What The Blair Witch Project brought to the masses - that would be, a shoestring-budgeted horror movie lead by non-actors featuring shaky, direct-to-camera POVs and what felt like real scares - Paranormal Activity has taken and run with to great success, now in its fourth iteration. And it seems that audiences are happy to be spooked by forces that are just out of frame or inhabiting the bodies of various family members as the one person who senses bad things begs to be listened to.
In light of the release of Paranormal Activity 4, we decided to craft a Top 10 list of movies that involved ghosts, supernatural entities and demon-haunted humans. That means no possession tales (sorry Exorcist) no zombies (sorry George A. Romero) and no aliens (sorry Aliens). While these are all valid offshoots within the horror-fantasy genre, keeping the list to 10 entries would have been near impossible had we opened up the gates (of hell? j/k) to include all scary movies.
So now that you know where we're coming from, behold our list of the Top 10 big-screen ghost stories and be sure to add your own.
|#10 GHOSTBUSTERS (1984)
Deftly straddling the line between laughs and thrills, Ghostbusters did have some out-and-out scary moments - the scene where Sigourney Weaver slowly realizes there's something in her apartment comes to mind - but whether or not it made you want to sleep with the lights on, Ivan Reitman's flick is one solid ghost story - just look to the title. With stellar casting in the way of Bill Murray (!), Dan Aykroyd, and miniature Rick Moranis, not to mention Ernie Hudson and Harold Ramis, the film that follows three misfit parapsychology professors and their one-of-a-kind ghost removal service is a classic. And according to Aykroyd, audiences should get ready for more since Ghostbusters III is in the script-writing phase, though it'll be moving ahead without Murray. And the world struggles to remain cautiously optimistic...but we'll always have the original.
|#9 THE CHANGELING (1980)
The Changeling has everything a terrifying tale should: a creepy old mansion, things that go bump in the night, the ghost of a dead child, a chilling séance and one frightening finale. Recently widowed pianist John Russell (George C. Scott) gets more than he bargained for when he rents a secluded historical mansion. A spooky spectre calls to John, drawing him closer to the boarded-up attic room where the Victorian era wheelchair, coated in cobwebs, rests under seventy years of dust alongside a child's diary. With a petrifying séance that will have your hair standing on end, John becomes further and further wrapped in the mystery surrounding the wheelchair's occupant. Part haunted house tale, part ghost story, the sight of the eerie, empty wheelchair still gives us chills.
|#8 THE FRIGHTENERS (1996)
This gem of a ghoulish tale was the brainchild of auteur Peter Jackson before the Lord of the Rings franchise made him a household name. Michael J. Fox stars as Frank Bannister, a man who suddenly develops the ability to see, hear, and even make friends with the dead. Instead of using his powers for good, Frank decides (after dealing with personal tragedy himself) to start up a bogus ghost-hunting business and reap the rewards. His plans (and the rapt audience) are thrown for a loop when a less-than-friendly spirit comes a-hauntin', causing Frank to buckle down and get serious about the supernatural presence. Though the movie stuns with its special digital effects (groundbreaking at the time), it's Fox and his ghostly friends and enemies that make this one a must-see.
|#7 POLTERGEIST (1982)
When you read the words "A Steven Spielberg Production" and you've got a TV with a connection to evil spirits, you know you're in for a ride. When the Freelings move into their new home, it's not long before their daughter Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) starts getting more out of the TV than they are. Spielberg and director Tobe Hooper give audiences countless scares as the ghostly entities inhabiting the house start going after the family in terrifying and grotesque ways. Surely a comment on the perils of modern living, Poltergeist was so effective because it showed that hauntings, and all the baggage that comes with unknowingly living above an old graveyard, could happen to any family....even yours.
|#6 A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
Wes Craven was onto something when he wrote the story of scorned Freddy Kruger (Robert Englund), a psychopath who was burned alive by a group of angry parents after he committed murder and somehow evaded jail and who has come to seek his revenge by killing from beyond the grave. Nancy (Heather Langencamp) is having horrible nightmares involving a man with serious facial scars who wears a glove with razors for fingers and who seems intent on harming her. Weird, right? And once her friend Tina dies a horrible, violent death in her sleep, Nancy struggles to figure out the connection and stay awake before Freddy gets her too. Come on, a killer ghost who can get to you in your sleep? Points for originality and the ability to make sleep seem scary.
|#5 THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)
This film marked M. Night Shyamalan's third directorial effort and his biggest hit, thanks largely to his use of the twist ending that he would go on to employ on almost every movie that followed. Pity, since Haley Joel Osment's quiet turn as the put-upon boy who, say it with me, sees dead people along with Bruce Willis as Dr. Malcolm Crowe and Toni Collette as the struggling mother make quite an impact and inverting audience's expectations of what ghosts can look like was shocking to say the least. If Shyamalan only gives us one memorable cinematic moment, The Sixth Sense's original take on the ghost story is a pretty decent legacy.
|#4 THE OTHERS (2001)
Creepy children? Check. Suitably large, fog-surrounded gothic mansion? Check. This smart and often underrated film combines atmosphere and tragedy to form an unforgettably chilling and old-fashioned ghostly tale. Directed by Alejandro Amenábar and starring the luminescent Nicole Kidman, the film follows a mother and her two light-sensitive offspring as they pass their days in their old English manor, waiting for the man of the house to return from his tour in World War II. The spooky surroundings, secretive servants and occasional possession keeps the audience on tenterhooks until the very last. And what comes next? Well, we won't ruin it for you but it's one fantastic yet unforeseen twist that'll leave you breathless.
|#3 THE RING (2002)
This Naomi Watts thriller is, dare I say, a successful remake of a Japanese horror (Ringu), a rare case to say the least. Watts stars as Rachel, a reporter trying to piece together why her niece and three of her friends died at the same time. Her preternaturally mature son (David Dorfman, who resembles a sickly Culkin) is somehow connected to the mystery, or at the very least has some seriously intuitive powers. Things comes to a head, scare-wise, when Samara (Daveigh Chase), the water-logged, hirsute nymphet who - SPOILER - gingerly steps through the TV (a nod to Poltergeist perhaps?), making sure the audience's skin is steadily crawling. Hell hath no fury like a little dead girl's hunger for revenge.
|#2 THE HAUNTING (1963)
One of the best old-fashioned ghost stories to ever open in theatres, this Sixties hit follows a group of paranormal experts as they investigate the legendary haunted Hill House. Director Robert Wise uses sound and shadow to create a multitude of eerie possibilities and allows the audience's imagination to do the rest. What's real and what's just in your mind? The fear factor multiplies with every scene and the illusions of evil and malevolence in every shadow and corner of the impressive old mansion become just that much scarier. Keep the lights on during this one to stave off things that go bump in the night.
|#1 THE SHINING (1980)
Admittedly, having tyke Danny hypnotically repeat "Redrum" in a gravelly tone with that little digit a-wagging was pretty off-putting on its own. But once you add in the ghosts of the twin girls (Lisa and Louise Burns), pleading with him to "Come play with us" in a creepy dual chant and the walls that gush blood, you've got yourself some of the most memorable and unforgettable scenes in Stanley Kubrick's thriller. Danny (Danny Lloyd) is rightly horrified by the girls, frozen in a silent scream, able only to cover his eyes in the hopes that they disappear – a feeling we strongly second. Jack Nicholson, meanwhile, all Cheshire Cat grin and under the hold of the worst case of cabin fever ever, is perfectly terrifying as the new caretaker of Overlook Hotel who finds an interesting way to combat his writer's block. Despite its age, it remains as unsettling and adventurous as ever, proving that horror movies don't have to make artistic compromises.
Did any of your faves make the list? What are your top big screen ghostly movies? Weigh in below!
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