Haunted houses are an essential part of horror stories, both in real life and in the movies. Sometimes they’re not even associated with horror, but rather a deeper look into what happens after we pass away. Regardless they are fascinating narrative tools that serve as the setting of many great films and stories. With the new film “Winchester” hitting theaters this weekend based on an actual haunted home I took a look at some of cinema’s best haunted house stories to get you warmed up. These are my picks for the Top 10 Haunted House Movies.
For this list I looked at any film where a haunted house was the main setting for the movie. Simple as that. As long as the film takes place predominantly in a single home where a haunting is happening it qualified for inclusion on this list. That being said there are a lot of iconic haunted house stories, so I had to make some tough decisions. For the sake of space I did leave out houses that were only IMPLIED to be haunted rather than outright confirmed and focused on stories where actual spirits, demons or otherwise were the antagonists or the source of the horror. So the legendary “The House of Haunted Hill” was left out as it was never truly confirmed in the classic horror tale that ghosts resided in the home and most of the “paranormal” activity was shown to be simply part of a human-engineered plot.
Also this list is specifically focused on houses and homes. So movies like “Evil Dead” (a haunted cabin) and “The Shining” (a haunted hotel) were excluded and saved for a different list of haunted location movies I’m also working on. The movies on this list focused on an actual home or residence and that’s what makes them stand out, whether the home is that of the victims, the ghost or otherwise.
Also the films didn’t HAVE to be horror movies, but obviously horror movies will make up the bulk of this list. With that said, these are the best films that represent what we love so much about haunted houses and their mysterious qualities.
What are your favorite haunted house movies? Let me know in the comments below and look for my review of “Winchester” this weekend.
10. “A Ghost Story”
One of the best movies of 2017 was also the source of one of the most interesting haunted houses in cinema as it was the home of the titular ghost in a story that showed us the haunting from his perspective rather than the people around him. This supernatural drama took us through an amazing adventure as we got to experience the afterlife from the ghost’s point of view delving into the deeper themes of a haunting as he tried to interact with his still-living wife and various other occupants of his home. Over time he also struggled to retrieve a note left behind within the house’s walls. Far from scary like many of the others on this list, this haunted house tale deserves credit for being simple but inventive in its portrayal of the afterlife like we’ve never seen it before. For the first time we could truly sympathize with the spirit and understand why he was reaching out or interacting with his surroundings which makes this ghost story one worth telling and it’s haunted setting one to be remembered. It may have even given viewers a new way to think about those strange occurrences in their own homes.
9. “Crimson Peak”
Guillermo Del Toro’s 2015 gothic horror film “Crimson Peak” took us into the dilapidated Allerdale Hall, a unique haunted home that hid dark secrets as a brother and sister pair welcomed the brother’s new wife. In time we learned that many other wives have met their end in the home, each disposed of in the red clay that made up the hillside home’s base. Incredibly designed and appropriately run down and creepy, this haunted home was instantly the star of its film and played host to a myriad of truly spooky specters torturing the movie’s protagonist. Add in the deep red clay and you get a spooky scene that was unforgettable and almost at times seemed to have a mind of its own. As the film progressed we saw how the spirits wondered the halls and how they manifested themselves in gruesome and graphic ways, making this one of modern horror’s most terrifying paranormal stories to date. Combining traditional ghost story elements with Del Toro’s flair for imagery and imagination, “Crimson Peak” was as unique as it was artistic and featured classic frights for a new era of horror fans to enjoy.
The 1988 comedy horror “Beetlejuice” is an undeniable classic and featured an unassuming home setting in the house of the diseased Maitland couple. After a freak accident left the Maitland’s as ghosts they discovered new tenants were moving in, the Deetz family, and tried to put their spectral powers to the test to scare them away. This led them to employ the help of the bio-exorcist Beetlejuice who created havoc as the film’s central antagonist. The creepy, yet simple design of the home was complimented by the Deetz’s strange choices of decorations making it one of the more fun and animated locations on this list and the lovable married couple that haunted it added some charm to was story that is dark, funny and incredibly mesmerizing in its own way. Once Beetlejuice came into the picture things went completely bonkers and we started to see what a little imagination could produce from the homes many eccentricities. Perfectly melding horror elements with comedic timing and bringing to life one of the most iconic paranormal characters in all of film, “Beetlejuice” was a different kind of haunted house tale that offered all the scares we’d expect and just as many laughs to lighten the mood.
7. “The Conjuring”
The exploits of Ed and Lorraine Warren are nothing new for horror fans. In 2013 James Wan brought the pair to the big screen telling of their case at the Perron Farm in Rhode Island in the 1970s and the result was a truly terrifying franchise starter that holds up even almost five years later. This particular case was based on a real farmhouse that became the center of unwanted public attention as a result of the film. In “The Conjuring” we saw the Perron family deal with some pretty brutal and extremely scary situations as the evil specter Bathsheba haunted the family that “took her land”. This film was legitimately frightening, an honor I don’t give to many artistic or overdone horrors these days to be honest, and even though the house was haunted by a single entity Bathsheba made hell on earth a reality for the family, playing games with them and eventually forcing them to call in the experts before taking everything to a new level of terror. Bathsheba wasn’t the only ghost there however. As the story progressed the spirits of other victims of Bathsheba arrived to fill in some blanks for the Warrens and they quickly learned the evil they faced had a history of sealing the fate of those on her turf. In many ways “The Conjuring” set the bar for what a modern haunted house tale could be and few recent films have been able to hit that mark quite as good.
6. “The Grudge”
While the original Japanese film is arguably superior, for the sake of this list I’m talking about the divisive American remake. “The Grudge” is now a classic modern horror story that lived up to its name by making revenge and anger the driving forces behind its spectral antagonists. The story involved a curse born from rage and sorrow that, in the timeline of the film, was connected to a home in Japan. Now haunted by the spirits of the woman and son murdered there by an enraged husband, the occupants of the home, or those who chose to investigate it, became cursed themselves creating a never-ending source of horror. “The Grudge” provided a memorable story that turned the haunted house concept on its head, making the home the central location for a curse that has spread well beyond its walls. The mythology behind it was intriguing and the story surrounding it was imaginative and unique, which helped “The Grudge” become not just a runaway success as a Japanese-to-American adaptation, but as a powerhouse horror franchise for the new millennium as well that, even today, still blows the minds of psychological horror fans around the world. The American version may not have been quite as refined as its Japanese counterpart, but its use of nonlinear storytelling and it’s sound and ghost designs made it iconic.
5. “The Innocents”
When you look up psychological horror, one of the top options is “The Innocents”. Based on the classic novel “The Turn of the Screw” this 1960s film depended mostly on atmosphere and film-making tricks to portray its story of a governess who worked with a pair of orphaned children seemingly in touch with paranormal entities that she, herself, could not see. Once the larger underlying story of the houses haunting became clear the threat and dangers of possession became all too real for the young orphans of the home. “The Innocents” was an important film for its time, allowing the scenery and atmosphere to provide much of the creepy factor while the story utilized common ghost story tropes and added some newer elements to the concept of possession. Today the film still retains it’s dark and creepy look that made it so effective and the fact that it was mostly shot on location in a Gothic mansion made it feel all the more realistic. Add in the revolutionary sound work that played with viewers senses and you could almost feel like you were actually in the home trying to understand the mystery behind its paranormal activity yourself.
4. “13 Ghosts”
The original “13 Ghosts” quite literally brought viewers into the action by taking advantage of a gimmick called Illusion-O that asked audiences to make a choice, watch the film with glasses that made you unable to see the 13 ghosts or watch with a lens that would allow viewing of the ghosts in full. This created an immersive horror experience that has become legendary as one of the most entertaining gimmicks in all of cinema history and had viewers curious about what was wondering around their own homes. The film’s story told of a family that inherited the home of an occultist family member along with a treasure and 12 ghosts. The ghosts sought a 13th to free them. While the 2001 remake tried its best to do something creative and modern with the original’s concept, there’s no surpassing the sheer experience that was the original horror classic that made the haunted house experience more than just a movie trope, it made it an actual engaging and unique viewing opportunity that offered fans a chance to experience the mystery of a haunting firsthand. It was inventive, it was spooky and it even gave us some of the more memorable ghosts to ever haunt a home on the big screen.
3. “The Legend of Hell House”
When you discuss haunted house movies, some call this the granddaddy of them all. “The Legend of Hell House”, based on the “Hell House” novel, might not be the oldest film on this list but in many ways its 1970s portrayal of a ghost hunt within the home of an accused killer has become the quintessential haunted house story that many, if not all are compared to. The movie focused on investigators in the titular home using (at the time) modern techniques to try and communicate with the spirit of its former owner, a man who many called the “Roaring Giant”. The mystery and suspense of this film and the question of whether or not the haunting was real helped establish the classic ghost stories we know today complete with skepticism, irony and a pretty neat twist that offered context and character development to the ghost. It took everything that had been done with haunted house stories from the past and built on them to bring the concept into the modern world, setting the stage for many of the tropes and clichés that litter the genre still to this day. While today it might seem like a basic haunted house experience, at the time it proved that these stories could still be cool, inventive and fun.
2. “The Amityville Horror”
A few years after “The Legend of Hell House” we got a new horror classic that upped the anti even more, showing that a haunted house story didn’t have to be about just mystery and suspense, it could also be violent and downright dark as well. “The Amityville Horror” took the haunted house concept and made it truly frightening, especially given its real world inspiration. The film’s setting was a home where a mass murder took place in New York, and once the new family moved in the father started to change into a violent man now possessed by the evil of the home. The larger mystery and revelations of the home were the source of many genre staples still used today, from its use of time to its use of a burial ground concept to explain the evil within the house. The scariest part of this movie is that the danger was not so much a ghost, but the influence the spirits within the home had on the family and the property. Often emulated but never truly matched, the original “The Amityville Horror” was not only a classic haunted house tale that offered everything fans of the genre sought to enjoy it also provided the baseline that would become a new age of violent horror experiences by melding reality with possibility and the unknown in all the right ways. Still, there was one haunted house classic that just couldn’t be ignored as the best of them all.
Everything that came before it this film perfected. Much of what came after it this film inspired. This 1982 classic is undeniably one of the most effective haunted house movies ever told. Sporting groundbreaking visual effects and a story that still holds up today as credible and believable, “Poltergeist” introduced us to a new kind of horror as the ghosts of those buried on a suburban property began to haunt the new owners of a home. It was one of the most thrilling horror movies ever told that revolutionized the concept of the paranormal in terms of Hollywood horror epics. The ghost designs were absolutely fear-inducing and the slow buildup of the haunting allowed the viewer to experience the fear right along with the family before immersing us into the terror and hopelessness of what it’s like to invest in a home and find out you’re not only not alone, but that the “others” within the house want nothing more than to make you suffer. “Poltergeist” earned its place as not only a classic haunted house story, but one of the most iconic and inventive paranormal films ever conceived. Even attempts to remake the film in 2015 couldn’t result in the same cringe-inducing horror that the original was able to bring out. “Poltergeist” has become THE prime example of a haunted house film done right and no movie before or since has ever quite captured the imagination and terror associated with a truly gripping ghost story. For that reason it takes my top spot at the best haunted house movie to date.