House of Wax star Paris Hilton.
Who doesn't love a good haunting? In real life, it may not be our idea of fun, but when it comes to cinema, just about everyone finds specters creeping through the shadows a good old time - especially in a house that's not ours.
We're especially excited for two hauntings wafting into theaters in the next few weeks - the dual remakes of House of Wax (a wax museum is a house right? To Vincent Price anyway) and The Amityville Horror. Working from a genre that's never abated in popularity, we're hoping the two will offer some newfangled chills, whetting our appetite for movies to actually scare us. So with that in mind, we're offering a look back at the Top Ten Greatest Haunted House movies - films that will delight and frighten you all at once.
10. The Uninvited (1944) - An A-project at the time (most horror films -- even great ones -- were relegated to B status), director Lewis Allen crafted a classy film starring Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey. Brother and Sister (Milland and Hussey) buy a country house that's not only riddled with curious sounds, smells and temperature shifts, but also inhabited by two female apparitions - one evil, the other friendly. What's particularly distressing is the mean ghost's constant attempts to kill the pretty girl who lives next door (with whom Milland is smitten). Nicely paced and atmospherically shot, The Uninvited is witty and nerve-racking.
9. The Changeling (1980) - Peter Medak’s film is as sad as it is scary, but the melancholic tone just underscores the terror. George C. Scott plays a lonely musician who moves into a house haunted by a dead little boy. When we learn what happened to the child, the sounds of loud knocking (nope - it's not the radiator this time) make perfect sense. But we sure don’t feel any better - especially when that red rubber ball keeps appearing by the stairs. One of the film’s creepiest moments has Scott throwing the thing over a bridge only to return home to that same ball, bouncing down the stairwell wet. Yes, The Changeling makes a ball scary.
8. Burnt Offerings (1976) - When Karen Black's scary, she's beyond terrifying. But when you add some Bette Davis into the mix, you've got yourself a scary movie. Though Burnt Offerings was not a critical favorite upon release, the film wears well and is very frightening. The Shining-like tale of a family (patriarch is the often creepy Oliver Reed) affected by the hauntings of an old mansion they’ve rented for the summer showcases some seriously horrifying moments. Especially when Black becomes possessed. Creepy, sometimes funny but grim to the end, the film offers up some helpful advice - chiefly, don’t rent a home from Burgess Meredith.
7. Beetlejuice (1988) - Tim Burton's terrifically fun, incredibly inventive and at times scary Beetlejuice pits novice nice ghosts (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) against an obnoxious family who’ve taken over their house. Their remedy? A demonic poltergeist for hire (named Betelgeuse) who promises to scare the new clan out. Troubles abound when Betelgeuse turns out to be much more difficult than they ever imagined. Michael Keaton’s performance as the nasty ghoul remains one of his finest, and the horror/humor is a giddy joy. Especially during the calypso music levitation scene.
6. The Others (2001) - Alejandro Amenabar directed this unsettling ghost story with a twist (not to be revealed here). Nicole Kidman plays mother to two light-sensitive kids who experience all sorts of creepy happenings (ghosts talking to them, weird servants), while residing in an old house as she waits for her husband to return from World War II. Told with an old-fashioned, gothic feel, the movie keeps the audience guessing (is Kidman crazy? Are the servants ghosts? What is wrong with her kids?). An intelligent, mournful film, The Others gave us lots of jumps as well. A modern classic.
5. The Innocents (1961) - Jack Clayton's take on Henry James' The Turn of the Screw stars a fantastic Deborah Kerr as a governess hired by Michael Redgrave to care for two creepy kids who may or may not be evil. The sufficiently freaked Kerr also contends with the specters of the late estate manager and evil governess. Is she simply hysterical, or is all this really happening? Watch and find out.
4. Poltergeist (1982) - The quintessential why-don't-these-people-just-move-movie, the Tobe Hooper-directed/Steven Spielberg-produced Poltergeist gave audiences a new jolt of horror. This time, it's not an old dark house that's haunted, but the seemingly normal one from the burbs. A family moves into one that just happens to be built over an Indian burial ground, leaving it host to all sorts of horror. Trees grab their kid, clown toys move through the room, entities push mom, literally, up the wall and the television nabs their little daughter, sucking her into some vortex of hell. Indulging in just about every fear you ever had as a kid, Poltergeist will make viewers think twice about their TV set and re-live the fear that there are indeed, monsters in the closet.
3. The Old Dark House (1932) - Director James Whale made classic horror pictures -- his most famous being Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein -- but his excellent The Old Dark House remains curiously overlooked. Whale's penchant for the perverse, darkly humorous and finally, just flat out scary is on full display here as travelers Raymond Massey, his wife Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton and his chorus girl companion Lillian Bond find themselves stranded in an isolated mansion. A scarred, crazy, mute butler (a terrific Boris Karloff) is there to greet them, but that's just the start of it. The homeowners are nuts (one's a whacked-out atheist, the other a religious freak) while the rest of the family includes a bedridden 102-year old grandfather and a pyromaniac son who's kept locked up. Stylishly photographed and containing outrageously freaky performances, this is as wonderfully bizarre as it gets.
2. The Shining (1980) - OK, so it's not exactly a house, but the isolated Colorado hotel is indeed home to the Torrance family who suffer some serious cabin fever. Stanley Kubrick's now classic has Jack Nicholson's caretaker/writer (named Jack) becoming possessed by the ghosts of hotel past (bartenders showing up out of nowhere, a terrifying naked woman, unseen forces causing him to write the same sentence over and over again) while his child's ability to "shine" (read thoughts and see the future - wonderful) intensifies to the point of the famous moment, "Red Rum!" ('Murder' backwards). Who’s gonna murder who? Come on…if you haven’t heard "Here’s Johnny!" outside of Ed McMahon, well then, you just better rent this movie.
1. The Haunting (1963) - Within the genre of haunted house pictures, Robert Wise’s adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House remains the crème de la crème. This first rate chiller about three people staying at a haunted New England mansion under the observance of a parapsychologist has all the creepy hallmarks of disturbed domiciles (pounding noises, cold spots, dead people pulling dwellers into their thrall), but also offers a deeper story on top of the horror. Helmed by a wonderfully layered performance by Julie Harris (the house wants to keep her - very scary) the gorgeously cinematic, tense picture will make you jump. Especially when the question is uttered: "Who was holding my hand?"
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