Thursday, August 19, 2010


Over at Into The Abyss, horror blogger/filmmaker Todd Miro posted his "Top Ten Ghostly Movies" yesterday and while I agree with some of his choices (we even share our number 1 pick), I'm not convinced that most of his favorites are actually in the Top Ten.

For example, Todd's #10 is Paranormal Activity, a movie I hated because it was just so damned boring and not in the least bit scary. And, it's not even a ghost movie, but rather a movie about demonic possession.

I felt I had to respond and talk about my Top 12 Ghostly Movies of All Time, most of which don't seem to even be on Todd's radar. Todd, I love your blog, but I think you got it wrong, my friend.

12. The Fog (1980). Director John Carpenter's follow-up to Halloween is about a California town under siege on its 100th anniversary by the ghosts of lepers who were left to drown, rather be allowed to come ashore. Scream queens Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh and Adrienne Barbeau star along with Tom Atkins and Hal Holbrook in this fun, creepy tale of ghostly revenge. Ignore the lame 20005 remake.

11. The Gift (2000). Sam Raimi (Spider-Man; Drag Me to Hell) directs this quiet but effective thriller about a Southern small-town psychic (Cate Blanchett) inadvertently embroiled in solving the murder of the local hussy (Katie Holmes). Giovanni Ribisi; Keanu Reeves; Greg Kinnear; Gary Cole; J.K. Simmons and the incomparable Julie Harris (more on her later in this post) co-star.

10. Kairo (2001). Kiyoshi Kurosawa's J-Horror movie about ghosts in the machines had me trying to see around corners while dreading what might lurk there. While investigating the suicide of a friend, several Japanese students find themselves caught up in something far more sinister than any of them could ever have imagined. Avoid the excruciatingly bad 2006 American remake starring Kristen Bell. The original is probably one of the best Japanese horror movies ever made.

9. The Innocents (1961). Deborah Kerr (The King and I) stars as a governess who begins to suspect that the home in which she works may be haunted in director Jack Clayton's adaption of Henry James' novel, "The Turn of the Screw." Creepy kids and loads of atmosphere. Truman Capote helped write the screenplay.

8. The Legend of Hell House (1973). Similar in plot to Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House," Richard Matheson's novel concerns a group of paranormal investigators spending time in a supposedly haunted mansion. Roddy McDowell stars.

7. The Others (2001). Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar made his English-language debut with this creepy and atmospheric story about a woman (Nicole Kidman) trapped in a house with her photosensitive children, waiting for her husband to return from the war. While I figured out its 'twist ending' long before the reveal, I forgave that in favor of Amenabar's use of atmosphere and the performances of its excellent cast.

6. Lady in White (1998). A young boy (Lucas Haas), locked in a school room closet on Halloween in 1962 is visited by the ghost of a young girl who was murdered many years ago by a pedophile. Len Cariou, Alex Rocco and Katherine Helmond co-star.

5. Ringu (1998). Hideo Nakata's film started the American obsession with J-Horror, and while the American remake The Ring is not a bad movie, the original is undoubtedly the superior. A video tape that kills, a young girl drowned in a well and a mystery that unravels via non-linear plotting all add up to one creepy movie.

4. The Devil's Backbone (2001). Guillermo del Toro's story about a haunted Spanish orphanage during Franco's reign of terror plays out as both a ghost story and an anti-war drama (themes the director would again explore in his amazing 2006 fantasy Pan's Labyrinth).

3. Dead Silence (2007) James Wan and Leigh Whannell are probably best known as the originators of the Saw franchise, but their follow-up (originally titled Silence) is a very creepy movie about the vengeful ghost of a mid-century ventriloquist named Mary Shaw. Dismissed by most critics when it was originally released, Dead Silence is definitely worth a second look. Loaded with atmosphere and the creep-factor that accompanies almost every ventriloquist dummy ever made, Dead Silence is Wan and Whannell's best film so far.

2. Poltergeist (1982). Stephen Spielberg produced Tobe Hooper's (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) movie about a perfect suburban family plagued by the ghosts of the people buried beneath their Utopian development. It remains the only movie Uncle P and his sister have seen enough times to tell you exactly what's happening just by listening to Jerry Goldsmith's amazing score. A completely unnecessary remake is in the works.

1. The Haunting (1963). Robert Wise's adaptation of Shirley Jackson's novel remains the scariest movie ever made, without really showing anything at all. With an astonishing performance by Julie Harris as Nell, and sound effects that lead the viewer to imagine far worse things than any CGI effect could conjure, The Haunting is a movie I dare any of you to watch alone with the lights turned off. The deplorable 1999 Jan deBont remake doesn't even deserve to share the title with Wise's truly terrifying film.

Honorable mentions: The Orphanage; The Changeling; Dark Water (2002); The Frighteners; The Sixth Sense; Silent Hill.

Scared yet?

More, anon.

1 comment:

Matthew Bradley said...

Interesting list. Agree with you completely about THE FOG, which I always thought was criminally underrated, and feel that both THE INNOCENTS and THE HAUNTING must be on any such list. As a longtime Matheson fan, I am of course delighted at the presence of HELL HOUSE. Matheson was quite open about how Jackson's novel and Wise's film helped inspire the book, with the caveat that he didn't like the "was it really a ghost or not?" aspect, so he was determined that his haunted-house story would feature an honest-to-badness ghost. For further information, see my book RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN, tentatively due out in early October.