Blog Lagoon’s 31 Days of Halloween, Day 9: 10 Great Haunted House Movies
This is the second part of a top 10 list that begins here.
5. THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963) Roger Corman developed this less-expensive-than-it-looks gem as an adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft novella, but the title was changed to that of an Edgar Allen Poe poem and the movie was repackaged by the studio. They wanted it to take its place on the mantle as part of the successful (and unofficial in every sense) Poe series Corman was cranking out at the time. By all accounts it bears little resemblance to either title. That said, it’s one of my favorite Corman films and one of Vincent Price’s best roles from that phase of his career. The palace in question has a dark mysterious past, as palaces often do, and a life of it’s own that it’s ready to impose on the next unlucky tenant. And if you don’t believe it, just ask the locals. They sure give Price an ear-full when he arrives in town. (They say it was shipped over from Europe…brick by brick! By whom? NO ONE KNOWS!) In a duel role, Price plays both the man who inherits the creepy estate, and (in a flashback opening) the evil ancestor whose spirit slowly overtakes the new homeowner. (Which means, of course, that men were being possessed by architecture long before Jack Nicholson and James Brolin.) Though not as scary as most movies on this list, HP has all the best elements of a classic haunted house movie; the aforementioned possession, dark corridors, strange sounds, suspicious servants — and for heaven’s sake, did I mention Vincent Price! Lon Chaney Jr. is here too, though it’s evident we’re seeing him at the beginning of his decline.
Here’s the trailer. (Check out that kid with no eyes!)
4. POLTERGEIST (1982) Of all the movies on this list, I have the most affection for Poltergeist. This is due, in part, to having watched it a kazillion times on cable when I was a kid. It’s a movie I really regret not seeing on the big screen during its theatrical release. (But I was eight – so watchagonnado?) However, there’s on thing that keeps it from being at the tip-top of this list, and here it is: Steven Spielberg’s heavy-handed and obvious influence (he was co-author of the screenplay and producer), which keeps Poltergeist from being the much darker movie it might have been had director Tobe “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” Hooper been left to his own twisted devices. (And believe me, the man has plenty of those.) Much of the cloying family-friendly first half hour and a lot of the “oooh-aaaah-aren’t-ghosts-beautiful-when-created-by-ILM?” moments have Speilberg’s fingerprints all over them. In the final few scenes raw terror gives way to supernatural mumbo-jumbo about not walking into lights and “dazzling” effects that look like they were lifted from Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But for most of the movie nearly everything works– and works as well as it did in 1982. Scary clown dolls, child-eating trees, maggot-faced hallucinations, and a muddy pool of corpses are all nightmarish enough. (…and can you believe what a PG-rated movie could get away with in ’82?!) Still, Poltergeist has plenty of great scare scenes that aren’t overcooked in the Spielberg special-effects kitchen. For example, I was always fond of this simple unexplainable scare Jo Beth Williams gets in her kitchen:
3. THE SHINING (1980) So, yeah…predictably The Shining is gonna’ make this list. How could it not? When you come right down to it, the Overlook Hotel is probably the most diabolical haunted house of modern horror. (That’s one way it manages to side-step the stumbling block of not actually being a house per se.) But really, what’s left to be said about The Shining that hasn’t already been said by every horror movie list drawn up by every pop-culture blogger every October? Almost everybody has seen it and almost everybody cops to being scared shitless by its Ponderosa buffet of terror. (Over here we’ve got the man in the bear suit, but be sure to help yourself to a few scoops of the hag in the bathtub and don’t forget to save room for dessert; Shelly Duvall’s “scared” face.) Stanley Kubrick knew how to bring the terror and The Shining succeeds on so many levels that I’m left wishing he’d directed a few more straight horror movies before leaving this mortal coil.
–and have you seen this? Because you need to see this:
2. LAKE MUNGO (2008) There’s a good chance Lake Mungo is the only movie on this list you’ve never heard of and that’s a damn shame. It was an Australian entry in the fourth After Dark Horrorfest collection a few years ago and it did the rounds at a few film festivals, but never got a theatrical release. The upside to that fact is that LM probably works better on a small screen because it’s designed to mimic the type of criminal investigation special that clutters the Sunday programming schedules of cable channels like MSNBC. (All that’s missing is the obnoxious narration of a B-level anchorman, but hey– thank goodness for that.) It’s the story of the hell a family goes through in the aftermath of a daughter’s mysterious death. It’s a mystery. It’s a ghost story. It’s a horror movie. And though I’m guessing some people would argue otherwise, it’s one of the best haunted house movies ever made. While it’s true the Palmer family’s house is not the central focus of the film, it’s probably the only house on this list that feels like your house. Poltergeist accomplished the same feat reasonably well, especially if you came from an upper-middle-class suburb, but Industrial Light and Magic made sure you knew you were watching the type of spooky spectacle you only find at the movies. LM, on the other hand, is often hard to distinguish as fiction. It may have one of the most realistically lived-in looking homes I’ve ever seen in a movie — like they temporarily evicted a real family to shoot a movie there. (They didn’t, incidentally.) Here’s what I said about it in this review last year (which you should read please): [Lake Mungo] shows you just how beautiful a low-budget movie can be. Cinematographer, John Brawley, knows how to capture the lonely emptiness of lost loved one’s bedroom and the menacing chill even familiar places like our homes can take on when grief and sadness seem to hang tangibly in the air. (I love quoting myself.) If you hate when someone has the audacity to say you don’t like a movie because you didn’t get it or because your lowered standards prevent you from recognizing real quality…Don’t talk to me about Lake Mungo. Oh, and guess what’s getting an American remake next year? Watch the trailer:
1. THE OTHERS (2001) – Oh, The Others…how do I love thee? From your self-playing piano to your impenetrable fog to the photos of corpses in your locked room…you are haunted house perfection. The less you know about The Others going into it, the better, so despite its top spot on this list, I’m not going to say too much more about it here. (Besides, it has a spot on another list I’m putting together so we can talk more about it later.) If you’ve never seen it, you must. If you have, now is the perfect time of year to revisit it. My appreciation of it has only intensified with repeat viewings, and chances are you’ll feel the same. Watch the trailer:
I did this post on Victorian death photography that references The Others. Check it out too.