There’s nothing to cement a friendship quite like an ill-advised bet to spend the night in a haunted house. Of course, you might be one of those people born with an ounce of sense who prefer to get their haunted house thrills on the small screen. If so, Vampire Squid has you covered! Here are 9 haunted house movies worth a watch.
The Haunting did for cinema what its source material, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House did for literature; updating the tired gothic trope of the haunted mansion and establishing the framework through which almost all future haunted house tales would be told.
It’s also a masterclass in pacing. Its gradual build towards a terrifying conclusion is slow but intense, and the staircase sequence remains one of the greatest moments ever in horror cinema. In an era where over-reliance on jump scares often leads to ‘shock fatigue’, modern audiences still find themselves gripped by this slow burning classic.
The Legend of Hell House
Richard Matheson’s Hell House is a direct response to Shirley Jackson’s classic haunted house tale. Like Jackson’s book, his features a group of intrepid scientific researchers using state of the art equipment to seek evidence of life after death. Unlike the sedate, subtle ghosts of Shirley Jackson, the horrors of the Belasco house are real, visceral and dangerous.
The ex-owner of the house, Emeric Belasco, was equal parts Aleister Crowley and Marquis De Sade, and his absent presence throughout the film, with his voice captured on gramophone recordings, is creepy and unnerving. Richard Matheson himself provided the screenplay. It doesn’t quite live up to the novel, having had most of the violence removed, but it still sees each of our ghost-hunters entertainingly tested to their breaking points.
A criminally underrated piece of ghost-based melodrama, The Changeling was overtaken in the public imagination by more rambunctious fare like The Amityville Horror largely because of its slow pace. In it, George C. Scott plays a composer who moves to an isolated house to grieve for his lost wife and son in peace.
Predictably, the murdered child spirit of the house has other ideas, pushing him to uncover the grisly details of the crime that took his life and to wreak revenge on his behalf. It’s a creepy and unsettling journey with ambitious narrative scope for a haunted house story, and deserves far more recognition in the genre than it currently receives.
Hell House LLC
Hell House LLC debuted in 2016 and swiftly became a cult classic. In 2009, so we are told, the Abaddon Hotel haunted house attraction opened for the first time. By the end of the night a malfunction claimed 15 lives. Hell House LLC follows the crew behind the attraction as they make their preparations for that fateful opening night, slowly realising that all is not well with the building but bloody-mindedly carrying on towards the inevitable tragedy.
As we’ve discussed before, found footage can be a big turn-off for audiences these days, often for good reason. But Hell House LLC employs it effectively to tell a mysterious, fragmented story that reveals its secrets sparingly over the course of its run time. If you’ve turned your back on found footage then films like this, and the masterful Lake Mungo, could be the ones to change your mind.
Based on a Henry James’ novel and adapted by Truman Capote? With literary credentials like that, we’re in safe hands in this atmospheric 1961 chiller.
A new governess to a group of troubled (and troubling) orphans slowly becomes convinced that the children are being corrupted by the ghosts of their ex governess and her abusive partner.
Like many of the best ghost stories, the drama arises from uncertainty about the protagonist’s state of mind. Damaged to begin with and only unravelling more and more as the film progresses, the children’s new governess is a classically repressed Victorian. Her morbid obsessions begin to blur the lines between the real and the imaginary, and those brilliantly creepy children aren’t doing much to allay her concerns.
Tired of western approaches to the haunted house sub-genre? Hausu’s got what you need (providing what you need is a healthy dose of liquid insanity). A shot in the arm for a usually dour and creaky sub-genre, Hausu is psychedelic and expansive. It’s certainly not to everyone’s taste. To watch Hausu is to open yourself up to a stream-of-consciousness world of early 70’s surreal horror-comedy, inspired by the ramblings of the director’s 7 year-old daughter.
A schoolgirl brings a group of her friends along to her elderly aunt’s house for a vacation. The aunt, unfortunately for them, is a ghost who, with the help of her magical ghost cat, is luring unmarried girls to the house so that she can kill them with enchanted household appliances. Frankly, it defies description so we won’t even bother. If it sounds like your kind of thing, then watch Hausu, and may god have mercy on your soul.
Supposedly a live Halloween special, Ghostwatch was a masterful hoax that fooled hundreds of children, and quite a few of their parents. Peopled by believable cameos form well-known British TV presenters like Michael Parkinson and Craig Charles to add to the effect, Ghostwatch told the tale of ‘pipes’, a ghost whose haunting of a council house mirrors the events of ‘The Enfield Poltergeist’, Britain’s most famous haunting case.
Ghostwatch is a precursor to the Paranormal Activity series and its imitators and, particularly for the time, is a fairly ground-breaking piece of found footage horror. Although the performances have dated it the result is still a highly accomplished piece of storytelling. With its layering of tension, narrative twists and the slow build to a fourth-wall breaking conclusion, Ghostwatch still has something to teach the found footage films of today.
The House That Dripped Blood
Based on four short stories by Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, The House That Dripped Blood is the story of a Scotland Yard detective tasked with finding a missing movie star. The more he delves into the history of the star’s home, however, the more he becomes convinced that some supernatural force had a hand in his disappearance.
Despite boasting performances from Ingrid Pitt, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee The House That Dripped Blood is tamer than most anthology entries of the period, and never achieves the heights of Asylum or From Beyond The Grave. Despite his prevalence on almost all of the promotional material, Jon Pertwee’s segment is by far the weakest. Despite its flaws, it’s a solid entry from Amicus, and like all great haunted house stories, the house itself is the central character.
Under The Shadow
A recent offering that combines some of the most effective tropes of the possession and ghost movie genres to weave a tale about the everyday terrors of life in post-revolution, war-torn Tehran. When a missile from the Iran/Iraq war pierces the roof of their apartment building, a mother and her daughter are slowly convinced that it brought with it a malevolent djinn.
It’s part ghost story, part feminist fable and part family drama, but it never loses the ability to scare and surprise, even when delivering its socio-political commentary. With shades of The Babadook, Under The Shadow combines themes of depression, paranoia, parental neuroses and societal judgement with supernatural elements, maintaining an ambiguity that keeps the audience constantly on their toes and asking questions.