What’s scarier than what you can see? What you can’t see.
Ghosts have been the stars of horror movies (and our nightmares) for many years now. And although special effects are getting better and better, some of the top paranormal movies are those from the past. From eerie sound effects to creepy lighting, there’s no scare quite like a jump scare.
Take a journey through horror film history with our list of the top 13 ghost movies.
Also, read at your own risk because slight SPOILER ALERTS.
13. The Amityville Horror (1979)
Moving to a new place is hard enough. Moving into a house with a pretty gruesome past is harder. Just ask the Lutz Family. When a real estate agent fully discloses that a mass murder happened inside the house, it’s probably wise to listen to them. Okay, so maybe your first instinct isn’t to run for the hills but after news like that, your next step should be to research the plot of land to make sure your house wasn’t built atop a tribal burial ground. Luckily the Lutz family figured that out by the end and were able to move their family to another state.
Thanks to eerie sounds and dim lighting, The Amityville Horror is fondly remembered by those who saw it in 1979 as one of the scariest movies they had seen to that point. The movie, which is based on a novel, which is supposedly based on a true story, was filmed in Toms River, NJ, but the actual house remains in Long Island, NY.
12. Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)
Sometimes when you take a job, you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. That’s what happened to Rika when she accepted the task of looking in on Chiharu. Then, during the course of her volunteer work, strange things start happening to her in the house and she’s constantly faced with feelings of dread. Turns out that everyone who steps foot in that house is cursed and pursued by a mother and son duo who just so happened to die in the house.
It’s another one of the films on this list that incorporates a catchphrase. This one just happens to be a low pitched half moan, half growl that still makes my hair stand up whenever I hear it. There’s just something about creepy kids that make movies like this more terrifying than they have to me.
11. Insidious (2010)
Like father, like son they say, right? When their son Dalton goes into a coma, strange things start to happen around the house. Voices are heard through baby monitors and entities are not only seen but they are also able to physically assault the family. Because of these occurrences, the family moves to a new home but the strange things just seem to follow them.
It’s in their new place that it’s revealed that Josh, the father, had a similar experience with spirits when he was younger. This is the reason that he and only he can save his astral projecting son from the dimension named “The Further”. But before they can retreat back to their world, Josh takes the time to confront the spirit that tormented him as a child. You had one job, Josh. One job. There’s a second and a third movie in this franchise you know happily ever after isn’t a thing here.
10. The Ring (2002)
If there was ever a ghost that was misunderstood, it would be Samara. Thought to be evil by her adoptive parents, she came to her untimely demise at the hands of her mother. I’d be pretty pissed too if I got dumped in a well, so I can’t really blame Samara for killing the people who watch the videotape. But when Rachel is asked to investigate her niece’s strange death, she never thought she too would be stuck in the week-long limbo between life and death.
Even if you haven’t watched The Ring you’ve probably heard people whisper into their phones, “Seven days.” Or you’ve seen the premise get spoofed time and time again. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, right?
9. Paranormal Activity (2007)
Katie is one girl who has some serious baggage. She and Micah are engaged to be engaged but she also has this ghost that’s been haunting her since childhood that has followed them to their new house. So they bring in a professional who reveals that this is the truth. Despite the suggestion to not try to make contact with the entity, Micah video tapes the weird things happening in the house, sometimes even involving Katie.
Then he does the one thing he was advised not to do and brings home a Ouija board and after that everything changes. The ghost gets physical and starts physically harming Katie. And after a night away in a hotel, Katie suggests they go back. Micah, who had previously been stubborn to all suggestions, agrees. Luckily the camera was rolling to catch the climactic ending. And so a franchise was born.
8. The Others (2001)
The best thing about this movie is that you don’t know who to be afraid of. There’s plenty of creepy things going on in the house. And since this one is set in the past, Grace and her kids don’t have some of the solutions modern luxuries allow. It also doesn’t help that she and her two kids live in a darkened house due to their photosensitive condition.
With a completely new staff, because her previous set of servants just up and left the family without leaving word, Grace tries to carry on life as usual. But strange things start happening. They can hear people talking, things moving, music playing. Even little Ann starts communicating with a little boy Victor and tells stories about his parents, who are also lurking in the house. Once the curtains disappear things take a turn for the worst as Grace discovers something about her new staff. In another great twist ending, we find out who is the haunted and who is doing the haunting.
7. The Sixth Sense (1999)
They say children and animals are most likely to see ghostly presences, so it should be no surprise that Cole Sear sees dead people. After being shot by an ex-patient with similar ailments, Malcolm Crowe saw Cole as his chance to redeem himself and cure the boy. But he soon realizes that Cole’s delusions might not be delusions at all so he encourages him to interact with the ghosts to find out how he can help them. Malcolm, as Cole’s therapist, essentially pushes the boy to be the ghosts’ therapist and find out just what unfinished business they may have.
I don’t know about you, but that seems like a pretty great story about a boy helping ghosts. What could go wrong? Maybe the fact that poor 9-year-old Cole has to deal with some pretty gruesome situations. He’s visited by ghosts that reveal to him the evil that is all around him. And I guess you can say this scary movie had a happy ending because Cole’s mother finally believes in his gift and Malcolm realizes why he was really sent to help the boy.
6. The Conjuring (2013)
A family moves into a farm house and thinks everything is great. But clue number one for them should’ve been that their dog wouldn’t step foot in the house. Clue number two that it was time to get out of there was when said dog turns up dead and the families had weird bruises on their bodies.
I have to hand it to them. They were smart enough to bring in some paranormal investigators to help them with their problem. The farther the investigation went, the more they discovered about the history of the property. The murders and suicides all led back to the accused witch, Bathsheba, who was found sacrificing her infant. Before her suicide, she cursed the land and since then, mothers have been possessed by her spirit and forced to kill their own children. Although it was over for Carolyn and her family, Bathsheba’s story might not be.
5. The Exorcist (1973)
The only little kid creepier than Reagan is probably Damian but we’ll save him for a different list. This movie is essentially a cautionary tale about Ouija boards. From her ability to turn her head all the way around, to the pea soup vomit and her super strength ability, it’s crazy to think that Reagan could be saved. Many tried and failed, that’s for sure. The more they tried to more angry the possessing demon got. The demon was strong but in the end Karras was stronger, putting an end to the whole ordeal.
Luckily the sweet little Reagan didn’t remember anything from the possession to the exorcism. Unfortunately for us, we can’t unsee the horrors she committed while possessed. I don’t know about you but I can’t even look at Linda Blair without having flashbacks to the whole ordeal.
4. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Since the premiere of The Blair Witch Project storytelling hasn’t been the same. Is this the scariest ghost movie? No. But the handheld camera and documentary-type storytelling have paved the way for many horror movies to come.
Blair was a town in Maryland in the 1700s and Elly Kedward was found guilty of witchcraft. Since her banishment, the town was cursed with unexplained disappearances that usually ended up with finding disemboweled bodies. The stories intrigued three film students so much that they decided to investigate. All of their interviews seemed to point them to the woods, so naturally they set off to explore. Remember, this was set in a time before things like cellphones and GPS were readily available so getting lost was a real problem. As the relationship between the filmmakers deteriorated, the suspense leading up to the impending doom just kept building. Although the footage was discovered, it really lent no clues as to what was happening and we may never know…
3. Poltergeist (1982)
The only movie more obvious about the subject matter is Ghost but just as the word poltergeist is more ominous than ghost, so is the movie. And really, have we stressed enough to do your research before moving into a house? Here’s another example of what could happen if your house is built on a not-so-relocated cemetery.
This one doesn’t start off too bad. I mean the spirits start playing harmful tricks on the family, causing only mild concern. But this wouldn’t be on our list if the humans and the spirits lived happily ever after together. The family discovers that this isn’t just a normal haunting. They’re dealing with poltergeist and there’s a very evil presence that’s entertained by the fact that both the family and the other spirits are lost and confused within the chaos. It even get so pissed to be defeated that it sucks the house into another dimension. It’s probably smart that the family stays away from televisions sets for a while.
2. The Shining (1980)
This is arguably one of the most influential films of all time. Even if you haven’t watched it you probably know quotes like “Here’s Johnny!” and “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” and the word Redrum makes you quiver.
The amount of weird going on at the Overlook Hotel has no limit: from Danny and Dick’s telepathic gifts to room 237 to the twin girls at the end of the hallway. The longer the family stays, the more ghostly encounters they have. And again, if you get warned about some gruesome event that may or may not have happened in a place, you should probably heed it. It would’ve saved Jack’s life and it would’ve spared us the trauma we experienced watching this horror hit!
1. Drag Me To Hell (2009)
You’re probably thinking how is this your number one? We get your apprehension because we thought the same thing about a horror movie starring Justin Long. But trust us, it’s worthy of this list! We’ve had plenty of twist endings on this list, but this was one I didn’t see coming.
This one will make you second-guess how you treat people because you never know who is a gypsy that can damn you to Hell. Christine was faced with a decision that would help her further her career even though it went against her character. She needed to prove she could be tough to her boss. She needed the promotion to prove that she was good enough for her boyfriend, Clay, to his parents. But by losing sight of who she was, it cost her gravely. And just when you think she’s outsmarted this karma-doling spirit demon… Well, you’re just going to have to watch it to find out.
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