Monday, October 12, 2015

Pointless Lists: 13 Greatest Haunted House Movies

If I were to declare one sub-genre of horror as my favorite, it would have to be slasher flicks. I simply love them, can't get enough of them, no matter how terrible and/or gory they are. However, they've never scared me. I started watching them when I was 10 or 11, the first time I saw the original Friday the 13th. A few things in the movie made me jump, or were even a bit scary in the moment, but once the credits rolled I had no problems climbing into bed. No dreams of Mrs. Voorhees for me, thank you.

Haunted house flicks are a different story. Most of us have been home alone at night and heard inexplicable noises. We wonder what they are, or worse, who they are. If we're brave enough to investigate and lucky enough to not find anything, our imagination might overwhelm our logic when trying to come up with a reasonable explanation for what we heard. Many of us eventually chalk it up to the house settling. It begs the question, why is the house unsettled?

In my case, these feelings were amplified above and beyond what most of you experienced because the house I grew up in made lots of noise. All day, all night. Often, there seemed to be some sort of presence to go along with it. I'll get more into that in a later post this month, but suffice it to say, my family and I believed we lived in a haunted house every day. Thankfully, nothing evil ever happened...just strange. Again, I'll dive into at least one particular situation at the end of October. The takeaway is that watching movies that play on the fears we all have combines with my own personal experiences to make haunted house flicks easily the most unsettling genre for me. They're best watched at night, with the lights off, just before bedtime. I find this to maximize their effect on me. Lying in bed, trying to fall asleep is occasionally difficult. Every possible noise sounds like its trumpeting the Devil's arrival. Covers pulled up to my eyeballs are the only thing between myself and certain death. Even as an adult, I have to convince myself, it's nothing. Of course, I won't admit to any movie actually scaring me. Let's just say they make me more aware of my surroundings. In any event, what follows is a list of my all-time favorite haunted house flicks. Admittedly, it's very 21st century-heavy, far more than I thought it was going to be coming in. No worries, though, a few classics make the cut.

John Cusack plays a writer who spends his entire life proving places that are thought to be haunted are not. So when he turns his attention to room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel, it's no wonder all of the ominous warnings fall on deaf ears. Soon enough, the room has him reevaluating his decision to stay there.

House on Haunted Hill
I know, I know. Remake. A remake of a Vincent Price classic, no less. However, I found this version to be visually arresting and an overall wild ride. The story puts a bunch of people in a haunted house and offers them $1 million if they can make it through the night. Easier said than done. The movie is helped by an unusually talented cast for a horror flick. It includes Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Peter Gallagher, and Ali Larter.

Silent House
Sarah is helping her dad pack up the family's summer home to sell. The power is out, and sure enough, Sarah is hearing and seeing all sorts of things. I find this to be an unfairly maligned film with a strong performance from Elizabeth Olsen and a fantastic ending. The sound of an old Polaroid camera is also used to chilling effect.

What Lies Beneath
Claire is a housewife who spends lots of time at home while her hubby is working. When she starts hearing things go bump in the night, she can't decide if the house is haunted or she's going crazy. Either way we go on dark, twisty ride. Michelle Pfeiffer does wonderful work in the lead while none other than Harrison Ford plays her hubby. For a bit more obscure piece of trivia, one of the writers on this one is Clark Gregg whom many of you now know as Agent Coulson in all things Marvel.

Monster House
Yup, an animated kiddie flick makes the cut. I just find this to be a brilliant piece of kiddie-horror. The story involves DJ and his friends as they discover the truth about the old man and the house across the street. It's just as tense as many movies aimed at older audiences using many of the same story-telling devices to greater effect.

In Amityville Horror, the family had no clue that a bunch of murders went down in the house before they moved in. Here Ellison, the patriarch, moves his family there on purpose. He likes to be close to the scene of the crime he's writing about as a 'true crime' author. Not surprisingly, things start going bump in the night and we're off on a wild ride.

The Amityville Horror
The Lutz family has just purchased their dream house, and for a much cheaper price than they ever thought possible. They soon find out that it's for good reason as things start going bump in the night. And anyone who serves religion in an official capacity is greeted rudely by the house itself. This is the classic that most haunted house flicks still take their cues from, so it is more than deserving of a spot on this list. Clunky pacing that makes it drag keeps it from being higher. Watch this for a slow burn. For a quicker, livelier version check out the underrated 2005 remake.

The Conjuring
The Perron family knew that the house they just bought was a fixer-upper. What they didn't  know was that it came with some (mostly) invisible tenants who weren't too pleased to be sharing the place. When the odd occurrences pile up too high for them to be anything natural, they hire a pair of "demonologist" to help them figure out who/what is causing all the mayhem and come up with a way to stop it. For me, this far exceeds director James Wan's other efforts in this sub-genre. Click here for my full review.

The Orphanage
Laura lives in a mansion with her husband Carlos and their adopted son Simon. Oddly enough, the house used to be an orphanage. Things exceed going bump in the night when Simon goes missing. It's clear to Laura that his friends are the most likely culprits. One slight problem: his friends seem to be all the dead kids that died while staying there. The whole thing is just creepy, yet oh-so-satisfying.

Paranormal Activity
Whatever has been haunting Katie for her entire life is now here, in the home she just moved into with her boyfriend Micah. When things go bump in the night, Micah decides to be proactive and film everything that happens in the house. Well, he certainly captured it all. For my money, this is the gold standard as far as found footage horror goes. Yes, it's about 10,000 times better than that gigantic sleeping pill known as The Blair Witch Project. Unfortunately, it's success has led to us getting way too many found footage flicks, including a never-ending line of sequels and prequels of its own.

The Babadook
Maybe I rank it so high because I'm still basking in the glorious afterglow of just having watched this about two weeks ago. However, it's one of those movies where the more I think about it, the more brilliant it becomes. On a surface level, it's about Amelia and her son Sam living in a house that seems to be haunted by a boogeyman, of sorts, called Mister Babadook. By the end, we see it's about so much more than that.

The Shining
In this case, our haunted house is actually The Overlook hotel. Jack, a writer, agrees to look after the place while it's closed for the winter. Pretty soon, not only are things going bump in the night, but Jack is helping to make them bump. Way too many iconic moments to do justice to in this post, but even if you've never seen it you're likely familiar with at least a couple of them. We're talking creepy twins, elevator full of blood, and of course "Heeerrrree's Johnny!" just to name a few. Speaking of that last one, it's merely one highlight of a truly virtuoso performance by the great Jack Nicholson.

Paranormal Activity might be the standard bearer of found footage horror, but Poltergeist is king of all haunted house flicks. It takes a Steven Spielberg story and puts it into the capable hands of Tobe Hooper to direct. Hooper certainly did not disappoint, coming up with the best effort of his career. The tropes are all familiar. A family looking for a nice, quiet life is soon disturbed by all the strange happenings in their home so they call in some "experts," do some research, so on, and so forth. It's just all done perfectly, here.


  1. Yep, this is a pretty good list. I half expected to see that awful Jan de Bont film on here somewhere, THE HAUNTING, but I'm glad to see it wasn't.

    1. Thanks. Honestly, I don't think The Haunting is as terrible as most people do, but no, it doesn't belong here.

  2. The original the Haunting from 1963 is a film I was expecting to see here. The remake is a pale imitation beside it. Big agreement on The Orphanage. I just watched it.

    1. The absence of The Haunting reveals a shortcoming of mine. I've only seen the remake. Glad you like The Orphanage.

  3. I think I've seen, like, 4 of these. I'm just really not a fan of the genre, at all...

  4. I'm not much for haunted house movies and most that I watch are older ones that rely on suggestion more than visuals. However as these things go Poltergeist would be my number one as well. It's not a perfect movie but it does do what it sets out to do, unsettle its audience, perfectly. I refuse to watch the remake, when they get it right the first time what's the point?

    Of the rest of these I've seen Amityville Horror, has its moments but overall blah, What Lies Beneath-kind of a mess but the end is good for a jump or two, The Shining-Nothing on the book but it throws a scare or two and the absolutely wretched House on Haunted Hill but then I wasn't much of a fan of the Vincent Price original.

    I did queue up The Babadook after you mentioned it but haven't gotten to it quite yet.

    You definitely have to check out the original The Haunting. It's wonderfully eerie and Julie Harris is just great in it. The remake is utter trash. Also check out the 40's film The Uninvited with Ray Milland it's more ethereal in feeling than make you jump in fright but a high class major studio production back when ghost stories were mostly ground out by Poverty Row studios.

    1. I'll eventually see the remake of Poltergeist out of curiosity, but I'm with you on its existence. If the first was great, why bother.

      I really want to hear what you think of The Babadook when you see it.

      The Haunting has been on my watch list for years.

  5. The Shining for me is the best of the bunch from 5 films in that list I've seen.

    1. It's a great movie so I won't argue with you.

  6. I've seen the top 6, The Shining as my most rewatched of those. I haven't watched any of the Paranormal Activity sequels, the original was better than I expected it to be.
    Wasn't a fan of The Conjuring, it lacked genuine scares for me. The male(Patrick Wilson) and female(Vera Farmiga) paranormal investigators reminded me of Mulder and Scully from The X-Files.

    1. For me, The Conjuring was more about an engrossing story than actually being scary. I love its tale. The X-Files is a great comparison.

  7. Glad to see The Shining high on this list. I'm one of the few people that hates The Poltergeist. Like really hates it. Especially that scene in the gif. lol I'd watch the 2nd one where the kid's braces eat his face over that any day. I love that you threw Monster House in there, I about died during that "So it's a girl house" joke.

    1. Wow, a vote for Poltergeist II over the original, cool. And I love Monster House.

  8. The house I grew up in was also full of odd noises - constant pops and bangs and animal skitterings. I think this may be where my aversion to horror films comes from. I had enough trouble trying to sleep without the images of other monsters in my head lol.

    I can't watch Poltergeist. Too many deeply ingrained childhood fears there. I'm trying to expand my horror viewing, but that one I may never watch. The original House on Haunted Hill (and the original The Haunting) are terrific old-timey horror movies. The Haunting is better but House on Haunted Hill is tons of fun. I just saw The Babadook this weekend and holy CRAP is it good. Even better than I hoped it would be. I LOVE The Conjuring and What Lies Beneath (although it only just barely counts as a haunted house flick) and The Orphanage is one of my all-time favorites (the ending gets me every time). Monster House is so much fun. I really liked Paranormal Activity but it was some slow going for long stretches (and the audience I saw it with did NOT help - way too vocally snarky), and in no way is it better than Blair Witch (which scared the shit out of my entire family - our house was practically surrounded by woods).

    The one I love most that isn't on this list is The Others. Great old-fashioned, restrained haunted house flick that still manages some big scares - and one hella creepy ending. I'm really, really hoping Crimson Peak is good enough to match all of these.

    1. Funny you've singled out Poltergeist, but have watched most of the rest, a number of which have to do with childhood fears.

      Glad you like The Babadook. It's an outstanding film.

      Sadly, I still need to see The Others,

  9. Oh my God...this list gave me actual chills! That image from What Lies Beneath always reminds me of how horrifying that movie is...outside of the fact that Harrison Ford can play a decent villain, but that poor damned girl at the bottom of the lake! I. Can't. Handle.

    Awesome list!!!!