tale of a down on his luck author who publishes books on haunted tales. He learns of a supposedly real haunted location, which comes in the form of a single hotel room in an otherwise fine establishment. Things seem pretty standard at first, but gradually the rooms evil presence begins to take shape. There’re so many brilliant things to highlight in this film, the first of which is how the film can keep going with its simple concept without falling into repetition. John Cusack also delivers a dynamite performance as the troubled writer, who thankfully is quite multilayered and not just a victim to several frightening encounters. This also marked the first time I ever felt trapped in a single haunted environment. Other horror films have effectively evoked feels of dread and quiet eeriness, but this was the first time I ever felt caged, and was experiencing both the horror and pain of our main character. Half the time it messes with your head and you begin asking yourself … just how long have we been in here, has it been hours or days? Aside from crafting a very disturbing environment, this film is yet another one that tackles real life horror, like the guilt one family man could have over the loss of a child, or the fear that one day any one of us might just die alone in an old folks’ home. It’s all around a powerful, disturbing and claustrophobic experience. It could have almost been my favorite of Stephen King’s adapted works … had it not been for the next film on my list.      

#2 “The Shining” (1980) 

Now it’s time to raise the stakes as we transition from a single haunted hotel room to an entire haunted hotel. 
Of the many films adapted from Stephen King's work, none of them got under my skin the same way "The Shining" did. I really should give most of the credit to the films writer/ director Stanley Kubrick who basically took the format of Stephen Kings book and then crafted his own work with a unique vision. "The Shining" revolves around a family who are looking over the isolated Stanley Hotel during the winter season. Everything seems fine at first, but gradually their time at the hotel takes a dark turn, with strange apparitions appearing randomly and the father slowly getting unhinged. The brilliance of this film is that we never get any clear answers ... is the hotel actually haunted, is the family just going insane or is it both. Basically, it’s another psychological study like in “The Haunting”, but less subtle, as this film definitely has the haunted visuals that stick with you after the film ends. The imagery in this film really is some of the most unforgettable I’ve ever seen in a horror film. The frightening atmosphere is strong, the ideas are original, and from start to finish it’s like being trapped in a nightmare. Of course, it's Jack Nicholson who steals the show, and is every bit as funny as he is terrifying. It may not be that faithful to the original novel, but the movie itself is still a classic in its own right, and one that never fails to leave an effect on the viewer.

Before I reveal my #1 favorite, here are some quick Honorable Mentions


"Evil Dead 2", 


"Cabin in the Woods", 

"The Innocents"


#1 “Poltergeist” (1982) 

When it comes to strait up horror, there’s only one film that masterfully combines eerie subtlety with over the top frights. 
Poltergeist” from 1982 is personally my favorite horror movie of all time, and has everything I want from a quality scary film. The premise is brilliant, a home is accidentally built over a burial ground, and the spirits aren’t happy that they’ve invaded their resting place. The setup is good enough, but the movie goes much further than just your typical haunted house movie with ghosts. We get to a point in the film where the family’s little girl is taken into a ghostly dimension, and the parents take immediate action to try and get her back. There’s a lot of strong talk about cross dimensions, theories concerning the powers of the dead, where they go, what separates their world from ours, and it’s some really creepy stuff that gets under your skin. Beyond its heavy psychological theories of the afterlife, this movie features some of the most unforgettable shock moments in the history of horror cinema. There’s a scary old tree snatching a child from his bedroom, corpses rising from a swimming pool, a guy who rips his own face off, and of course there’s that scary toy clown who steals the show. It’s a rare kind of horror movie that’s consistently frightening, but I never feel dirty while watching it, unlike other horror films that flat out offend and discus me. What can I say, “Poltergeist” is a memorable, haunting, tightly plotted, smartly crafted and consistently entertaining horror spectacle that I always have to watch every October. It’s one of the greatest ghost stories ever told, and it’s personally my favorite haunted house movie of all time. 

        Pleasant dreams everyone …

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