It’s our favorite time of year, Halloween! So we’re celebrating the season with a countdown of our Top 25 Haunted House Movies. Yes, if it has a terrifying ghost or a haunted house as an integral part of its plot, it’s a movie that’s fair game for our list. Did we leave out The Shining? Did we put Eddie Murphy’s The Haunted Mansion in the number one spot? Read on to find out! (But have a little faith – we wouldn’t do that to you.)
25. The Cat and the Canary
“Not far from New Orleans there still exist in strange solitude the bayous of Louisiana” reads an opening card of the 1939 version of The Cat and the Canary, and so the tone was set! There have been many versions (six, at last count) of the film, from a comedy starring Bob Hope to a Swedish television special. The plot is classic: a dying millionaire with a greedy family makes a stipulation that his will be read on the 20th anniversary of his death. The will states that the most distant relative with his last name gets the inheritance…so long as that person is sane. From there, the family members gathered on the anniversary are stalked by a killer on the loose (dubbed “The Cat”) and discover the eccentricities of the millionaire and his mansion. We like both the 1927 version, which had a much more supernatural feel, and the 1939 version, which added levity and fun to the mix. All in all, when you think about haunted houses and inheritance, it’s near impossible to leave the plot of The Cat and the Canary out of your mind!
24. The Old Dark House
This is one of those little known horror gems that we love to tell you about! The original version of The Old Dark House stars Gloria Stuart (the old Rose in Titanic) and Boris Karloff, just one year after his smash success as the monster in Frankenstein. The film was released in 1932 and directed by horror icon James Whale (Frankenstein, The Invisible Man). The story centers on a couple who get trapped outside of a strange manor during a terrible and violent storm. Forced to spend the night in the old house, they realize they are among the company of a bunch of weirdoes. Boris Karloff plays the dim-witted and dangerous butler to the house, Morgan. We love Whale’s version for his strange angles, distorted imagery, and the leering sense of dread he casts over the house as a whole! In 1963 William Castle (House on Haunted Hill, we’ll talk about him a bit further down the list) remade the film, filling the house with booby traps and administering Charles Addams (of Addams Family creation and fame) to draw the backgrounds and credits. Both versions feature great creep-outs and tricks, so it all comes down to which you prefer – grainy originals or cheeky gimmicks!
23. A Christmas Carol
All right, bear with us here! We know what you’re thinking. But there’s a reason A Christmas Carol made it on this list. Based on the work of Charles Dickens, and performed with style by everyone from Mr. Magoo to the Muppets, this holiday heart warmer also features some of the scariest ghosts this side of Amityville! Even though the movie isn’t centered on scaring us, it still did. We remember sitting as youths, watching with our breath held as softly clanging chains began to rattle as Jacob Marley called out for Scrooge! And who can forget the climax of the film, where a skeletal ghost of Christmas future raises a bony finger to Ebenezer, showing him his own gravestone!? These were seriously scary moments, and hey, not all horror has to happen around Halloween!
22. House/House 2: The Second Story
House and House 2: The Second Story couldn’t be more different, but they’re both pretty fun! House is one of the creepiest traditional haunted house movies. A Vietnam vet named Roger’s life is in shambles after the disappearance of his son. But when he inherits the old mansion he grew up in to get away from it all, the terror begins! Floating cutlery, crazy monsters in the closets, a zombified old Vietnam pal -- you name it, this house is throwing it at Roger. The house in House is a vital presence, every bit as important a character as the protagonist. Now, House 2 is a house of a different color! A totally different cast, a totally different house, we’re not sure how these two connect. But who cares!? House 2: The Second Story is stupid fun! A group of young, rich twenty-somethings move into an old house, whereupon they dig up their zombie-cowboy-great, great, great grandfather! From there it’s a race through time and space, with the house as their portal and a crystal skull as their McGuffin. Wild!
21. Silent Hill
Haunted house? Hell, we’ll give you a whole haunted town! Based on the hit videogame franchise of the same name, Silent Hill follows a woman on the hunt for her daughter, who just disappeared on the edge of a deserted town called Silent Hill. The town has its own unique and horrifying history, but let’s just say this momma’s got a long trip ahead of her. Alternatively covered in fog or drenched in darkness, Silent Hill holds the most monsters and ghosts per capita this side of Hades! Plus, the nods to the video game, like the bandaged nurses who wiggle at the flashlight and, of course, the terrifying Pyramid Head, are top notch! We don’t normally like videogame adaptations, but this is one of the few that pay close attention to the source material and come off as a generally creepy experience.
20. The Beyond
We can’t tell you how many times we’ve tried to open an old, abandoned hotel just to find that we’ve accidentally opened one of the seven gates of hell! Annoying as it is, and as much as we’d like to forget those horrible experiences, we’re still drawn to the sly terror that is The Beyond. Lucio Fulci’s half-ghost, half-zombie movie pulls no punches in its depiction of such events. There are scenes in this movie that are so gruesome they could have only come from 1980s Italy (where other gore fests like Cannibal Holocaust and Demons also emerged). Who could forget (though many may want to) those terrible tarantulas as they tear apart the face of Michele Mirabella (Demons 2)!? Or that fabulous, brain spraying gunshot to the head of the beautiful Maria Pia Marsala? The Beyond hits the mark in so many ways, both as a haunted house movie and as something much bigger!
19. Lady in White
Here’s another 80s classic! A young boy named Frankie Scarlatti (played by an eleven-year-old Lukas Haas) gets locked in a coat room at his school. While trapped, he sees the ghost of a young girl and the killer who murdered her. So naturally it’s up to him to solve the mystery of who the girl was and who the killer is – classic adventure stuff! This movie was very much in the vein of other 80s kids’ horror movies like The Monster Squad (1987) and Little Monsters (1989), with the story from the point of view of the child. Though this didn’t take place in a traditional haunted house, director Frank LaLoggia (Fear No Evil) brought tension and terror to the screen that we just couldn’t shake! We believe it belongs on here alongside the best of them. Not to mention that nothing haunted us more as children than seeing that poor little girl in white, struggling against her invisible attacker. Shocking and hard to forget, Lady in White is a happy addition to our list.
18. Monster House
Call it a kids’ movie if you want to, but that was one nasty house! In case you thought you were too old to see this little gem, here’s what Monster House was all about: three kids find out that the creepy old house across the street is actually a living, breathing monster! After getting sucked into the house by its runner-rug tongue, the kids sift through all the footballs, Frisbees and various other accoutrements of childhood before getting to the heart of the house. The visuals on this CG kid-flick are top-notch, carefully balancing stylization and realism. We know this movie isn’t a real terror from start to finish, but there are some moments in this flick that really get our pulses pounding. Plus, how many children’s movies do you know that end with a giant, evil house stomping through a neighborhood before the heroes chuck dynamite into its core? Few! That’s how many!
17. House on Haunted Hill
Directed by William Castle and starring Vincent Price. That should really be all we need to say about this classic haunted movie. If those names don’t instantly set the tone in your brain, let us elaborate. William Castle was a maverick film director of over fifty (mostly schlocky) films. His oeuvre included The Tingler (1959), 13 Ghosts (1960) and The Night Walker (1964). While his films weren’t technically perfect, he sure knew how to please a crowd. Many of his later horror films included gags and props installed in the actual theaters where his films were shown. Vincent Price, also a horror legend, adds to the wonder of this creepy flick. Sure he played Egghead in the 1960’s Batman series, but he also became such a well-known name in horror that his presence alone could make a film that should have busted. House on Haunted Hill created what has become an archetypal ghost story. You’ve heard the setup a million times before: Price offers $10,000 to anyone who can last a night in the supposedly haunted titular house. The film features ghosts and skeletons out and about, and an ending that was pretty clever for its time. Now as for that physical gag Castle installed? How about a rigged-up pulley system in theaters that sent a plastic skeleton flying overhead during the film!? Forget Imax – now that was an immersive experience!
Whatever you do, don’t say that title three times! It’s hard to imagine now what audiences must have expected when they first sat down to watch Beetlejuice. A movie about a dead couple who hire Michael Keaton in zombie makeup to scare away the living who’ve occupied their house? And it’s directed by that strange guy who did Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure? Well, they may not have known what they were getting into, but they must have known, upon walking out, that they’d seen something special. Tim Burton brought the netherworld to life like never before. A young Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis star as a recently deceased couple and a young Winona Ryder stars as the only living being that can see them. We love this film for the ghosts and the creative depiction of the afterlife, not to mention the fabulous scenes of possession and monstrous shrimp hands that leap into the faces of the living! For great otherworldly mayhem, look no further than that stripe-suited scoundrel, Beetlejuice.
15. The Uninvited
For old school ghost stories, go to the source – like The Uninvited, one of the original Hollywood haunted house movies. A sister and brother buy an old house on the cheap, and meet the owner and his daughter, who becomes fixated on the house even though her mother died there. Soon enough, cold spots, dying flowers and disembodied moans begin to plague the house and all within it. The plot, from here, begins to wind, so it’s best to just watch this classic on your own than have us try to explain who was whose mother and who left who where. Needless to say this is one of those old time mindbenders that send your spine shivering as much as they send you scratching your head. And here’s a fun fact – the haunting theme song for the film, “Stella by Starlight”, went on to be sung by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles. As much mystery as ghost story, The Uninvited’s house has a foundation strong enough to keep it standing today!
14. The Legend of Hell House
When you base something faithfully on a Richard Matheson work, it’s hard to get it wrong. I mean the guy wrote I Am Legend, The Shrinking Man, Duel, Prey, and countless Twilight Zone episodes! Hell House, which turned into The Legend of Hell House, begins when a dying millionaire wants proof of the afterlife. To get that proof, he sends a physicist, a mentalist and a spiritualist to the most haunted place in the world – the Belasco House. Naturally the place is creepy as all get-out, and the group spends the next few nights trying desperately to make it out of there alive! Plates start to spin, glasses are thrown by invisible forces, bones are found in the basement, and spirits seduce. What more could you really want?! We think the Belasco House is one of the creepiest haunted houses in all horror history, and really stands as a character in and of itself in the film!
13. The Sentinel
“Turn around! Look behind you!” cries the narrator of the The Sentinel’s trailer. Now here’s a movie with some guts, blood and deformity! The Sentinel centers on a beautiful fashion model who moves into a new apartment building in Brooklyn. Though she hears many neighbors making strange noises, she’s alone in the building save for a blind priest who stares out of his window all day. The apartment complex in this flick stands, foreboding and dark, as the central evil in the film! While it takes a bit to get churning, it’s all worth it for the film’s crazy climax, featuring a cracking face, a nice slice job, blood, disfigurement and our poor heroine stuck in the middle of it all. Just one of the many perils of living in Brooklyn, eh?
12. The Grudge
Holy American Remake! We’ve got a j-horror on this list! The Grudge follows the story of Rika Nishina, a social worker who visits a house where vengeful spirits rest. The legend of the film states that whenever someone dies in a sorrowful or terrible way, their spirit lingers and longs to kill. (Not a good gig, if you ask us.) The Grudge and its notable peer The Ring were the first such films to really bring the explosion of Japanese and Asian horror remakes to the U.S. The movies spawned from this union haven’t always been the best, but that’s not because of their origin. We love the sheer rage that comes from the ghosts in this film, and it’s hard to ignore the overall impact of these movies. The Grudge stands tall in a sea of little films.
11. The Orphanage
Spanish suspense and haunted house terror at its best. The Orphanage made waves in the horror community when it launched, and made even bigger waves when it hit American shores. The film shocks almost as much as it awes, with beautiful camerawork and a vivid sense of direction and style. Presented by Guillermo del Toro and directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, the film follows a family of three, a mother, father and their adopted son, who move into the abandoned orphanage where the mother grew up. The son begins playing with new “imaginary friends” and soon the suspense of the place grows palpable. To spoil any of the beautiful plot would be a shame, so the most we’ll do is guide you toward this movie and go put on our sackcloth masks.
It’s so hard to combine horror and comedy. How do you take the dark trappings of the afterlife—death, terror and disgust—and lighten them up enough to make people laugh but not to the point where they stop being scary? Well, just ask Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson. Ghostbusters follows a group of down-and-out parapsychologists who band together to form a squad of ghost-hunting renegades. If it sounds like fun, that’s because it is fun! The ghosts, including Slimer and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, have become icons in the horror and comedy world, and heroine Sigourney Weaver still has the best haunted apartment building in Manhattan. Granted it’s not as scary as most haunted-house films (though who can deny the terror of those evil dog creatures!?), but Ghostbusters still manages to please fright fans of all ages. Watch it with your kids, watch it alone, it doesn’t matter…just watch it!
Stephen King adaptations are a tricky business. Some have differed so much from the book that one wonders if the director had read the source material (take the Arnold Schwarzenegger starrer The Running Man for example). Others are so awful they leave the viewer wishing Pennywise would just finish the job (like The Lawnmower Man)! Hell, even King himself couldn’t seem to get his own work right (when he directed Maximum Overdrive)! Then there are a select few that can get the mood, tone and terror from King’s works and really make them shine. 1408 is one of those films (The Shining is another). Featuring John Cusack as a skeptical haunted house investigator who meets his match in a hotly haunted hotel room, 1408 serves up chills, spooks, creepy atmosphere, and excitement throughout. Want to see a hotel room freeze in temperature? Sure, it’s got that. Want to see ghosts jumping from windows? Got that too! Hell, want to see a painting come to life? Why not?! Cusack even gets the job done as a believable, not completely Cusack-like guy. (Which is more than we can say for Samuel L. Jackson’s turn in this flick as…Samuel L. Jackson). For a new classic, check out 1408.
“The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes of this film are the first 92.” Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is a tag line! Suspiria has it all—blood, guts, death, beautiful women and, most importantly, Italian horror legend Dario Argento directing at the top of his game. The maestro of all things dark and terrifying really burst to the forefront with Suspiria, which follows a young American attending a European ballet school for the first time, only, bummer, turns out it’s filled with a coven of witches aimed at haunting and killing her! Okay, so this one doesn’t take place in a typical haunted house, but come on! The terror that haunts the halls of this ballet school are enough to give anyone pause before putting on their tutus. We think it belongs on here just as much as the next film on the list, and any dance school that destroys itself in the end is worth our attention. If you haven’t seen this film and you enjoy being terrified, then we can recommend few others so highly.
7. The Others
What do you get when you mix a haunted house, a post-WWII British crown dependency and Nicole Kidman? Well, only one of the sharpest, tensest ghost movies to come out of the 21st century, The Others! The Others follows Kidman’s Grace Stewart and her two photosensitive children who live in a house in the English countryside. But when new servants move into the house, things begin to get…strange. The kids start acting up and seeing people, drawing pictures of strangers, and getting damn creepy in general. Grace brandishes a shotgun and tries to set things straight, but things are definitely not as they seem. The moody old house in which they live must have taken all of its cues from older English horror movies. The architecture in this film alone is enough to impress, let alone the characters, spooks and fabulous ending. And believe us, this is one twist ending you’ve got to check out!
6. The Shining
Okay, remember when we were talking about Stephen King adaptations that get it right? Well here’s the prime example! Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece, based on the novel by Stephen King, The Shining. Though it didn’t match up scene for scene with the novel, Jack Nicholson still scared the pants of off the world with his portrayal of an unhinged writer who loses his mind to the ghosts at an empty hotel to which he and his family serve as caretakers. There are so many classic scenes in this movie it’s hard to know where to start…the girls in the hallway, the blood from the elevator…the hedge maze! And that’s not even taking into account Nicholson’s chilling performance. There are very few movies, past or present, that can top this shocker, and we love it for all the reasons that we love horror: the scares, the soundtrack, the lighting, the acting and the suspense. It’s all here.
Poltergeist is one of those movies that has become something bigger than just a horror movie—it’s cultural phenomenon. You can’t mention the film without someone bringing up the Poltergeist curse or the dubious working relationship between producer Steven Spielberg and director Tobe Hooper. But when all of that noise dies down, we’re left with one of the scariest haunted-house movies ever released. The story is simple enough: a bunch of seemingly friendly ghosts talk to a little girl (played by the late Heather Rourke) through the static in a TV set. They get into the house and start messing around with the place, and eventually kidnap the child because they think she’s their salvation (happens all the time, right?). It’s then up to Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams and Zelda Rubinstein (among others, like the late Dominique Dunne) to get her back! This was one of those joyful, scary romps the 80s graced us with. When the ghosts took hold of the house, it created the kind of haunted-house imagery that you just don’t see anymore (and really didn’t see before). It was honestly scary, and speaking of scary, you want to talk about scary? Talk about that possessed clown doll from Poltergeist! Scary, creative, and a complete horror classic.
4. The Amityville Horror
“For God’s sake, get out!” Good advice and an effective tagline! The Amityville Horror, based on the novel of the same name, tore through theaters in 1979 and left its mark on horror and the haunted-house subgenre. The film follows the story of the Lutz family who move into their new home only a year after a mass murder has happened there. Bad idea. Turns out all types of crazy crap begins to happen. The priest gets sick, flies invade, doors swing, and something evil tries to possess George Lutz, the family’s husband and father. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this movie is the story it was based on. You see, the Lutz family is a real family of people who moved into a house they claimed was severely haunted. The debate still rages as to whether there’s any truth behind this ghostly tale, but one thing is for certain – The Amityville Horror stands as one of the scariest and purest haunted-house movies ever made.
3. The Changeling
Here’s an unpleasant scenario: You’ve just lost your family to a tragic car accident, so you move across the country and rent an old Victorian to put your life back together. Sounds reasonable, right? Well, not if the house happens to be haunted by a young child who was murdered seventy years ago! George C. Scott lives this terror as composer John Russell in the 1980 ghost-house classic The Changeling. As doors begin slamming and bouncing rubber balls start to plague him, Russell seeks the help and solace of the woman who helped him rent the house. Together they uncover a mystery about the death of the child, which leads them to a very powerful senator. Caught between his power and corruption and the terror of the house, Russell must find his way to safety and bring peace back into his life. The Victorian house that serves as the setting of this film just oozes with creepiness and suspense! Not to mention that Oscar-winner George C. Scott gives one of his best performances here. So if you haven’t seen The Changeling yet, make it a top priority.
2. The Haunting
Dr. John Markway is set to prove the existence of the supernatural by going to a presumed haunted mansion. He enlists the help of Theo, a paranormal investigator, and Eleanor, a woman who was haunted by poltergeist activity as a child, to check things out. Together, with Luke, a young man who stands to inherit the place, they investigate. But soon, the house’s paranormal activity targets Eleanor. She reacts, surprisingly, with great pleasure, and begins to fall under the spell of the house. This movie—based on legendary novelist Shirley Jackson’s masterpiece The Haunting of Hill House—set the standards for horror in general and haunted-house flicks in particular, creating tension and eeriness with merely sound and shadow. This one has it all: a creepy house, attempted possession, objects acting strangely, you name it! It even has a 1999 remake, though that Liam Neeson starrer just didn’t spook as subtly as the original. The mood of this movie just drips with dread, so if you want a good freak-out, check out The Haunting. It’s not just a great horror movie, it’s a great movie.
1. The Innocents
This is it, folks, our favorite haunted house movie! Often times confused with our number 2 film, The Haunting, this flick brings suspense and terror to heart-pumping proportions. The Innocents, based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (but a whole lot juicier), is a prime example. The film’s story follows Miss Giddens, a governess hired to look after the children of the Bly House, a garish gothic estate. But she soon comes to believe the spirits of the estate’s former inhabitants are trying to possess the children… The Innocents feels relatively tame throughout its beginning, but stay with it – as the secrets of Bly House begin to unravel, the eeriness intensifies. The superior camera play adds a great deal to the unease, as does Deborah Kerr’s dynamite performance as Miss Giddens – a classic study of chilly English repression – and who could argue with a haunted-house movie written for the screen by Truman Capote? The Innocents paved the way for everything from Rosemary’s Baby to The Others, and in many ways it remains the Citizen Kane of horror movies. Both The Innocents and The Haunting were released in the early 1960’s, and both were vivid black-and-white masterpieces, but only The Innocents leaves the viewer with such a feeling of dread. We hold this movie in high esteem, and the horror world owes much to this too-often forgotten masterpiece. So what are you still doing reading about it here? Go see it already!
So there you have it! Our list of the Top 25 Haunted House Movies of all time! We’ve seen some creaking doors, some dusty halls, and some terrifying ghosts, but we got through it! But do you think we missed a classic? Think we’ve favored one movie while we boned another?! Discuss!