We all have our film predilections. I adore ghost stories and haunted house films. Under the bed, in the closet, sitting next to you on the couch, for me, there is no better way to spend an evening alone that to watch ghost stories and then be too afraid to go to bed.
Seriously. The following is by no means a definitive list and in no particular order, but here are my Top Ten Movies I Watch In The Dark Proving I Lack Common Sense Because I Do It All The Dang Time:
- Poltergeist (1982)
This was one of my first movie theater experiences in the horror genre and I spent the last 20 minutes pretending to pick up imaginary M&Ms I’d pretended to drop on the floor. There’s a story in this haunted house, which makes everything that happens to Steven, Diane and the Freeling children so terrifying.Favorite Scene: In the kitchen as Diane is cleaning up after breakfast. She pushes all the chairs in and gives Carol Anne a look (“silly people”, it says) as she gets her cleaning cloth from under the sink, but when she goes to wipe down the kitchen table, all of the chairs are stack impossibly tall on the table. it takes less than 5 seconds. You know that cold feeling you get in the pit of your stomach that says things are very, very wrong – I get that feeling every time I watch that scene.
- The Others (2003)
I don’t particularly care for Nicole Kidman, mainly because she plays the same high-strung, yet fiercely-determined headcase in most of her movies. The thing is: it works here.
When Grace has to protect her children, Anne and Nicolas, from a condition that makes them extremely sensitive to sunlight, the arrival of new servants and unexplained noises complicates her already fragile hold on what little self-control she has left.
Favorite Scene: Can’t say as it’s a spoiler for the entire movie, but it’s heartbreaking, but I hope one day someone leaves the room shouting at me that I’m wicked.
- The Orphanage [El Orfanato] (2007)
You buy your childhood home because you want to give back to the disheartened and disabled, and the blessed thing is infested with imaginary friends who tell secrets that shouldn’t be spread. Tragedy upon tragedy later — well, let’s just say this film is layered and intense. It’s foreign because everyone else in the world seems to understand what makes a good ghost story, and Americans muck it up with sex and Ice T as some street-wise guy about to take a hatched to the head.
Favorite Scene: In a game of Statues (I think we played something like it called Red Light/Green Light), Laura coaxes out the children.
- Apartment 143 (2012)
Part found footage, part exorcism, this movie practically broadcasts what you’re about to see next, but you’re still unprepared for it.
The White family escapes their poltergeist-ridden home to discover whatever harassed them there has followed them. With fancy equipment, a team of psychologists move in to capture evidence. This feels real and raw and what Poltergeist would look like in a modern day setting – less subdivision and suburbia and more city life and small spaces. It’s the silence and pauses and lack of music cues that make it for me.
Favorite scene: Any time they used the strobe camera.
- The Woman in Black (2012)
English Ghost stories? Yes please. The quiet brooding, the staunch sensibilities, the way everything makes sense until it completely doesn’t. Like Mama (below) this is maternal rage manifested, and also like Mama, there is an undertone of mental illness and what it takes to be a good mother.Settling a woman’s estate, a junior solicitor spends nights in her home and catches a glimpse of the local ghost, setting off a series of unfortunate events against the children of the isolated village.
- What Lies Beneath (2000)
All of the reasons to marry Harrison Ford are in the movie. There is nice redirection, funny interspersed with the terror, because remember, Oscar nominees don’t act in horror movies, but psychological thrillers are always chic. Empty nest syndrome following a car accident, leaves Claire alone, on edge, and ignored by her brilliant, but distant husband. It’s easy to dismiss her as high-strung, but it’s not an over-active imagination if there really is something hovering in the corner of her eye.
Favorite scenes – just watching Clair fall apart because she’s hysterical is really a lot of the fun.
- Stir of Echoes (1999)
Matheson + Bacon + Erbe = a modern ghost story written 70 years ago that still feels fresh. After screwing around with a seance, a man’s mind is opened to the possibilities of things he wasn’t ready to experience. This is better than a fish out of water story, because the fish never leaves his pond. All the creepy comes to him and he faces it exactly how you’d expect a working man to face his problems – with a jackhammer.
Favorite scene: “I’m afraid of the feathers.”
- A Haunting in Connecticut: Ghosts of Georgia (2013)
New house, strange neighbors and someone called The Stationmaster. I need to write a story about that. It has one of my favorite tropes Magical/Wise Negro, but I’m willing to let it slide because the rest of it is pretty enjoyable.
It’s not a sequel to A Haunting in Connecticut, in case the subtitle of Ghosts of Georgia gave it away, so think of it like a franchise piece instead of a continuation. It’s also supposedly based ona true story, (like its predecessor, A Haunting in Connecticut), complete with the smiling person and faily the story is based on at the end. You could buy the book if you were so inclined, but it hinges on the idea that seeing ghosts more like a burden and a woe is me, I’m special, so just stick with the movie and enjoy the White Guilt.
- The Baby’s Room [La Habitación Del Niño] (2006)
I saw this one on a Lionsgate double-feature billed Six Films To Keep You Awake, (like the popular but poorly-continued, 8 Films To Die For) with the film “To Let”. Again: foreign film, beautiful blocking, and simple, practical special effects.New couple with a new baby but a gorgeous but dilapidated home to fix up with their own blood, sweat and tears – not knowing it would take exactly that to fight whatever is in his house.
(hint – skip the first five minutes. You’ll enjoy the movie more.)
- Mama (2013)
Not everyone liked this movie, mostly because (SPOILER) but it’s is a creepy, scary, heartbreaking movie. A couple take in the found children of a long-dead relation, who’ve been living in the woods for five years. Their adjustment is made harder by an entity that has followed the girls back, protecting them, and jeopardizing the lives of anyone who tries to help.
- Ring/Ringu 2002/1997
- House of Voices (Saint Ange) (2003)
- The Eye (2002) – The elevator scene, dude.
- The Gift (1997) Kind of not a ghost story, but a supernatural thriller that has folks in it that wouldn’t normally act in horror movies.
- Paranormal Activity – the whole series, because it just gets more and more fun
- Sinister (2012) – More of a demon in the walls story