The 10 best ghost movies

Joey King cowering and screaming in The Conjuring
Joey King as Christine in The Conjuring, among our list of the best ghost movies of all time

Winter, with its dark evenings and chilly temperatures, is the perfect time to delve into some seriously spooky ghost movies.

Throughout history humans have been fascinated by death and the afterlife, depicting spirits and demons in art, literature, music and film.

From Shakespeare to Dickens, to Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick the ghosts that haunt and torment the living are usually metaphors for something hidden or repressed waiting to rise up to the surface.

In movies, ghosts seek the help of the living to resolve unfinished business like in The Sixth Sense or they are malevolent spirits seeking vengeance or trying to feed off of the living like in The Conjuring.

Here are the 10 best ghost movies chosen by our movie experts:

10 The Innkeepers

Sara Paxton in The Innkeepers
Sara Paxton as Claire at The Yankee Pedlar hotel in The Innkeepers

The historic Yankee Pedlar inn is closing down. Claire and Luke are the only employees left working over its final week.

The old building is supposedly haunted and, with only one guest to worry about, the youngsters are keen to carry out their own amateur investigation. Soon the ghostly activity gets out of control.

The Innkeepers (Ti West, 2011, US) starts out nice and low-key. It feels real; most people have had a boring job and shared ghost ‘sightings’ to liven things up.

The characters are likable and the slow burn pays off when the movie ramps up the fear factor in the final third. The Innkeepers is a movie that will stay with you.

9 The Frighteners

Michael J Fox in The Frighteners
Michael J Fox in The Frighteners, directed by Peter Jackson of The Lord of the Rings fame

Frank Bannister (Michael J Fox) is able to see ghosts. He uses his ability to con the residents of his town into paying for his ‘ghost busting’ services until a sinister spirit starts killing the towns’ people.

Bannister investigates the spectral serial killings and tries to stop them.

Peter Jackson started out in low budget horror and The Frighteners (1996, NZ/US) was his first big budget Hollywood effort.

It is a charming ghost movie that mixes comedy, special effects, and horror to create a memorable tale of a disillusioned man learning to love again.

There is not much gore but it doesn’t skimp on the shocks.

8 Ju-on: The Grudge

Megumi Okina cowers away from a bloodied hand in Ju-on: The Grudge
Ju-on: The Grudge is the third instalment in Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on series

Takeo murders his wife Kayako and son Toshio after he discovers she has had an affair.

Kayako and Toshio come back as onryõ (vengeful spirits) cursing anyone who enters the house where they died.

The cursed person spreads the curse to the next place where they die.

Possibly the pinnacle of J-horror, The Grudge (Shimizu, 2002, JP) is a bit like a death curse chain letter.

The murder house is the source of the misery but it quickly spreads as each victim meets with their inevitable fate.

Stylish and haunting, Japanese ghost movies like The Grudge inspired the modern western horror scene and prompted dozens of American remakes of its most terrifying movies.

7 1408

John Cusack looks at a noose hanging from the ceiling in 1408
John Cusack in 1408, based on the 1999 Stephen King short story of the same name

Mike Enslin (John Cusack) earns a living writing about ‘haunted’ hotel rooms but is himself skeptical about the afterlife since the death of his daughter.

The manager of the Dolphin hotel (Sam Jackson) tries to stop Enslin from staying in room 1408 claiming that the room is evil. Enslin soon discovers that he may be right.

1408 (Håfström, 2007, US) is based on a Stephen King short story and is undoubtedly one of the most terrifying adaptions of his work.

John Cusack’s ‘lovable cynic’ persona is put to good use making us worry if he will make it out alive.

1408 is claustrophobic one moment and an ever-changing alternate reality the next. It will mess with your mind.

6 Dead of Night

Michael Redgrave holding a dummy in Dead of Night
Michael Redgrave as ventriloquist Maxwell Frere with his dummy in Dead of Night

Architect Walter Craig gets serious déjà vu when he unexpectedly meets an array of unknown guests at his friend’s country house. Walter has a feeling of impending dread.

The guests try to cheer him up by recounting their own tales of the supernatural including a possessed ventriloquist’s dummy and a haunted mirror.

Horror movies were banned from distribution in Britain during WWII so Dead of Night (Cavalcanti, Crichton, Dearden, Hamer, 1945, UK) which is essentially a horror anthology with an overarching story, was a triumphant return for the classic ghost story.

Made by several prominent Ealing Studios directors Dead of Night superbly captures the atmosphere of a spooky, fireside tale and is genuinely unsettling.

5 The Conjuring

Annabelle the doll in The Conjuring
Annabelle the Raggedy Ann doll in a scene from The Conjuring

The Perron family move into a draughty old farmhouse and are soon plagued by spirits. Mrs. Perron invites the Warrens’ (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) in to investigate.

Mrs. Warren has psychic visions that lead her to believe that a dangerous demon is feeding off of the family’s energy.

Master of horror James Wan creates hands over the eyes terror with The Conjuring, (2013, US) based on a case investigated by real-life demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren.

He uses devices such as a children’s game and a creepy wardrobe (it definitely doesn’t lead to Narnia) to build up the fear. This movie also first introduced the world to the creepy Annabelle doll.

4 Poltergeist

JoBeth Williams being attacked by a skeleton in Poltergeist
JoBeth Williams as Diane Freeling in a terrifying scene from Poltergeist

The Freeling family lives in a new housing development built by Mr. Freeling’s employers. Strange phenomena start to occur at the property.

The family is initially excited about this until youngest daughter Carol Anne gets sucked into the spirit world through the TV. They call in a team of paranormal investigators to help save their daughter.

Bizarre, terrifying, exhilarating and heart-warming Poltergeist (Hooper, 1982, US) was one of the most important paranormal movies of the 80s influencing modern movies like Insidious.

Spielberg produced; giving this family drama its familiar, suburban side, and horror maestro Tobe Hooper directed, which is why a man peels his own face off in the mirror.

3 The Amityville Horror

Helen Shaver screaming in The Amityville Horror
Helen Shaver as Carolyn in The Amityville Horror

Mr. and Mrs. Lutz (James Brolin and Margot Kidder) get a good deal on their new home because it was the site of a horrific mass murder.

The family starts to experience strange happenings coupled with financial difficulties causing Mr. Lutz to become increasingly aggressive towards his family.

Amityville (Rosenberg, 1979, US) has everything you could want out of a horror movie; dark and gritty true-life murder, a haunted house with a mind of its own, an ancient Indian burial ground, priests and even satanic worship.

Amityville is based on the famous ‘real life’ account of the Lutz family’s spooky experiences in their Long Island home in the 1970’s.

2 The Shining

Shelley Duvall wields a baseball bat in The Shining
Shelley Duvall wielding a baseball bat as Wendy Torrance in The Shining

Danny Torrance has ‘the shining’; a mix of telepathy and precognition.

Danny’s father, Jack, is taking the family to live in the empty Overlook hotel where he will be the out-of-season caretaker.

Danny knows the horrors that await him but, as a child, he is powerless to prevent them.

“You’ve always been the caretaker. I should know Sir, I’ve always been here.” These are the chilling words of one of the many spirits haunting the Overlook in The Shining (1980, UK/US), Kubrick’s masterful adaption of Stephen King’s blockbuster novel.

The strange symmetry of the architecture of the hotel adds to the uncanny sense that it is the hotel itself controlling events throughout.

1 The Sixth Sense

Haley Joel Osment as Cole Sear looks at a glowing light in The Sixth Sense
Haley Joel Osment as loner child Cole Sear in The Sixth Sense

Child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is struggling to build a rapport with intelligent loner Cole (Haley Joel Osment).

Cole can “see dead people” but is struggling to make his mother, teachers and the children at his school understand his trauma.

The Sixth Sense (1999, US) is the quintessential ghost movie. M. Night Shyamalan fills every inch of the frame with a quiet, mournful atmosphere helped by the spooky red brick houses and windswept streets of the Philadelphia locations.

Putting the game-changer twist ending to one side, this is a movie that you can watch repeatedly and continue to find new points of interest in its performances and staging. Spooktacular!

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