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There are many genres of horror to please all types of scary movie lovers, from psychological thrillers, to ghost stories, to zombies and everything in between. One sub-genre that’s always worth a good fright, however, are haunted house stories. And since we’re absolutely obsessed with Halloween, we’re already queuing up the best haunted house movies.
One reason we love haunted house movies is that they are completely relatable. Sure, not everyone believes in ghosts, but plenty of us have been scared at one point or another over some unidentified sound or shadow while home alone. So of course the thought that your house might be watching you is enough to immediately jump into the real estate market and find yourself a new pad.
Unfortunately, the characters at the center of these flicks didn’t quite have that kind of foresight, it seems. But that’s to our advantage, since seeing what twists and turns these stubborn characters will face next is half the fun. Whether you’re looking for some classic, William Castle viewing or a more modern romp, here are some haunted house movies that are guaranteed to keep you up tonight.
The Conjuring (2013)
There have been a few conjuring events since this James Wan-directed film hit theatres, but the original is definitely one of the creepiest. Critics and viewers alike have praised the film for its scares, with some scribes going so far as to call it one of the definitive horror offerings of the decade.
The story revolves around paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), two real-life figures and authors who helped with prominent haunting cases. In this film they travel to 1971 Harrisville, Rhode Island, where they discover a haunted house so scary not even a dog will enter. The events are that much more terrifying because they may have actually happened in real life, but you be the judge.
Steven Spielberg wrote this classic flick, which isn’t huge on the scares but still delivers twists and turns to shake the more mild-hearted horror aficionados out there. When strange things begin happening to an average Californian family of five, they turn to a parapsychologist and an exorcist for help.
The film, which stars Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams, received lots of positive reviews when it first debuted and seems to have held up with viewers ever since. It is worth noting however, that nearly four decades later, some of the then-cool special effects definitely show their age.
13 Ghosts (1960)
When real estate comes with a price tag that seems too good to be true, it probably is. That is the tough lesson the family at the center of this William Castle classic learn when they purchase an old mansion that is haunted by 12 ghosts. Although it would make sense to flee the murderous situation and move on, the family insists on staying when they learn a large fortune is hidden somewhere within.
Although the film wasn’t top of critics lists when it debuted, the story did spawn the 2001 sequel of the same name. It’s also considered a must-see for anyone who appreciates the mark Castle left on the genre.
The Legend of Hell House (1973)
Strong performances by Pamela Franklin, Roddy McDowall and Clive Revill largely anchored this classic haunted house offering, adding lots of tone-setting tension and atmosphere. Director John Hough also received his share of praise when this one came out, especially from those who weren’t fans of the way screenwriter Richard Matheson adopted his own problem-filled novel for the big screen.
The premise itself is simple enough. When a scientist and his wife lead a team into a house haunted by its late serial killer owner, they don’t believe in things that go bump in the night. Others do, however, and before long there are plenty of creepy happenings to make believers out of anyone in that situation.
The Changeling (1980)
There has been plenty of critical and viewer acclaim for this now-classic Peter Medak film starring George C. Scott, which only seems to ingratiate itself with audiences even more as it ages. Meanwhile, this film has also been applauded for the way it delves into trauma and psychological horror, although at its core it really is a haunted house offering.
When a composer loses his wife and daughter in a devastating accident, he flees his New York City home in favor of a secluded getaway near Seattle. There, he meets a child who befell a terrible tragedy, and he finds himself trying to solve the little boy’s secrets despite an array of gothic chills and thrills greeting him along the way.
Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
Another franchise-igniting film, this Japanese offering from writer-director Takasni Shimizu is widely considered one of the best haunted house movies to ever hit the market. At the very least those who viewed it could never hear a cat meow the same way again.
Although this wasn’t the first film in the Ju-On franchise, it was the first to hit big with American audiences. So naturally, it also inspired the 2004 film The Grudge as well as that movie’s sequel in 2006. The movie takes place in a Japanese house where a vengeful spirit attacks anyone who dares enter, and is pretty much guaranteed to sit with you well after the closing credits.
Sure, the Tim Burton PG-rated classic is a more mainstream offering, but at its core it’s still a horror movie about a haunted house and the spirits within. It’s a good introduction for younger horror lovers at any rate, especially those who may not be ready to face all of the scares of a traditional haunted house offering and who will appreciate a good rendition of Harry Belafonte’s “Day-o.”
The action kicks off when a deceased couple (played by Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) hires a fellow spirit named Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton) to help them get rid of an awful family that has since moved into their home. Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones and a young Winona Ryder also star.
The Skeleton Key (2005)
Iain Softley’s twisty take on the genre is another example of a flick that wasn’t exactly well received by critics when it debuted, but as more and more audiences find it, it’s proving to be another sub-genre staple—in particular for those who loved that twisty ending, which we won’t spoil here.
Kate Hudson stars as a hospice nurse working at a very spooky plantation in the New Orleans-set film. But when she can’t leave well enough alone and begins uncovering some of the home’s darkest and eeriest mysteries, she stumbles upon the most sinister secret of all. Gena Rowlands, John Hurt, Peter Sarsgaard and Joy Bryant also star.
The Others (2001)
Nicole Kidman proved that she can make any genre interesting when she took on the leading role in this Alejandro Amenábar-directed film. In it she plays a religious mother whose children suffer from a rare photosensitivity disease. To protect them she moves the fam to the English coast during the Second World War, where she awaits word from her missing husband. Creepy things begin to happen, and before long she realizes it’s more than just the servants who are messing with her.
Unlike many other haunted house offerings, this one doesn’t rely on cinematic effects to dole out the scares, which is one of the reasons it received so many positive critical reviews. That palatable tension also holds up for modern-day viewers, making this flick instant haunted house film canon.
House on Haunted Hill (1958)
Sure, there was a 1999 remake of this William Castle classic, but if you’re looking for original haunted house goodness then it’s this Vincent Price-starring offering you seek. When an amusement park mogul offers up a million dollar prize to those willing to spend the night in a haunted house, the guests get way more than they bargained for.
The simple premise offers up fright by relying on the fear of the unknown, but it’s also a fun watch thanks to the tension-relieving dialogue that can be corny at times. Sure, this one is void of hardcore scares, but it’s a foundational watch for anyone who appreciates the overall sub-genre.
The Woman in Black (1989 & 2012)
Herbert Wise set a mood when he offered up this adaptation of Susan Hill’s novel. When a lawyer travels to a coastal English village to settle up the estate of a recently deceased woman, what he finds is downright terrifying.
The period setting and rich visuals in the 1989 British film are part of what makes it so successful, although it never quite sparked the international audiences as some other horror offerings. That’s led some to deem it a lost classic, but hardcore fans have definitely since added it to their vaults. Unfortunately that original movie is hard to find here, but you can stream the 2012 remake starring Daniel Radcliffe from director James Watkins.
The Haunting (1963)
Hill House is a legendary haunted house, whether you’re talking about this film or the 2018 TV mini-series The Haunting of Hill House, which is also worth a watch. In this adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel, a haunted house that’s nearly 100 years old sparks the curiosity of a doctor who believes he can solve the question of whether it truly is haunted once and for all.
Director Robert Wise assembled a cast that included Julie Harris, Claire Bloom and Richard Johnson, and although it wasn’t exactly beloved by critics it did scare the jeepers out of plenty of audience-goers. Love it or hate it, you have to give the film credit for inspiring many remakes, including Stephen King’s 2002 attempt, Rose Red, and the 1999 iteration The Haunting, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson and Lil Taylor.
Crimson Peak (2015)
If you subscribe to the theory that homes hold more than memories, then this film from director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro is sure to spook you. The film revolves around an aspiring author who faces family tragedy, and then flees to a dark house with an even darker past.
Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam and Jessica Chastain are just some of the all-star cast members, proving that well-written horror with a name like del Toro in the director’s seat will always attract top talent. Unfortunately the movie isn’t considered one of the spookiest of the batch, but it’s definitely worth a watch if only to take in all of the filmmaker’s signature visuals.
The Amityville Horror (1979)
Okay so there isn’t that much praise surrounding director Stuart Rosenberg’s original haunted house offering (based on the novel by Jay Anson), in which the walls ooze blood and flies swarm from the pipes. But that could also be because the real-life story on which this is based is even more interesting for true-crime lovers.
In fact, considering how many Amityville spinoffs and remakes have spawned from this film, it’s interesting just to go back and see how it all started. In real life a man named Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot his parents, two brothers and two sisters while they slept in that house in 1974. The next year a couple with three young children moved in, and fled the place 28 days later. They must have seen something spooky, because they didn’t take any of their belongings with them.
The BBC had plenty of people jumping out of their skin when director Lesley Manning launched this mockumentary-styled film. That’s because at the time, many people didn’t realize it wasn’t real. The TV movie featured four presenters and a camera crew as they attempted to uncover the truth behind the most haunted house in Britain. People originally tuned in for a laugh, but when “real” terrifying things actually began to happen, Ghostwatch became “the spoof that duped a nation.” That alone makes this one worth a watch.
Burnt Offerings (1976)
Screen legends Bette Davis and Burgess Meredith starred in this creepy romp revolving around a family who moves into an old haunted house that regenerates by feeding off its occupants and their injuries. The action kicks off when a family believes they’re getting a heck of a bargain on a summer house, with the sole stipulation that they must leave meals outside the door for an elderly occupant, upstairs.
Critics largely panned the film but if you’re looking for an old-school horror offering with some of the most notable actors of the time, this is definitely one to add to your watchlist.
If you’re looking for a haunted house offering with a more international flair, Hausu, which literally translates into “House” is a good bet. At the time of production the film hired a cast of mostly amateur actors for a raw and lifelike approach, a creative decision that definitely paid off with viewers.
The film revolves around a schoolgirl and her classmates who travel to her sick aunt’s home. There, instead of the home they were expecting, they come face-to-face with dark horrors as the home claims them all, one-by-one.
The Innocents (1961)
Psychological horror is on the menu with this Jack Clayton-directed offering, which features a screenplay co-written by Truman Capote. When an inexperienced governess (played by Deborah Kerr) is put in charge of two seemingly innocent children, her world becomes more terrifying by the day.
Critics applauded the mindful suspense this film offered up audiences, calling it one of the scariest films ever made and one of the original psychological horrors. The project was based on the 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw, and it features plenty of alternatives to the main plot that will keep your mind in overdrive.
A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
BEST SOUTH KOREAN
Kim Jee-woon wrote and directed this psychological horror, in which a girl is released from a mental institution and returns home with her sister, where scary stuff goes down between their disliked stepmother and the ghosts that haunt their home.
The film is the highest-grossing South Korean horror film in the country and the first to screen in the U.S., so naturally it was only a matter of time before an English-language remake, The Uninvited, was commissioned. Stick with this one though, it will give you way more scares.
These projects may not quite fit the bill of a haunted house movie, but they’re still great selections if you want to explore the sub-genre even further… or if you’re just feeling extra brave today.
The Entity (1983)
This one comes with a trigger warning for sexual assault and abuse.
The Orphanage (2007)
It takes place in an orphanage, not a haunted house, so it technically doesn’t count.
The Shining (1980)
A classic haunting for sure, but it takes place in a hotel. One you’d never want to stay at.
The Sentinel (1977)
Creepy? Yes. But it takes place in an apartment, not a home, which disqualifies it from the main list.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
Horrifying things happen in a house with this movie, but overall it’s more about a demonic presence.
The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
This one might be even better than The Haunting, but it’s a TV mini-series so it doesn’t really count.
The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)
Another TV mini-series, one that is all kinds of creepy.
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