“These souls, who for whatever reason are not at rest, are also not aware that they have passed on. They’re not part of consciousness as we know it. They linger in a perpetual dream state, a nightmare from which they can not awake.”
-Tangina (Dialogue from Poltergeist, 1982)
What really scares us? Besides death, bills and other regular day-to-day horrors. When I think about what gets my heart pumping, it is fear of the unknown. What you cannot see can AND will hurt you. Think about it for a second; walking alone down a dark alley after dark, hearing a noise in the middle of the night that you cannot immediately identify. When I want to watch a movie that might get my guard up and give me a little scare, I always go for one type; a good old ghost story. Slasher movies are great for some jump scares, gross-outs, and humor. Unfortunately, ninety-five percent of them fail to serve up the chills. The thought of an invisible force is a lot creepier than a dude wearing a mask that you can see coming a mile away. Besides demonic possession, supernatural films (when done right) make my skin crawl the most. I would like to share with you my five favorite ghost films. There are plenty of these types of films I have not seen, mostly because I have heard terrible things about them, or I have not gotten around to watching them yet. I am fairly confident that I have seen enough to make these five films my most revered supernatural viewings.
The Shining (Directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring Jack Nicholson 1980) From top to bottom, a brilliant film on so many levels. Jack Torrance is tormented. Not only by the spirits that haunt the halls of the Overlook Hotel, but also the ghosts of his past. There are so many theories and dissections of this film, trying to look for the real meaning behind Kubrick’s madness, but on the surface it is a gritty and lingering story about a haunted hotel that truly wants to make it’s residents feel unwelcome. From subliminal flashes of butchered families to the terror behind the door of room 237, there are many things to love about The Shining. Jack Nicholson is perfect.
The Blair Witch Project (Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, 1999) Love it or hate it, BWP is a polarizing film. This was the first of a rash of “found footage” films to break into the mainstream. Three students get lost in the Maryland woods and find out that the legend they are documenting is indeed true. I will admit that the camera work is nauseating in some spots, but lends to the authentic feel. The viewer never sees the entity that terrorizes the characters, but is presented in other ways that are effective and creepy regardless. Freaky scenes include children’s hands pressing on the outside of the tent while the sound of children can be heard, and Josh disappearing during the night, with only his tongue remaining wrapped up in a piece of his shirt. The final scene is also tense and well done. Any film that made my brother (self admittedly) stay up all night pacing the house will always make my top five.
Poltergeist (Directed by Tobe Hooper, starring Craig T. Nelson 1982) This is the proof that you don’t need an old house to have a haunting. All you need is a house built on a Native American cemetery. Although Poltergeist is not as scary as it once was, it sure scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. At first, the spirits seem harmless enough; moving objects and furniture around. The spirits then become malevolent, becoming violent and then kidnapping the young daughter, Carol Anne. Stylish and well produced, Poltergeist is a charming ghost story well worth the watch. On a side note, the 2015 remake starring Sam Rockwell is not very good at all, and no where near as charming as the original. But that is just my opinion.
Sixth Sense (Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, starring Bruce Willis 1999) A young boy with the ability to see ghosts who don’t know they are dead needs the help of Dr. Malcolm Crowe to cope with his “ability”. This film is not scary in the traditional sense, but has some very strong imagery that will get inside your head. Sixth Sense is a movie that will make you think, and take you on a few twists. I include this one in my list of favorites because it is well written and very well orchestrated in delivery. There is one scene in school involving bodies hanging from the rafters that still gives me the creeps. Also, who doesn’t love Bruce Willis?
The Fog (Directed by John Carpenter, starring Jamie Lee Curtis 1980) The small seaside town of Antonio Bay has a dark past, and the spirits of the done wrong want their revenge. What is freakier than ghosts you ask? What about ghosts that arrive and hide inside a thick fog that has rolled into town? John Carpenter is a master of simple suspense. The Fog is no exception. In typical Carpenter fashion, the soundtrack is brilliant and makes the atmosphere that much better. A pretty fun movie with some good spooky ambiance. If you like John Carpenter, and or ghosts, you’ll like this one.
Honorable mention – Amityville Horror, The Changeling, The Conjuring
Note – Although two films, Ghostbusters ,The Frighteners, and Beetlejuice are “ghost” movies, I felt they are too comedy oriented to be part of the list. However, all three films are personal favorites of mine.