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.
(2007)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
(1999)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.
(2012)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
(2000)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.
(2006)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.
(2012)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
(1979)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.
(2013)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.
(2008)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.
(2009)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.
(2014)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.
(1980)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.
(1982)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.