The 5 Eeriest Haunted House Movies

Chills Down Your Spine

Ghost stories scare audiences unlike any other types of films. Films centered on haunted houses affect viewers so strongly by taking what is known and turning it into the unknown; the fear and sense of insecurity feels wrapped up in a familiar place. This is why the "haunted house" is so universally feared. It is the focal point of neighborhood dread as a child, and it is an in-control adult's nightmare come true. The unpredictability within the confines of a haunted location unnerve an audience as much as the fictional characters, making these movies a surprisingly unpleasant ride.

The following is a list of the top 5 creepiest haunted house movies. I consider the term "house" as having a loose definition which can include other buildings or structures. I'm avoiding The Shining for this list, as it is front-and-center on a separate list, and anyone who has read the book understands that it is meant as a psychological study as much as a haunting. I'm avoiding The Amityville Horror in part for similar reasons.  This list is focused more on those good old fashioned creepy ghost stories that we all know and fear.

Poltergeist

How can Poltergeist not be included on such a list?  It redefined a genre, by taking the classic view of a haunted house and turning it into a commentary on contemporary living.  A generation of adults were traumatized by this Steven Spielberg film, due to its realistic portrayal of a family suddenly heaved into the paranormal.  The callous decisions of modern society result in payment due, as Craig T. Nelson and Jo Beth Williams try desperately to keep their children safe, while their daughter, Carol Ann, is kidnapped and taken to a spiritual dimension within the home.

This film is noted for its horribly memorable shots, such as the fuzzy television screen, the angry tree, the jack-in-the-box, and the pool.  It exploits the fear of every parent: losing a child and having no earthly idea of what to do about it.  The Freelings get others involved in their search for Carol Ann, and what follows is eerie and jarring, to say the least.

The Changeling

I simply love this George C. Scott movie from 1980, not to be confused with the Angelina Jolie film. The Changeling is both the reflection of and the inspiration for several other films: it contains the objects-down-the-staircase-scare, the hidden room, the ghostly wheelchair, the medium, the intriguing mystery to solve. Scott's character, John Russell, is widowed at the start of the film (and we get to watch it happen), which adds to his sense of pain and loneliness. In his grief, he takes a furnished home in Seattle, and soon, events force him to acknowledge that something or someone else has taken up residence there, too.

If you're looking for a classic haunted house movie, without having to endure a movie so old and corny that you'll have a hard time suspending disbelief, this one will do the trick. The storyline has depth; you'll find yourself guessing at what's behind the events, along with John. There are at least three moments in this movie that make the hair on my neck stand up, which happens rarely. That's how much I recommend this film.

The Others

In The Others , a lonely woman, Grace, tends to her manor, waiting for her lost husband to return from World War II. Her two children are photosensitive, meaning that they cannot be exposed to direct sunlight. Naturally, this allows for plenty of dark rooms and dreary shadows, which are prerequisites of any quality ghost story. After hiring new servants to care for the property, Grace slowly becomes convinced that the place is haunted, leading to a surprising and heart-breaking ending.

While I understand that this film has its detractors, I think overall it's a convincing ghost story. The pace is moody and slow, as it should be in such a film, and the viewer is left with puzzling questions at the end. Nicole Kidman has some weaker acting moments, but her character, embroiled in the overall isolation and darkness of the house, remains convincing. Many viewers claim to have seen the ending coming early on, but this shouldn't dissuade one from giving the film a shot. It's a solid haunted house story with a twist.

Session 9

This evocative film is set in Danvers Mental Asylum, so it's not exactly utilizing a haunted house. That said, Session 9 tells its story in the tradition of every excellent ghost story: it's painfully deliberate, until it doesn't need to be. Hard to believe, but David Caruso does a solid job in this movie, as do the rest of the actors, and the sound effects/score are truly top-notch. Seriously, the first thing I noticed about this movie was how creepy everything sounded . You'll feel like you need to be quiet just to listen to your surroundings.

An asbestos cleaning crew takes up temporary residence in formerly condemned Danvers, and as one might imagine, slowly things go wrong. Psychological treatment sessions have been recorded years earlier, and are discovered (hence, the title). As the film progresses, issues of possession and insanity surface, making the asylum seem alive in its own terrible way. The use of darkness effectively as well as the massive size of the institution create a anxiety-filled couple of hours.

The Haunting

I can still remember the first time I saw this 1963 classic. I didn't know what to expect, but I was riveted. A group of individuals, each having a "special" ability, is invited to stay at the notorious Hill House to provide scientific evidence of a ghostly presence (how many times have you seen this premise?). Unlike other such films, The Haunting is truly scary with no super effects whatsoever. It relies on human instincts and emotions, coupled with traditional haunted house images, to startle its viewers. One lengthy scene involves rattling, pounding noises, and turning doorknobs to provoke the main characters and the audience into panic.

Truthfully, this movie shows its age in the early portion of the film. Like Psycho , it employs a ridiculously slow exposition, providing more backstory than some might like. Once the movie gets rolling, however, it becomes clear why such a snail-like pace was established, as the details become more and more relevant. Richard Johnson, Julie Harris, and Claire Bloom headline the cast, and all do a fine job. Of all the films on this list, The Haunting is the simplest and most classically scary example of a haunted house movie.  Avoid its lackluster remake, and watch this original masterpiece.

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12 comments

Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

I am a bit of a coward, as i jump at a gratuitous violence, so most of these are to scary for me... However, 'The Others' is one of my favourite movies. i didn't find it scary at all, just moody and very, very sad,, but although uplifting.

Have you seen 'The Orphanage'(Spanish: El Orfanato)? A Spanish-language film and the debut feature of Spanish filmmaker Juan Antonio Bayona.

You must, it's wonderful.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Ian, yes!!!! I loved The Orphanage! It was excellent...thank you so much for reminding me of it. That game the children play. Yikes.

I agree, The Others isn't scary. I do, however, think it's creepy in places. I see a distinction there, even if I'm the only one. :)


DoItForHer 5 years ago

Go to the light Carol Ann!

When Ariel was 3 to 4-years-old she looked like the "Poltergeist Girl". So much so that hardly a week went by when someone didn't say, "Hey! That's the Poltergeist Girl!" No exaggeration. Sometimes I would pick her up, hold her out in front of me, and say, "Hey, I'll sick the Poltergeist Girl on you!" The responses we got were awesome.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

As long as she didn't sit in front of the television when they weren't any shows on! :)


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

The photograph of the servants sitting in a row on the bench was unnerving.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Yes, you're right. That whole movie was unnerving. I absolutely loved it.


DoItForHer 5 years ago

This is a little off as Dune is not a spooky movie, but the character, Alia Atreides, funny, creepy, and cute. I really wished she would have had more to do with the movie. I can't think of another character that matched hers. Not even the Poltergeist girl.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

I have to confess, DIFH, it's been a long time since I've seen Dune (not long after it came out, probably). I know it's notoriously slow, but I'll have to give it another viewing sometime.


DoItForHer 5 years ago

The second, Sci-Fi channel version, not the original, boring version.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Ah...I guess I've never seen that one. I didn't know they remade it.


uncorrectedvision profile image

uncorrectedvision 5 years ago from Indiana

Good Hub. I too am a movie buff. I am thinking long and hard about writing a hub on my favorite guilty pleasure movies but it will take a while to arrive at only five. I look forward to reading more.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Hey, thanks, uncorrectedvision. It's almost painful to reduce these lists to such a small number!

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