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MattFini’s Halloween Top 10 Lists: Ghost Stories!

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re always on the lookout for good new writers here at Dread Central, and with the addition of MattFini we hit pay dirt! Matt’s not only one of our best and brightest, but he’s also as opinionated as they come. You’re almost always guaranteed to be either infuriated or amused at his musings. Each day this week he’ll be posting his own Halloween Top 10 lists. Agree? Disagree? Laugh! Cry! Sound off inside!

Without further ado … the man, the myth, the lunatic, our very own Masked Slasher, MattFini!

MattFini's Halloween Top 10 Lists: Ghost Stories!

This past weekend saw the upset of the ages as sleeper hit Paranormal Activity bested the reigning champion that is the Saw franchise at the box office. So, in honor of one of the scariest films to come along in a while, we thought it’d be fun to offer a countdown of the 10 greatest ghost films ever made.

In the end, it wasn’t easy narrowing this down to ten measly films (I flirted with the idea of actually including Paranormal, but it fell just short of the cut). Enjoy the list, and I hope some of you will share your own in the spirit of the fast approaching Halloween holiday!

10. The Orphanage (2007)
An old-fashioned ghost story that earns its scares through a slow-burn pace and lots and lots of spooky atmosphere, The Orphanage is the sort of quiet ghost story I believed they stopped making after the 1970s. Well written, acted and directed, the success of this triple threat lies within making the trappings of the genre (creaking noises and creepy children, of course) scary again, but it’s the underlying sadness of the piece that sticks with you long after the film has finished.

9. The Innocents (1961)
Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s almost fifty years old; Jack Clayton’s ambiguous ghost story still brings a chill. Loaded to the brim with uneasy moments (try to get the creepy children’s song out of your head), it’s Deborah Kerr’s unhinged performance that sells this one so well. We’re never really sure if the ghost are real, but that doesn’t make The Innocents any less of an effective horror film.

8. Stir of Echoes (1999)
The greatest injustice here is that this was released only a few months after The Sixth Sense. For my money, this is a far superior experience in just about every way. Kevin Bacon was never better than here, as an everyman who reluctantly comes to believe in the supernatural, while writer/director David Koepp fashions a mystery that’s as frightening as it is compelling.

7. Poltergeist (1982)
Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper took the haunted house premise, so prevalent in the 60s and 70s, and pulled it kicking and screaming into the 1980s, equipped with the best special effects possible for the time. The end result is a ghost movie that throws subtlety out of the window in favor of showing us everything. Somehow it worked. Chock full of iconic moments, the first exploits of the Freeling family was a genre classic as soon as it was released and still has the power to scare today. The cinematic equivalent of a horror funhouse, Poltergeist rocks.

6. The Woman in Black (1989)
I caught this on TV sometime in the early 90s, not really expecting much from a ‘made for TV’ British horror film. Boy was I wrong. This one has everything you need for a great ghost story: a sleepy small town, a dark and secret history and one hell of a scary specter. The titular woman is used sparingly, which makes her presence all the more effective. This is a difficult one to track down, but it’s well worth the hunt.

5. The Legend of Hell House (1973)
Like Stir of Echoes, The Legend of Hell House is also sourced from a Richard Matheson novel. Roddy McDowell is a blast to watch as the crazed survivor of a previous, failed, expedition to the haunted mansion, and you’ll never look at black cats the same way again. Alternating between creepy and fun, the movie goes a little too over-the-top in its climax for its own good, but everything else is perfectly executed. Thirty-six years after its release, this is still a great time.

4. Ghostbusters (1984)
While the balance between scares and comedy is tipped WAY toward the latter, there was nothing like it when it debuted in the summer of 1984. I didn’t see it until VHS, but I can tell you that the library ghost scared the wits out of my five-year-old self! Loaded with some of the coolest looking ghosts in the genre’s history while sporting some of all-time funniest one-liners (“I have seen shit that would turn you white!”, “Yes, it’s true…this man has no dick.”) – everything about Ghostbusters gels perfectly. “It’s the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.”

3. The Others (2001)
Good God, do I love this movie. Like most good ghost stories, it establishes one hell of a creepy atmosphere with its sprawling Gothic manor and fog-heavy surroundings. The clever story makes sure nothing is as we think it is, but even without the big “surprise”, this one brings the spooky. Seriously.

2. The Haunting (1963)
Those of you who’ve only visited Hill House courtesy of Jan De Bont’s misguided remake need to go back and look at Robert Wise’s brilliantly textured haunted house flick from the 60s. Not only does it still crawl under your skin and stay there, but The Haunting relies on your own fears of the unknown to freak you out – much like the recent Paranormal Activity. There have been quite a few “old dark house” movies made over the years (with quite a few of them showing up on this list), but this one remains among the very best.

1. The Fog (1980)
Antonio Bay, gold and a pirate named Blake. John Carpenter’s classic has enough atmosphere and dread for twenty movies. Adrienne Barbeau’s quick-witted DJ, Stevie Wayne, sells it with her terrified narration, and this film is host to a badass collection of pissed off ghosts. Add to the mix Tom Atkins, Hal Holbrook and Jamie Lee, and you’ve got a rock solid cast and the perfect rainy night movie to freak you out.

MattFini

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Matt Serafini

Author (Under the Blade, Feral), slasher movie enthusiast, N7 Operative. Plays games, watches movies, reads books. Occasionally writes about them.

  • BoggyCreekBeast

    Thank GOD Paranormal Activity isn’t on this list! Noble failure, at best. I fell for the hype, the same way I did for Blair Witch back in the day.

  • bjaime11

    The Fog? Seriously? Wow…

    You say that Paranormal Activity just fell short of the list but you put The Fog in the number one spot? Yeah, because that makes sense..

    And, Stir of Echoes? Oh, are you kidding me?

    I agree with The Others and Poltergeist making the top 10, even Ghostbusters and the original The Haunting. But, what about Carnival of Souls, The Shining, or The Grudge’s Japanese inspiration Juon? So many great ghost stories have come from Japan, yet not one has made it onto your list.

    • Uncle Creepy

      Not everyone’s a fan of Asian Horror. Personally I’m sick to death of it. I get it. Female. In white. Long black hair. Done.

      Still, The Shining is a GLARING omission!

      The Fog however, is every bit a ghost story. Wouldn’t have been my number 1 but it deserves to be there.

      • bjaime11

        I can understand being tied of Japanese cinema’s stereotypes to date (I personally am as well), but this list is about the “best” and at least one of them should have been given credit because regardless of how “overdone” they were here in America, that does not take away from the originals’ contribution to horror. We can be tired of them but still give credit where credit is due.

        And, yes, The Fog is a ghost story but it does not deserve to be in the best of the best list… I mean, I like the original movie a lot, but it is not one of cinema’s best ghost stories. Just my opinion…this list falls way short of representing the best of the best…

        • bjaime11

          I also have to add…I can understand why Paranormal Activity is not on this list. I went back and thought about it and he was right not to put it on the list. It is not a ghost story, it is a demon story…it belongs on a list with the likes of The Exorcist, Drag Me to Hell, The Omen and the original The Amityville Horror.

          So, I take back any comment regarding PA. :)

          • Masked Slasher

            I knew the omission of any J-horror would be controversial, but I didn’t leave them off for that reason. In terms of ghost movies, I haven’t liked very many Asian horror films – least of the Ju-On films.

            And for me, The Fog has one of the greatest atmospheres in the genre. It’s the creepiest campfire story ever told and I stand by it at number one.

            As for The Shining … I like it a lot, but not quite as much as the rest of my choices.

          • bjaime11

            “The Fog has one of the greatest atmospheres in the genre.”

            I must politely disagree.

            “It’s the creepiest campfire story ever told…”

            I absolutely agree! It should definitely be number one on that last. Number one on a Ghost Stories list? Not so sure. :)

        • Uncle Creepy

          And the list is HIS opinion! They’re his top 10. ;)

          Feel free to write your own in the comments section! That’s what they’re here for!

          • bjaime11

            “You’re almost always guaranteed to be either infuriated or amused at his musings.”

            Guess I was a little of both. LOL! :)

  • The Woman In Black

    So glad to see The Others get the recognition it deserves. LOVE that flick. And of course … for obvious reasons … The Woman In Black. Not much of a fan of The Orphanage (too sappy) or Stir of Echoes (the non-communication between Bacon and his wife drove me nuts). Would probably trade those out for Session 9 and The Shining, which I’m really surprised not to see included here.