Haunting movies for Halloween

By on October 30, 2012

In honor of the latest entry in the ongoing “Paranormal Activity” series, I thought I’d take a minute to countdown my favorite spook-fests. For the record, entry #4, contrary to what the ads may tell you, does not “wrap everything up” in any way, shape or form. In fact, this is the second installment in a row to feature scenes in the trailers that are not in the movie.

Heather O'Rourke starred in the classic "Poltergeist" films as Carroll Ann. www.wikipedia.com

Instead, “PA4” raises more questions than it answers, with only the most surface relations to the previous flicks, as it focuses on another family altogether. That said, the “Kinect” angle is clever and the climax is by far the best- and scariest- in the entire series. People actually screamed in the theater I attended, and when a guy pointed out there was a bonus scene after the credits, one lady said: “That’s about as much of that as I can take,” so there’s that. And yes, said final scene sets up the inevitable next installment- though it does feature a returning player from Part Two, so maybe we’ll actually progress a little more in time and get back to the main family at hand eventually…got to keep milking that cow till the milk runs dry, you know?

In the meantime, here’s my top 10 haunted house faves- or hotels, or orphanages, or whatever. You know, wherever the ghosts are making with the scary. Enjoy, and remember…always turn on the lights when entering a room! It’s a scary movie, y’all. Get real.

10. “The Innocents” (1961)
The most subdued entry on this list, it’s also the oldest- but don’t let that fool you. The thrills and chills may be in black and white, but the plotline is surprisingly modern, with some still shockingly mature themes at play. And, okay, as you’ll see from plenty of the entries on the list, creepy kids freak me out. English majors, take note: it’s an adaptation of Henry James’ classic chiller, “The Turn of the Screw.” For a more modern take on a similar scenario, see also “The Others,” with Nicole Kidman, which is practically a re-imagining of this film- only in color, for you B&W-a-phobes.

9. “Ghost Story” (1981)
While the film version leaves out some of the best bits of the underrated Peter Straub novel of the same name, the cast is superlative, including many old-school pros in their last roles ever, such as Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Melvyn Douglas, and John Houseman, all of whom are perfectly cast. But it’s Alice Krige, then-future Borg Queen, who steals the show with her marrow-chilling performance as the ghost in question. Sometimes, it’s the humans that are really the bad ones in the end. Great eerie score, too, by Philippe Sarde.

8. “The Haunting” (1963)
Another old Hollywood classic, this one is the granddaddy of all haunted house flicks, even serving as the inspiration for elements of Disney’s Haunted Mansion- check out those “breathing” doors! As freaky as the house stuff is, what really makes this work is a superlative- and wrenching- performance from Julie Harris. As with “The Innocents,” this tackles some taboo themes for the time, including some sly lesbian undertones and plenty of other intense underlying stuff to wow the psychoanalysts out there. If you like this, check out the in-the-same-wheelhouse “Repulsion”- but avoid the remake, if you can, despite the stellar cast.

7. “The Changeling” (1980)
One of the great underrated ghost stories of the 80s, this film was no doubt overshadowed by another entry on this list, released the same year.

What can I say; the 80s were the best times for haunted horrors. This one features a compelling performance from the great George C. Scott, also in the super-underrated “Exorcist 3,” and the creepiest bouncing ball ever. Remember kids, do not taunt not-so-happy fun ball…

6. The Grudge (2004)
Part of the Asian remake craze of the early 00s, for my money this is one of the best, though “The Ring” is almost as good. It just doesn’t involve a haunted house, but rather a haunted well and so it is disqualified. Besides, who would you rather have help you combat ghosts, Naomi Watts or erstwhile Buffy Sarah Michelle Gellar? Exactly. (Though she doesn’t fare as well in the sequel…) If you prefer the real deal or just enjoy subtitles, check out the original “Ju-on” series, upon which this is based, and while you’re at it, the “Ringu” series- which inspired “The Ring”- is just as good,

5. The Orphanage (2007)
Produced by Guillermo Del Toro and similar in tone to his scary-but-melancholy masterpiece “Pan’s Labyrinth,” this is the lone foreign flick to get the nod on my list. There’s a dubbed version readily available, though, so never fear the subtitle factor. This is a beautifully done fairy tale that’s as scary as it is ultimately touching- not the easiest combo to pull off, to be sure. This one will stick with you- and that ending is a heartbreaker. Plus, more spooky kids! If you like this, also check out the similar-in-bent “The Abandoned” and “The Devil’s Backbone,” the latter of which was directed by Del Toro himself.

4. The Legend of Hell House (1973)
If the original “The Haunting” is too old-school and B&W for you, try is updated take with a superlative cast that includes Roddy McDowell and Pamela Franklin, who just happens to be the all-grown-up little girl from the aforementioned “The Innocents.” See how it all comes full circle?  If you like this, check out other 70s scares like the super-underrated “The Evil” and “Burnt Offerings,” plus “The Watcher in the Woods,” an effective little Disney shocker made… in 1980, but of course.

3. The Amityville Horror (1979)
This film is pretty much the boiler-plate for every haunted house movie since…and it’s also the only one that purports to be true. Take that info with a grain of salt, as you should, but some freaky stuff most certainly did go down there, and you can get the full skinny on that in the sequel/prequel “Amityville II: The Possession.” Skip the rest unless you want a good laugh- I mean, honestly, “Amityville: Dollhouse”? Um, no. However, the upcoming “My Amityville Horror,” a documentary based on one of the kids’ testimony from the family depicted in the original, might be interesting. See also the underrated “The Messengers,” featuring a pre-“Twilight” Kristen Stewart in one of her best roles by far- not that that’s saying much, admittedly.

2. Poltergeist (1982)
I could practically flip a coin between this one and number one, it’s so close. Your preference may ultimately depend on whether you like your haunted houses over-the-top or a bit classier than that. This one is the one that haunts a lot of kids’ childhoods, though, myself included. Who can forget the scary clown? (My sister had one just like it!) Plus, there’s the killer tree, the freaky meat and the swimming pool full o’corpses- good times. I’m really glad television never shuts down at the end of the night anymore, because that white snow still freaks me out. For a more current variation on a similar theme, see also the superlative “Insidious,” one of the better horror flicks of the last decade; and “Sinister,” in theaters now- and from the same team- is pretty excellent as well.

Then 6 year old, Danny Lloyd is his most memorable scene from The Shining. Footpedia.com

1. The Shining (1980)
Okay, so it’s technically a haunted hotel, but come on. This is pretty much everyone’s ne plus ultra of ghost stories. Besides, how often do you get a horror flick from as authoritative a source as the undeniably brilliant director Stanley Kubrick? Author Stephen King, who wrote the book, notoriously hates it, but check out the more faithful remake- if you dare- and tell me which is the better version. (King fared better with the faithful “1408,” about another haunted hotel, and “Rose Red” is pretty solid as well.) This version is just chock full of great memorable scenes, which, if you’ve seen, you won’t soon forget. Say it with me now: REDRUM REDRUM!
Happy Halloween, and remember, even if you lock your windows and bolt your doors, it won’t protect you from what’s inside the house. Sweet dreams! Mwwwhahahaha!!!!

Mark Trammell
Staff Writer

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
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