Blog Lagoon’s 31 Days of Halloween, Day 6: Ten Great Haunted House Movies (10 – 6)

Phooey on The Amityville Horror — and it’s remake too for that matter. What could possibly be scary about a based-on-a-true-story haunted house movie that was long ago outed as a phony pulp horror novel fantasy? Disembodied pig heads…”GET OUT!”…the doll in the rocking chair…the “red room”…James Brolin’s facial hair…I agree that in “real life” each of those things have the potential to scare the bejesus out of me. But AH is a sham and that’s a drag. So I ask: Why settle for watching bogus non-fiction horror when you could enjoy a much better, proudly fictional haunted house movie? Here are my favorites:

10. Burnt Offerings
 (1976) People keep dying in a beautiful but dilapidated mansion — too bad for the summer caretakers; Oliver Reed, Karen Black, and their precocious preteen son. They’re getting the summer vacation house for a steal, but there’s a catch: BETTE DAVIS(!) as the 85-year-old lady who’ll be staying all summer too, locked away in her upstairs room. The other catch is that the house is pretty much alive and restoring itself with each life it claims. BO is a little slow in spots, but no one holds a candle to Reed and Black for hammy scene-devouring intensity. They keep things lively.

 9. House (1986)  William Katt moves into his dead aunt’s old home to write his Vietnam memoir only to find that it’s a gateway to hell  hijinks. It’s not the scariest haunted house movie you’ll ever see (half the time the movie is playing for laughs, and half the time succeeding), but it does have the Greatest American Hero fighting Night Court‘s Bull, with the help of Cheers‘ Norm — AND it makes interesting use of the Linda Ronstadt hit “You’re No Good.” Also, it’s one of the first horror movies I watched by myself as a kid, so I have an enduring affection for it.

8. Dead of Night
(1945) A group of strangers, including a nightmare-plagued architect, are assembled for mostly unrelated reasons at an English farmhouse. The architect recognizes the strangers from the recurring dream he fears is coming true. This starts a conversation in which each guest shares a story about their own personal brush with the supernatural, setting up the movie’s anthology structure. Each segment offers its own rewards but “the Christmas party” segment resonates as a perfect little haunted house story. To tell you anything more would spoil the tale’s surprise.

Watch a clip from “the Christmas Party” segment of Dead of Night at

7. The House on Haunted Hill
(1959) The house on haunted hill isn’t really haunted — OR IS IT?! Vincent Price and his sexpot wife host a party in the titular location. If the guests can stay the entire night  in the creepy mansion (they’re locked in), they’ll get to split a fortune. But a series of scares and near-misses leave each of them wondering if they’ll survive to see morning. This is easily my favorite William Castle movie; well-written, great performances, and genuine scares that stand the test of time.

6. The Haunting (1963) Directed by Robert Wise and based on The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, The Haunting is considered the quintessential haunted house movie by many, and rightfully so. A psychic researcher (Richard Johnson), a clairvoyant (Claire Bloom), a young woman with a childhood history of paranormal troubles (Julie Christy), and a relative to the owners of the sinister, gothic location (Russ Tamblyn), visit Hill House to assist in the Doc’s ghost research. The Haunting is a beautifully shot black and white marvel that mines its scares from the psyches of its primaries and some subtle unexplained phenomena that terrify by leaving almost everything to the imagination. The longer the guests stay at Hill House the more it becomes a character of its own; with a personality built on a dark history that somehow seems to involve Christie’s Eleanor. (…and for the record, it’s best to pretend the 1999 remake never even happened.)

Next time numbers 5 through 1.  

~ by Number5ive on October 13, 2010.

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