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Halloween Feature: 10 Haunted House Films You'll Never Forget

by The Playlist Staff
October 29, 2010 3:32 AM
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"The Orphanage" (2007)
The niftiest aspect of "The Orphanage," an uncannily good Spanish haunted house movie directed by Juan Antonio Bayona and produced by genre favorite Guillermo del Toro, is that, at its heart, it's a rather old-fashioned melodrama that just so happens to be wrapped inside of a ghost story. It's like "The Shining" meets "All That Heaven Allows," with an emphasis on repressed psychological trauma. Laura (Belen Rueda from "The Sea Inside") decides, for perverse reasons that pay off dramatically, to purchase the orphanage where she grew up (since then, she has adopted a young boy) and refurbish it, to give other unfortunates a chance at a normal upbringing. Of course, the ghosts of the past, both literal (a small, sack-faced boy named Tomas that looks like a nightmare creation out of "Little Big Planet") and metaphoric (said traumas) spring up almost immediately. What follows is equal parts tragedy and boo-gasp horror (there are a couple of moments that will elicit audible screams from even the most hardened moviegoer). The movie has a melancholic feel of resignation and an absolutely heartbreaking final act, where what may have seemed like cheap scares early on pay off beautifully. "The Orphanage," artfully directed by Bayona in muted colors and embellished with a suitably haunting score by Fernando Valazquez, is a slow-burn of a haunted house movie, as emotionally engaging as it is terrifying, and a genuine modern classic in the genre.

Honorable Mentions:
"The Orphanage" isn't the only recent film to take a spin at the genre: although the likes of "The Haunting in Connecticut" aren't really worth mentioning, del Toro himself produced an excellent example in "The Devil's Backbone," while Alejandro Amenabar's "The Others" is terrific too. The John Cusack vehicle "1408" is pretty decent as well, even if it loses its way near the end, while some on staff have a soft spot for Walter Salles' "Dark Water." Further back, the original "The Amityville Horror" is worth a look, while the original "Evil Dead" is more of a haunted house film than a zombie picture. 1981's "The Entity," with Barbara Hershey, and the 1980 Canadian flick "The Changeling," with an excellent central performance from George C. Scott, are both worth a look as well. And for lighter takes on spooky happenings, Neil Jordan's "High Spirits" is deeply flawed, but enjoyable, and Tim Burton's "Beetlejuice" is probably the definitive haunting comedy.

-- Gabe Toro, Jessica Kiang, Drew Taylor, Adam Sweeney, Mark Zhuravsky, Danielle Johnsen, Oliver Lyttelton

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  • Val Lewton's Valet | October 10, 2013 1:36 PMReply

    Two suggestions to add to this list:

    1. Coraline (2009)
    I know, I know, it's for kids. Except it's not just for kids because it is super creepy. And for one very good reason: few cinematic characters have ever demonstrated as much treacly menace as The Other Mother. This is the only movie that I really wish I had seen in 3-D. I would put this one ahead of Monster House by at least 2 lengths. Not that Monster House is bad -- it's really quite entertaining. But Coraline has the goods. And the old, creaky house setting is fun.

    2. The Seventh Victim (1943)
    Stay with me here. I know it is not a haunted "house", per se, but the movie creates places -- a Greenwich Village apartment building and the shadowy New York streets surrounding it -- that have palpable menace. You have a sense of place and you just know something sinister is going on there, even if it isn't clear whether it has any supernatural origin. Very creepy.

  • Val Lewton's Valet | October 10, 2013 1:46 PM

    I couldn't resist adding just one more, although I am sure it is on a number of other lists:

    Suspiria (1977)
    This waking nightmare is unsettling for at least a dozen reasons, including the score and the sound production. To me, however, it is the primary setting -- an oozing-with-satanic-menace European dance academy -- that really puts it over the top.

  • Jake | April 26, 2013 5:29 PMReply

    Best haunted house comedy is "The Selling"

  • MishuPishu | October 31, 2010 11:49 AMReply

    Nice. Poltergeist scared the crap out of me when I was a kid but The Shining always creeps me out (it's almost scary how well-made the movie is).

    Another film, made back in the late 90's, that is off the radar but has a cool independent creepy style is The Eternal, with an old house in the countryside where Christopher Walken plans to pass the spirit of an ancient druid witch into an unsuspecting Allison Elliot.

  • TheoC | October 29, 2010 8:14 AMReply

    Poltergeist was the last movie to scare me, well that and the Happening(just mark wahlberg), I really want see the innocents now.

    Great feature this week, well done.

  • taptup | October 29, 2010 7:41 AMReply

    @ Lookf4r

    Considering the limited range of elements on which horror movies are based, I'd say that's the only similarity.

    Good feature, but I can understand why Kevin didn't sign (whatever?)

  • The Playlist | October 29, 2010 4:54 AMReply


  • randy | October 29, 2010 4:50 AMReply

    this is the best feature ever.

  • Lookf4r | October 29, 2010 4:05 AMReply

    I watched the changeling and the similarities to the ring blew my mind. Specifically the portion where he goes on his investigation to the rural hotel and find a hole in the floor concealing a well with a dead body.

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