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The 411 Movies Top 5 02.03.12: Week 307 - Scariest Ghost Movies
Posted by Trevor Snyder on 02.03.2012

If you needed any further proof that supernatural horror has officially wrestled back control of the horror genre from torture porn and tired slasher remakes, look no further than the fact that this weekend sees the release of not one but two buzzed-about ghost tales, Ti West's The Innkeepers and James Watkins' The Woman in Black, starring Daniel Radcliffe. Combine that with the recent success of Insidious, the Paranormal Activity franchise and American Horror Story, and it's obvious ghosts have grown tired of letting vampires and zombies hog the horror spotlight these last few years. But will these new ghost movies have a shot of living up to the classics of the genre?



5. The Changeling (1980)

Definitely not to be confused with the similarly titled Clint Eastwood film, this Changeling stars George C. Scott as a grieving composer, having just lost his wife and daughter in a terrible auto accident. To get his mind off of everything, Scott moves to a large mansion, only to soon discover he is not as alone as he thought – the house appears to be haunted by the ghost of a murdered young boy. There are more than a few absolutely terrifying sequences in this film, hardly any of which rely on the obvious special effects or trickery usually associated with ghost movies. No, here, it is Scott's intense performance that really sells the scares.

4. Ju-on: The Grudge (2003)

The "Asian ghost movie" boom of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s was both good and bad for the genre. Good in that we got quite a few excellent films out of it; bad in that it quickly petered out and became an overwhelming onslaught of indistinguishable retreads. Still, the gems that we did get still hold up. Although many would instantly point to Ringu (and I do enjoy that film), I personally think the wave hit its peak with Takashi Shimizu's Ju-on: The Grudge. Technically a remake of Shimizu's earlier straight-to-video Ju-on, this bigger budget theatrical version upped the special effects as well as the scares, using multiple chapters and characters to tell the tale of a cursed house that proves deadly to all who enter it. Although the Ju-on franchise would eventually collapse under the weight of too many sequels, remakes and spin-offs (and an increasingly hard-to-follow mythology), this entry remains a high-water mark in this particular sub-genre.

3. The Haunting (1963)

Based on a novel by Shirley Jackson, The Haunting concerns a team of paranormal investigators spending a few nights in a haunted house. A clever mix of ghost movie and psychological thriller, this is another that is more about what you don't see than what you do. I think nowadays it's essential to see The Haunting at a young age for it truly to be effective. Those who have already encountered the more harsh scares of later horror films might not find this particular film all that unnerving. But go ahead and show this one to a youngster not yet familiar with all of the genre's clichés and trappings. In that context, The Haunting is still just as scary today as ever. But no matter what age you first see it at, you will hopefully always know it's better than the dreadful 1999 remake.

2. Session 9 (2001)

A crew of workers, each with their own personal demons, head into an abandoned insane asylum to remove the asbestos. Despite a tough deadline, the job seems simple enough. But over the course of the next few days, well, let's just say things do not go well, especially when one of the men begins secretly listening to the recorded interview sessions of one of the former patients. Just like The Haunting is an expertly crafted mash-up of supernatural and psychological horror, made even more eerie by the fact that it was filmed in an actual abandoned asylum (a location so scary it's arguably the film's most effective character). To say too much about it is to give away its twists and turns, which would be almost criminal. I will say that even to this day, after numerous viewings, I get creeped out watching it, which is the kind of reaction I crave from horror films, and so rarely get.

1. The Shining (1980)

Just as intense and frightening today as it was back in 1980, this remains the absolute best Stephen King adaptation ever – though, oddly enough, King himself is one of the film's few detractors, apparently saying he wasn't happy with the film because he felt director Stanley Kubrick was trying to hurt the audience. Well, yeah, and that's why The Shining is one of the all-time horror classics. Kubrick's depiction of Jack Nicholson's slow descent into madness while working as a caretaker at a haunted hotel – eventually even going after his own family in a murderous rage – is an assault on the audience…but the best kind possible. The kind that scares the crap out of you.


5. John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars (2001)

This unjustly maligned sci-fi action flick from the great John Carpenter has ghosts in it that aren't exactly ghosts in the sense that they're evil or dead spirits. Instead, the "ghosts" in display here are essentially weapons, placed into the Martian soil centuries ago by the original inhabitants of Mars. Their purpose? To beat back and kill anyone or anything that decides to try to take over the planet. And that's what happens when they're accidentally found by the colonists from Earth. The ghosts appear first as a big swirl of dust, but then they start inhabiting the colonists and use them as weapons. It's a pretty dang ingenious way to prevent future colonization. The ghosts can't die. The bodies they inhabit can die, sure, but the ghost inside can just jump out and find another body to take over. Think about how goddamn hopeless that would be if you ever ran into it. They're coming for you and you can't stop them. Brilliant.

4. House (1986)
This Steve Miner directed- Sean Cunningham produced haunted house flick features one of the most badass ghost zombies in the history of horror movies: Big Ben, as played by the great Richard Moll. Moll's Ben is the physical embodiment of a guy that star William Katt left for dead in Vietnam (in Katt's defense Ben was an asshole). Big Ben is gigantic, decomposing, mean spirited, and has access to machine guns. And Big Ben is out for revenge. He wants to destroy Katt's Roger Cobb. Big Ben still freaks me out to this day, even though I can see that it's just a guy in a big rubber suit. He's a ghost, he isn't supposed to be real, and yet there he is, right in the middle of the room, wielding an M60 or a knife and threatening to kill a kid. It doesn't end well for Ben, sure, but it's still awesome stuff.

3. Thirteen Ghosts (2001)

I love the 1960 original as much as anyone, but the 2001 remake starring Tony Shalhoub and Shannon Elizabeth has better, freakier ghosts. I'm still in awe of them. I don't think I ever completely understood the whole "Black Zodiac" story and what the weird beard house was all about, but when the characters could see the ghosts, or the audience could see the ghosts but the characters couldn't. I'm shocked no one has tried to duplicate the look and energy of this movie. It's something director Steve Beck should be proud of.

2. Ringu (1998)

The Japanese original doesn't have the slick production value of the Gore Verbinski directed U.S. remake, but what it lacks in overall production value it makes up for in mood and nastiness (and I don't want to make it sound like Ringu is some mega low budget haze fest because it isn't. It looks great; just not as a great as The Ring). The ghost girl that comes out of the TV at the end here is way scarier than the obviously CG thing that pops out at the end of The Ring. Ghosts are bullshit, but if I saw that girl popping out of my TV I'd lose my freaking mind.

1. Poltergeist (1982)

The first movie in the Poltergeist franchise, the one likely directed by Tobe Hooper (people still question whether or not he actually directed the movie. I think he did, but you can see producer Spielberg's influence), is still insanely scary. Again, like Ringu, it's all bullshit, but the weird beard hooey that the Freeling family goes through (young daughter gets sucked into the TV, the furniture thing, the decomposing meat, the psycho clown toy, etc) still gets under my skin. The sequel, Poltergeist II: The Other Side offers up a different kind of scary, but from the tequila worm zombie to Julian Beck's Tall Man rip off Kane it gets the job done (the flick's ending is a tad "out there" if you ask me). And Poltergeist III, a haunted skyscraper movie, is probably one of the meanest ghost movies you're likely to see (killing Zelda, the whole thing with the mirrors, and the face ripping bit are among the top moments in part three). But the first flick, the one that started it all, just oozes dread. The Paranormal Activity franchise wishes it could generate the kind of dread that the first Poltergeist movie created.

"They're here!" Holy shit, yes they are.

Agree with our choices? Disagree? Be sure to share your thoughts and your own Top 5's below. And don't forget to include suggestions for future Top 5 columns...we're always looking for the next great list.

Till then, for more of my movies views, check out Night of the Living Trev, my personal movie review page, as well as all the other great reviews and columns here at the Movies section of 411.

See you next week with a brand new topic.


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