When Roger Corman told American International Pictures (AIP) that he wanted to make a film based on Edgar Allan Poe's, The Fall of the House of Usher, the studio balked. They didn't think that younger people would pay to see a movie based on reading teachers handed out in school. Never one to take "no" for an answer, Roger Corman pressed the issue.
He had loved reading Edgar Allan Poe when he was younger. The classic author's gothic tales of the ghastly and the macabre were ripe for the film treatment. The issue was that The Fall of the House of Usher was more psychological. AIP was known for quick films featuring creatures of every ilk that viewers knew were bad. Edgar Allan Poe's story didn't seem to have that going for it.
Eventually, AIP, probably thinking they had him licked, asked Roger Corman, "Where's the monster?" "The house is the monster." He replied. And with that, Roger Corman would begin a cycle of films based on the many works of Edgar Allan Poe. There had been horror movies that had taken place in scary homes before, but these films from Edgar Allan Poe represented a whole new level that horror could reach in the haunted house genre.
As you know, Halloween is around the corner. While it is a time of costumes, tricks, treats and scares...It is also a celebration of haunted houses. This niche industry is such a big deal that there are haunted houses that run all year long; thus jettisoning the idea that they are only for Halloween. Groups of people even pay big money to go into haunted houses and be scared out of their minds, simply to have the thrill of being trapped in such a place.
With all of this in mind, we wanted to do something special. We wanted to celebrate the haunted house and all the richness that milieu can give a film on screen. In this small space, terror can be lurking around every corner. The familiar becomes unfamiliar. The place that is supposed to be ones sanctuary can become their own personal hell. So sit back and enjoy our list of the 17 Best Haunted House Movies!
1The Shining 1980
Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is a big haunted house movie in every way. First of all, the way the Overlook Hotel (where essentially all of the movie takes place) is presented on screen is massive. It is shot in a way that I don't think we even see 1/4 of it! Yet, it still seems huge. Add to this that Stanley Kubrick used multiple sound stages and essentially created a hotel for his movie, and The Shining might just be the single best haunted house movie ever to have been lensed. What is more creepier? Jack Nicholson becoming insane after being at the Overlook for a few days? The fact that his wife (Shelley Duvall) and son (Danny Lloyd) seem to have nothing to do in this secluded cauldron? Or, the real creepy stuff like the two sisters who keep appearing, the way Danny talks to himself, or the film's soundtrack? Substituting gore for slow burn chills, The Shining is a one of kind masterpiece in this genre.
Children of the 1980s, who doesn't remember the creepy moment when the late Heather O'Rourke, after seeing apparitions crash into her parents bedroom, turned to them and declared, "They're here." What made this movie scarier than any effect director Tobe Hooper could throw in it, was the fact that it was set a suburbia that closely resembled the very towns that we were all watching this movie in. It was almost as if once the credits started, we no longer had the safety of leaving the movie. It stayed with us making our return home after seeing it that much more disturbing.
3Paranormal Activity 2009
Like Poltergeist, Paranormal Activity was set in a suburbia that we all know. So when this little tale came out of nowhere to scare the hell out of us, it was really jarring because horror films had kinda lost their mojo. The Saw franchise had entered ridiculousville and other "scary" movies were banking on editing, rather than their own content, to provide the chills. Oren Peli set his movie in everywhere USA. The house was nondescript. This worked to excellent effect because once the scares started happening, viewers got to see them in a place they were familiar with. Also, by the time that things are really going crazy, the house seemed to creep up on us. As if it was saying, "Hey, I'm a part of this too and you've made a big mistake ignoring me."
4The Amityville Horror 1979
With eyes that look like windows, this creepy house (to this day!) is a place that I find hard to visit on film. There is something about the way it is structured that just seems to be a den of evil. Add the fact that the film is based on a true story and that makes it even that much more scarier. This film follows the Lutz clan. This family of 5 moves into their new home even though they are told by their realtor of the previous carnage that has happened there. Things start getting crazy, then they get crazier, priests are brought in and suddenly it becomes apparent that everything going on isn't just bad pipes and a rotting foundation. The Amityville Horror is a great horror movie. It functions like TThe Exorcist in its ability to scare. This is probably because it is based on true events and thus we can't keep it at arm's length.
5The Conjuring 2013
It is saying something about films of the past like The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror that The Conjuring, a film very much in that ilk, did as well as it did upon its release in 2013. This tale of a large family moving into their home in the 1970s knocked the YouTube Generation on its keister. Set in a huge house that was in need of a lot of work, this movie played and worked like a relic of a bygone era. Once it becomes apparent to the parents just how much danger their family is in, it is only a matter of time until this large, darkly lit home seems to be working against everybody in the film.
Taking place in the present, the first 3/4s of Insidious are quite possibly some of the best moments EVER put on screen. Not just in the haunted house genre but ANY genre. The home in this movie is as unassuming as it gets. There is nothing about it that calls attention to itself. However, it plays with us making us wonder...Is the house possessed? Is it someone in the family? Eventually all is revealed, and the final 1/4 of this film (especially when the paranormal people arrive) leaves little to be desired. However, if you want a good scare inside your home, Insidious certainly fills that need.
John Cusack is darn near perfect in this haunted hotel room tale. He plays a man who specializes in showing how certain paranormal experiences aren't paranormal at all. He checks into the famed 1408 room at the Dolphin Hotel. This room is known for a brand of terror all it's own. It is so bad that Cusack's character has to threaten the hotel with a law suit just to be let in. As you can guess, what starts off as his character's tongue and cheek take on the room, soon changes dramatically when he realizes that the everything he's heard is real. Set inside this claustrophobic, one room set, we as viewers find ourselves wanting to break out.
8The Evil Dead 1981
The making of this demonic tale is just about as iconic as the film itself. Taking place inside one cabin, with cheaply done FX that look fantastic, The Evil Dead mixes horror and humor in the best way. This collaboration between director Sam Raimi and actor Bruce Campbell shows just how perfect these two men were for one another. The most amazing thing about this film is that it never feels small. It essentially takes place in one spot but once the demons are unleashed that never seems to call attention to itself. This film isn't a haunted house movie so much as a haunted movie that just happens to take place in a house!
Michael Keaton is so big as the title character we almost miss what an incredible house Beetlejuice takes place in. With it's white exterior, multiple levels, long hallways, and hidden spaces throughout, Beetlejuice works because we honestly believe that the events on screen could take place here. There is so much happening in this movie that we need to believe that this house is real. We want it to be real. Sure, Beetlejuice may not be that scary. However, it does show that sometimes what happens in the spirit world vs. what happens in the real world makes a lot more sense.
10What Lies Beneath 2000
Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford have never been better in this thriller, with a twist, that masquerades as a haunted house film. Basically, Michelle Pfeiffer's character thinks that her house is haunted. Of course her husband thinks she is crazy. Then things start happening that prove the house is being visited by the paranormal. From there, this horror movie turns into a thriller with truly unexpected consequences. While the house itself isn't ever really at the forefront of the scares, it is there enough to remind you to never let your guard down.
11The House on Haunted Hill 1959
Just the name alone qualifies that film for this list, right? The premise is simple. A millionaire offers five people a lot of money if they can stay in a house overnight. When you consider that Vincent Price leads this cast (a favorite of Roger Corman and his haunted house films), one need look no further than the title to see that the house in this movie is a character unto itself. With dark corridors lurking around every turn, this monstrous house (both in size and inhabitants), certainly takes its place amongst the cast which also includes a credited skeleton!
12The Orphanage 2007
The Spanish have a way with horror films and The Orphanage certainly is a standout even among the best haunted ones. This film sees a mother taking her family to the house she grew up in. The haunted home used to be an orphanage. Before anybody knows what is happening, her son in communing with entities both past and present. Shot with what seems like a candle lighting each scene, The Orphanage is literally crawling with horror. If you like your haunted house films to burn slow, then bundle up on a cold Fall night and get ready to be scared...Really scared.
13The House of the Devil 2009
his movie burst on the scene in 2012 and knocked just about everybody who saw it on their ass. With it's 1980s visual style and pacing, it's seemingly thrown away title, the moment the first frame of film lands on your eyeballs, you know you are seeing the work of a true horror genius. The house in the title truly seems to have a mind of its own. The way it is shot throughout this movie, it seems to grow and grow, engulfing both the viewer and the actors until we realize that there really is no escape. This movie could've been number one on this list. A truly original gem that shows that you can take something old and make it truly something original.
14The Innkeepers 2012
Ti West is not afraid of big sets with which to cast his lot in. For The Innkeepers, this tale is set in the Yankee Pedlar Inn. The story follows two employees who want to let the world know about the paranormal events that have gone on here. This whole plan gets upended when ghosts, literally, begin to re-inhabit the inn. This movie may not be as groundbreaking as The House of the Devil, but a haunted hotel film from Ti West is better than most films of this ilk.
15Stir of Echoes 1999
Stir of Echoes is more a film about a haunted mind than a house. Still, it is pretty darn creepy and given the time of year we are in, it is one that deserves its spot on this list. The story follows a man (Kevin Bacon) who is hypnotized and after waking from a deep trance suddenly finds himself trying to figure out a murder from beyond. While not one of the haunted house films that people might deem a classic, Stir of Echoes endures because, while haunted houses are scary, a tormented mind is even more so.
16The Woman in Black 2012
Daniel Radcliffe plays a lawyer who ventures to a distant village and soon discovers that a female ghost is reeking havoc. From there this movie follows the usual tropes we are used to seeing in horror movies. Things appear and then just as quickly disappear, the line between reality and illusion are blurred, and most importantly, the story builds to a climax that pretty much comes out of nowhere. The Woman in Black disarms us with moments that, on the face of it, seem typical. However, as the movie plays on it becomes something unique and truly terrifying.
What can you make of a film that features country singers, ghosts, a gorilla, and a spy ring all under one roof? Hillbillys in a Haunted House also features such film icons as Basil Rathbone, Lon Chaney Jr. and John Carradine. If you are looking for a good scare...This movie isn't it. If you want camp, comedy and the occasional WTF moment then you have found your film. A movie like this was probably met with head scratching befuddlement when it was released in 1967. In 2015... It would probably be compared and canonized much in the same way The Evil Dead was. And by the way, Ferlin Husky is singing in that photo, not screaming...You, on the other hand, may do the opposite!
How did we do? Are you afraid to leave the room you're sitting in? Did we miss any movies? Did we make you feel right at home? Let us know and, as always, please be nice about it... if you can!