"The Shining" (1980)
“No sir, YOU are the caretaker. You've always been the caretaker. I ought to know: I've always been here.” If you’ve seen "The Shining," and really, who hasn't, it's only natural to recall the name Overlook Hotel with a bit of a shiver running down your spine. The vast hallways and cavernous studies are used to brilliant effect by director Stanley Kubrick, and the hotel has gotten its fare shake of praise as a particularly malevolent character in the film. Essentially the unseen villain of the piece, the evil of the hotel manifests inexplicably and often so momentarily that the effect is terrifically disturbing, with the viewer glimpsing only bits and pieces of a descent into madness that fully takes hold of protagonist Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson). Kubrick lets Nicholson run wild and the payoff once the man gets into his crazy mode is satisfying and genuinely spine-chilling. A master craftsman, Kubrick gives personality to set design, making the Overlook Hotel one of the most famous locations in film history. It's a film so rich and beautifully executed that it transcends its genre, but that doesn't mean that it's not still one of the scariest films ever made.
Far from the scarefest it was marketed as, Steve Miner’s “House” is actually a fitfully funny horror picture with a wonderfully gimmicky hook. William Katt, completely game, plays a horror novelist who struggles to come to grips with the disappearance of his son when he moves into the haunted abode of his late aunt. When he finds that the spirits of the house have something to do with his lost child, he begins a battle that delves straight into his subconscious, particularly his Vietnam memories. Despite dealing with a lot of heady subjects, “House,” populated entirely by mugging TV actors, is a lightweight diversion, piling on slapstick that meshes well with the camp ickiness of the (now tame) splatter effects. Not a classic as such, but settle down with a few beers and some candy stolen from kids and you'll have a pretty good time. And it's almost as scary as the prospect of another half-dozen series of Hugh Laurie being lovably grouchy.
"Monster House" (2006)
It's telling that "Monster House" is adorned with an Amblin Entertainment logo, complete with the indelible "E.T."-riding-across-the-moon since the movie feels, for all intents and purposes, like some lost "Steven Spielberg presents" movie from the 1980s. Except, of course, that "Monster House" was released in the summer of 2006 as one of the first movies to utilize the new 3D technology that replaced the goofy blue-and-red glasses with even goofier Buddy Holly plastic models. Oh, and the film, a gorgeously rendered animated trifle by first time director Gil Kenan, was utilized with the "motion capture" technique that brought limited life to "The Polar Express" ('Express' director Robert Zemeckis was a producer on "House"). Except that instead of going for slightly creepy photo-realism, the filmmakers went for a boldly stylized and cartoony look that seems to be a combination of design influences from both the 1950s and 1980s, and it made it probably the most successful use of the form to date. Unlike most haunted house movies, the titular abode in "Monster House" is literally alive, and it's up to a trio of neighborhood kids to keep the house at bay until Halloween, when the house could gobble up each and every trick-or-treater. There's an unexpected pathos to the house's background, and a pleasant truthfulness to the relationship between the kids, but Kenan doesn't forget the scares: this is a movie that feels like, in time, it'll become an essential annual Halloween watch, along with "It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas."
"House on Haunted Hill" (1959)
The master of macabre, Vincent Price, is at his best in this chilling original (avoid the Geoffrey Rush-led remake like the plague), as ritzy millionaire Fredrick Loren, in perhaps the essential film from the master of gimmickry, William Castle. As in many of these films, the house is every bit a character in itself, sending chills and taking viewers back to a time when scares came from what hid behind the door, not from hokey CG images in post-production. As creepy as the house is, Loren’s exchanges with his wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) are just as haunting. Lines like “Darling, the only ghoul in the house is you,” are delivered fearlessly and effortlessly from Ohmart, and Price eats up scenes with devilish dialogue of his own. An influence on Hitchcock's "Psycho," it’s certainly not a film for the A.D.D. generation but if you have an appreciation for classics that Hollywood foolishly remade, and don’t we all, then this is a solid Halloween addition to your movie marathon. For the full effect, however, you'll need a zipline and a plastic skeleton: the original release was accompanied by 'Emergo' - a skeleton that would float above the heads of the audience at a key moment.