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!
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.
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