With everyone seeing Insidious Chapter 2 this weekend I thought we could count down 15 other ghost stories to keep up at night. It is interesting that a lot of good ghost films feature boys who see dead people.
#15: Two Thousand Maniacs (1964) The godfather of gore, Herschell Gordon Lewis takes us on an adventure in the south where a small town is still very upset about losing the Civil War. The kills are highly imaginative and coated in vibrant red viscera. The “barrel roll” is a must see. If you haven’t experienced the odd beauty of Two Thousand Maniacs, then its inclusion in this list may be a spoiler.
#14: Ghostbusters (1984) This is one of those films that never feels dated, whether it is a nostalgic viewing or your first time it never ceases to entertain. While not overtly horrific, except of course for Rick Moranis’ over-the-top awkward and cringe-worthy character. It does offer a few jump scares for the less desensitized. The greatness lies in the camaraderie of Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson – their bond is what ensnares most audiences.
#13: The Frighteners (1996) Before tackling The Lord Of The Rings and after his amusingly disgusting films (see Bad Taste, Meet The Feebles, and Dead-Alive) Peter Jackson made this semi-kid friendly spook show. Michael J. Fox interacts with the dead while making a living as a phony paranormal expert. The special effects are top notch and R. Lee Ermey steals the show as usual.
#12: Stir Of Echoes (1999) Richard Matheson was a poet of fear, his words will live forever. I Am Legend is a yearly re-read for me. In this adaptation, Kevin Bacon is in full Bacon form – whatever that means. His son seems to have the ability to communicate with the dead, almost a SENSE of the world beyond the grave. This is one of those great plot devices that is so original it would be interesting to see another film use it. After watching Stir Of Echoes something very odd happens, the only song that is stuck in your head for the following weeks is The Rolling Stones “Paint It Black.” It is almost as bad as the effect of “Time Is On Your Side,” after watching Fallen.
#11: Drag Me To Hell (2009) Sam Raimi’s return to form after the terror of Spidey 3. Carnival shocks abound in Raimi’s allegory for the American debt crisis. A woman is cursed when she is forced to turn a gypsy down for a loan – that will teach the banks what can happen when they fail to help the penniless.
#10: The Devil’s Backbone (2001) Guillermo del Toro’s pirates vs. ghosts film isn’t heavy on the scares but is an example of wonderful storytelling. If you haven’t seen it, I apologize for getting your hopes up about pirates, there are no pirates in a literal sense. There is, however, a giant diffused bomb that provides a symbol of foreboding for all the characters.
#9: The Orphanage (2007) Produced by Guillermo del Toro years after Devil’s Backbone and featuring more orphans and another young boy who befriends a ghost. This time the boy goes missing and it is up to the spirits to help his mother uncover the mystery. This slow burn has an amazing pay off.
#8: The Sixth Sense (1999) A boy who sees dead people and his therapist team up to battle their fear of ghosts. M. Night Shyamalan built his his own trap with Sixth Sense – he made a near perfect film with a twist. After this film his twist endings became his cliché, until he decided he didn’t care about his audience anymore and made Lady In The Water, The Happening, and The Last Airbender.
#7: The Ring (2002) Okay, really? Another boy sees the dead. This time the boy’s mother leaves a cursed tape lying around and instead of getting cartoons he gets a dose of student avant-garde filmmaking. This experimental film was made by a dead girl and those who see it die in seven days unless they force someone else to see it – now that’s an interesting way to promote your film. From my understanding: in the original books the curse eventually effects the world and those who have shared the viewing experience are affected by a deadly disease. Too bad the sequel didn’t touch on this at all.
#6: The Fog (1980) John Carpenter’s masterpiece about a small coastal town invaded by a fog filled with ghosts. For such an odd concept Carpenter knew he’d have to have some great actors to pull it off so he casted Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, her mother Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook, and we also get Carpenter regular George ‘Buck’ Flower. The Fog offers good scares and a morality tale.
#5: The Others (2001) While Nicole Kidman awaits any news of the first Doctor Who, who’s battling in WWII, she must maintain her mansion with a list of bizarre rules. Her children cannot be exposed to direct sunlight so the house has to be ran a certain way: all the doors must be locked and curtains drawn. Her children are not vampires in case you were wondering, instead there is something more nefarious occurring in the home. With The Others we have another slow build, probably too slow for some, but while waiting we are able to see wonderful cinematography and little details that each have the opportunity to elicit shock.
#4: Paranormal Activity (2009) Though I love older films with much more fervor than most of the current genre titles, Paranormal Activity scared the hell out of me in the theater. The ability to build and release tension created a Pavlovian effect in audiences. It’s night time, we’re ready to anticipate another encounter. Found footage creates fear by paying tribute to classical tactics, where less is truly more. Though these films are bound by a minuscule budget they use the old adage to their advantage: What an audience can imagine is always more terrifying than what we can show.
#3: Poltergeist (1982) Tobe Hooper, under the guidance of Steven Spielberg, created a film so terrifying that if it were release today as it would have also acquired an R-rating for being too scary. This film taught us a valuable lesson, never build your house on top of an Indian burial ground. This film created an irrational fear of clowns and trees that followed me through my entire childhood.
#2: The Shining (1980) Yet another film where boys and ghosts interact, but this is the granddaddy of all ghost stories. I suggest a double feature of The Shining and Room 237, it may be the best four hours ever. The Shining works because there is no set-in-stone meaning, some say it is an allegorical tale for the death of the American dream – I kinda like that. Whatever meaning you have of the film and its ending, the perfection of The Shining will stay with you forever, and ever.
#1: The Haunting (1963) Tagline: You may not believe in ghosts but you cannot deny terror. Robert Wise created a perfect ghost story filled with skeptics and psychics. A doctor brings a motley crew of people to Hill House to investigate if it is truly haunted. The mansion has a history of death and insanity, as time goes on for these investigators it becomes apparent that the house only wants one of them. “We couldn’t hear you in the night. No one could. No one lives any nearer than town. No one will come any nearer than that. In the night. In the dark.”
Okay, so what did I miss? What should have been number 1? Let me know in the comments below.