Continuing our countdown of the top five haunted house horror movies of all time:
2. Poltergeist (1982) Dir: Tobe Hopper
Carol Anne Touching The TV
Everyone’s favourite director of power tool related massacring films knocked it out of the park with one of the most recognisable family haunted house films, Poltergesist.
The film follows a family as they move into a new house unfortunately built on an Indian burial ground-I’d be asking for a new conveyancing solicitor! The ghost like presence in the house focuses on the youngest child played by Heather O’Rourke who unfortunately passed away some years later.
The tension is built methodically with minimal activity at first building as the house takes hold of the family. Where Poltergeist is so effective is the use of a family unit, the threat of the destruction of the family through the torment of the spirit is every parents nightmare especially with centring the attention on the younger child, Carol Anne.
The film, tightly directed by Hooper became the subject of much speculation that the films producer, Steven Spielberg had actually took over directing duties. An unfair comparison when looking at Texas Chainsaw Massacre and how tension is handled in that film compared to Poltergeist, both have a lingering under tension, an ongoing sense of imminent destruction and a break down and rebuilding of a family unit. If anything the slickness of the look of the film makes it look more Hollywood when perhaps it would have been even scarier had Hooper done it on a no budget.
Either way Poltergeist remains the pinnacle for haunted house films in modern Hollywood both for its handling of rising drama and its use of the archetypal American family to engage the audience.
Perhaps an odd choice for a haunted house film in view of the weight of the talent involved. Stanley Kubrick was coming off a decade of redefining the historical epic and creating one of the most controversial films of all time. Similarly Jack Nicholson had produced an Oscar winning performance for One Flew Over the Cuckoos nest so what would happen when these two heavyweights got together?
First off there are several interpretations of The Shining and to view it simply as a haunted house film is perhaps short sighted but the overarching story is that of a family in a hotel where spooky goings on are taking place.
Jack’s descent into madness is surrounded by those tormented spirits that inhabit the hotel and in the end it is conversation with the spirit of Grady that push Jack to the murderous climax.
The beauty of The Shining is many fold, the graceful camerawork, the maze like corridors of the hotel echoed by the maze in the garden, the subtle but continuous ratcheting up of the tension. Many people view it as a horror film secondary to a Stanley Kubrick film, there’s nothing wrong with that but next time you view it just spend time and really think about the horror elements in the film – the witch in the bedroom, the creepy twin girls, the blood spewing lift. The Shining is a masterpiece of modern horror, a psychological study of a mans fragile psyche, a critique of the breakdown of the family unit but most of all a damn scary ghost film.
Part of our infrequent series detailing the top five greatest ever haunted house movies.
Amityville II: The Possession (1982) Dir: Damiano Damiani
Still from Amityville 2
Everybody’s favourite haunted house movie franchise is back! The sequel (or rather prequel) to 1979’s The Amityville Horror recounts the story of what happened to the original family who moved into the real life New York house. Built on a site of an Indian Burial ground the family start having strange occurrences round the house, nothing to get too alarmed about – every new house has it’s faults. The real problems start happening when the oldest son, Sonny starts to hear voices through his Walkman leading to him possession by an unnamed demon. All good stuff!
The film was helmed by Italian Exploitationer Damiano Damiani, usually at home with Spaghetti Westerns or Euro-cop thrillers which seems an odd choice but what he brings is that Italian style that makes the film feel a lot more raw and certainly a lot more close to the bone that the original Hollywood film. The film centres more around Sonny and his relationship with the spirit than it does the house and it’s grip over the family but this leads to a more interesting dynamic held together by Jack Magner who plays Sonny, strangely he only had one other bit part in 1984’s Firestarter after this.
The film looks nowhere near as slick as the 79 version and jump out of your seat scares are few and far between but the impending sense of dread as the family unit begins to disintegrate is nail tearing stuff. Where the film loses pace is three quarters through where we get into the legal ramblings of why Sonny did what he did but what we have to consider is this is based on an actual case and to leave out the follow up to the incident would seem inappropriate (no matter how far stretched the truth is).
A lot of people would argue that the original film is a superior film and it is true to an extent, certainly technically and narratively but all good haunted house films should suck you in and ratchet up the tension rather than opting for cheap I Know what you did Last Summer scares, in this case Amityville II stands head and shoulders above it’s counterparts.
This will be an infrequent part to the blog, detailing the top 5 greatest haunted house movies.
Ju-On – Dir: Takashi Shimizu (2000)
The advent of the Ringu films in the 90’s brought about a spate of Far Eastern horror flicks at the turn of the century, commonly known as J-Horror. Ju-On is one of the most effective of the genre, leading to several sequels as well as an American remake that in turned spawned a series of decreasingly bad films. The premise (if there is one) follows a series of events triggered from a house in inner city Japan where a brutal murder of a wife and son took place. Each visitor and in turn individual caught up in the history of the house suffers an ever increasing creepy death centered around the apparition of the dead mother or boy as they become part of the Ju-On or Curse.
The plot is thread bear if I was to be generous but the set pieces are incredibly effective, we get all manner of contorted, long haired, meowing werido ghosts and they bleed so well into the real life of the characters that after you finishing watching you’ll walk about the house checking behind you every five minutes to see if there isn’t a pale Japanese Cat Ghost behind you.
Unlike the more westernized versions, the ghosts traditionally in Japanese horror are more tangible – they physically interact with characters which provides a far more scary scenario than a poltergeist just chucking a plate across the room (more of that later). Generally the J-Horror films did struggle with narratives but made up for it in individual scenes and general f*cking creepiness. Sometimes you just have to go with it even if it doesn’t make sense, J-Horror at it’s best.