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Classic Movies About Ghosts
Classic Movies for a Spooky Evening Anytime of the Year
Although they're always on TV around Halloween, anytime is the right time for classic movies about ghosts. Whether it scares you, romances you or makes you laugh, a good classic ghost movie should contain several elements. First, it should have a spooky old house that contains secrets. (Ooohh.) Second, it should have someone who is trying to uncover those secrets, at potentially great peril to himself. (Danger!) Third, it should have enough twists and turns to keep your attention. (Look out!)
All the films on this list meet that criteria in spades. Check them out for yourself and see if you agree!
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THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940)
"The Ghost Breakers" is one of my favorite Bob Hope films. In it, he plays a crime reporter named Lawrence Lawrence who runs afoul of a local crime boss. When he mistakenly thinks he's killed one of the mobster's henchman, Lawrence hides in the hotel room of beautiful heiress Mary Carter (Paulette Godard), who has just inherited a mysterious island estate. She is packing to visit there and, unbeknownst to her, Lawrence hides in her steamer trunk to avoid the law. The two finally meet face to face on board the ship and, once he hears of the ghosts and zombies that are rumored to live on the island, Lawrence decides to accompany Carter as her bodyguard. The film is fast-paced and funny, with enough classic movie spookiness to keep you guessing.
"The Ghost Breakers" on DVD
The "Ghost Breakers" was twice filmed in the silent era: in 1914 (directed by Cecil B. DeMille) and in 1922. It appeared again as a Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis film called "Scared Stiff" with a cameo by...Bob Hope.
In this adaptation of Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw," Deborah Kerr plays Miss Giddens, a new governess who is hired to care for two wealthy children in a bleak country house. The children are at first delightful, but Miss Giddens comes to be troubled by their occasionally disturbing behavior. She has also seen visions of a man and a woman, who the housekeeper identifies as the former nanny and valet, both deceased. Could these events be a product of Miss Giddens imagination, or is something more sinister going on?
"The Innocents" on DVD
THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN (1966)
Don Knotts stars as Luther Heggs, a nervous typesetter at a small town newspaper who longs to be a reporter. When his editor gives him the chance to investigate a decades old murder house by spending the night there, Heggs comes out traumatized, telling stories of floating candelabras and self-playing organs. The owner of the house then sues the paper for libel, making Heggs a laughingstock in the process. The judge, however, orders the courtroom back to the house, giving Heggs a chance to prove his story. I loved Don Knotts as a kid but didn't appreciate his brilliance until I was adult. Watch this and see it for yourself.
The mansion seen in the opening minutes of "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken" is better known as 1313 Mockingbird Lane on "The Munsters."
Don Knotts on DVD
THE HAUNTING (1963)
In this film classic based on "The Haunting of Hell House" by Shirley Jackson, a team of parapsychologists take a possibly unstable young woman to spend the night in a sinister old mansion. The lead scientist, Dr. Markaway, believes the investigation will definitively prove the existence of ghosts. What they uncover may prove to be more than any of them expected. "The Haunting" is directed by Robert Wise (in a radical departure from "The Sound of Music") with a cast that includes Julie Harris, Russ Tamblyn and Claire Bloom.
"The Haunting" on DVD
CANTERVILLE GHOST (1944)
Charles Laughton plays Sir Simon of Canterville, a 17th century aristocrat who is walled up in his room alive after fleeing a duel. His father dooms him to live in the castle as a ghost until one of his descendants performs an act of bravery. Enter Cuffy Williams, (Robert Young) an American WWII soldier who is billeted at the castle, and who is a distant relative of Sir Simon. Will Cuffy be able to break the family curse, or will he prove to be as cowardly as the rest of them?
"The Canterville Ghost" on DVD
GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (1947)
Based on the novel by R.A. Dick, Gene Tierney plays Lucy, a widow who moves into an English country house with her young daughter (nine-year old Natalie Wood). Despite warnings that the house might be haunted, Lucy moves in anyway and eventually meets the ghost of the previous owner, a pompous, bullying sea captain named Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison). When Lucy refuses to be scared by him, she gains his respect by and the two become friends. Eventually Gregg learns of the family's dire financial circumstances and he dictates his memoirs to Lucy, which become a best-seller.
The same source material later became a TV series starring Hope Lange and Edward Mulhare.
"The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" on DVD
THE UNINVITED (1944)
A composer (Ray Milland) and his sister (Ruth Hussey) move into an old Cornish house, unaware of its dark past. They are visited by Stella (Gail Russell) who comes to believe the house is haunted by the ghost of her mother, who may be trying to hurt her. Stella's grandfather seems to know more than he is saying and, in classic movie fashion, they come to discover there is another ghost present, tied to a deep dark secret. An under-appreciated gem.
Director Guillermo del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth") has listed "The Uninvited' as one of his favorite "fright flicks."