Halloween is just around the corner, and if you’re like me, this month has been all about watching scary movies. My personal favorites are the ones with ghosts. For me, there’s nothing like a good old fashioned haunted house tale. And if you haven’t subscribed to Shudder, AMC’s horror movie streaming service, I highly recommend you do so for at least a month. For the cost of what you’d spend on a typical rental, you get a month’s access to a huge catalog of horror movies, including many you’ve probably never seen.
So, here’s a list of some of my favorites, in no particular order. I tried to slip in a few movies you may not have seen, just to keep it from being too obvious.
Terrified (2018, Argentina)
Terrified is just plain scary. There’s a moment in the third act that actually made my wife and me cry out. It’s basically one creepy set piece after another, but there’s just enough of a through line to keep you with it to the end. As with all the foreign language films, you will want to watch the subtitled version, as the dubbed versions are always awful. It’s streaming on Shudder.
The Innocents (1961)
Though I do love older horror movies, I don’t usually find them particularly scary, which is fine. I don’t think every horror movie has to be “scary,” per se. However, The Innocents is the first of two truly creepy haunted house films from the 1960’s on my list. The setup takes its time, but once the chills start in, you’ll be surprised by how effective it is, even today. It’s a testament to the power of a great script and wonderful acting.
Lake Mungo (2009, Australia)
Some categorize Lake Mungo as found footage, but it’s really a mock-umentary, and a convincing one at that. The story takes a lot of twists and turns and, to be perfectly honest, not all of them work. But there’s enough frightening things happening along the way to warrant forgiveness—and a climactic scene in particular provides one of the most chilling and unique images ever put to film. Some years after seeing it the first time, I still get goosebumps thinking about that image, which I suppose is as great a compliment as any horror movie is likely to get.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
The phenomenon known as the “found footage film” sure gets a bum wrap, thanks to the glut of mediocre entries dumped on us in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s. However, the entry that helped start it all was Paranormal Activity, a tense and visceral real time experience. Unlike its groundbreaking ancestor, The Blair Witch Project, PA actually has a nice payoff. The sequel is pretty good too.
The Orphanage (2007, Spain)
From Spain, this little haunting story is good and creepy. The Orphanage builds the tension methodically. I wouldn’t call it slow-burn, but it sure is atmospheric and the chills are earned. The Orphanage is on Hulu this month.
Probably not much to say about this one that hasn’t been said a million times before. Spielberg and Hooper team up to deliver a great mass-audience spook fest. The clown doll scene alone was enough to give nightmares to every ’80’s multiplex movie-goer. If you haven’t seen this one in a while, give it another go this week. Like most of Spielberg’s 80’s blockbusters, Poltergeist holds up very well.
The Haunting (1963)
One of the best supernatural/psychological horror films ever made. The chills come not from jump-scares or violence, but from that sinking feeling you get when you’re lying in bed listening for a sound you thought you heard in another part of the house. Is it the house? Or is it me? And which of those questions is scarier?
The Conjuring (2013)
Yes, in 2019 the Conjuring universe is vast. And, yes, we have been inundated with a slew of good and not-so-good entries in said universe. But it would be a shame to let all of that reduce the horrific power of the first entry. There are jump scares aplenty, but director James Wan is no one-trick pony. He also delivers suffocating atmosphere and plenty of slow burn set pieces to mark this as one of the truly great (and hellishly frightening) films in the sub-genre.
The Changeling (1981)
A tight little haunted house yarn starring the great George C. Scott. The Changeling has some of the creepiest images and scenes ever put to film including a little red ball that keeps coming back, an empty wheel chair, and a seance that has influenced dozens of other movies. It’s an old fashioned ghost story, perfect for a stormy October night.
Satan’s Slaves (2018, Indonesia)
An Indonesian horror, heavily influenced by James Wan’s films. There are some truly scary set pieces and a great story. It’s also fascinating to see a horror film set in an Islamic culture. You can find it on Shudder.
Did I leave anything out? Have any hidden gems of your own? Drop your favorite haunting flicks in the comments!