Halloween: the 17 scariest horror movie ghosts

With Halloween on the horizon, we asked you Cineworlders an important question: what truly scares you? We put out a Twitter poll to find out, and the unequivocal answer was ghosts. You can see the results below.


With that in mind, we've rounded up an essential list of the most sinister movie spooks ever to stalk the big screen. Scroll down to discover our choices.


1. Hugo the dummy – Dead of Night (1945)

British stalwarts Ealing Studios are best known for their sparkling comedies such as The Ladykillers. But one of their best films strikes a very different tone. Dead of Night is a spine-tingling anthology of spooky stories, ranging from the darkly amusing to the genuinely unnerving. Several directors tackle each of the individual tales, but it's Alberto Cavalcanti's story of a seemingly possessed dummy that continues to terrify. Michael Redgrave is superb as the struggling ventriloquist who suspects that his inanimate companion Hugo may be more than he seems. It's understated menace at its finest, and a clear influence on later Anthony Hopkins movie Magic (1978).

2. Peter Quint and Miss Jessell – The Innocents (1960)

Mike Flanagan has recently re-interpreted Henry James' The Turn of the Screw as The Haunting of Bly Manor. But for real terror, you have to go back to Jack Clayton's 1960 adaptation, The Innocents. Clayton beautifully distills the ambiguous atmosphere of James' eerie story, as a repressed governess suspects two children are under the influence of evil spirits. Freddie Francis' black and white photography does a diabolically effective job of throwing the scares into sharper relief, nowhere moreso than during the lake scene where the undead Miss Jessell watches impassively from a distance. Is it real, or imagined? That's up for debate; however, the film's genuinely disquieting atmosphere is without question.

3. Hill House – The Haunting (1963)

We don't actually see any on-screen ghosts in this classic chiller. Instead, as per Shirley Jackson's pioneering original novel, the forbidding edifice of Hill House becomes a spectral and malevolent presence on its own terms. Director Robert Wise does a masterful job with off-kilter angles and practical effects in this story of "an evil old house", one that's akin to "an undiscovered country waiting to be explored". Centrally, the story focuses on vulnerable Nell (Julie Harris), who is subject to either supernatural phenomena or her own repressed anxieties. That the movie doesn't answer its central conundrum only makes the story even more frightening.

4. Jody – The Amityville Horror (1979)

Subtlety and understatement go out of the window in this ripe tale of terror. The Amityville Horror derives inspiration from real events, in which the Lutz family claimed to have been terrorised within their new home by a host of unexplained occurences. The movie translates these events onto the big screen in all their lurid glory, from glowing eyes to clouds of flies and slime oozing out of the walls. Lalo Schifrin's Oscar-nominated, lullaby-esque score amps up the tension, perversely suggesting a sense of childlike innocence as things become even more strange. This is reinforced by the presence of Jody, a child spirit who appears to form a connection with the younger Lutz family members.

5. Joseph – The Changeling (1980)

This underrated Canadian creep-fest is one of the best haunted house movies ever made. George C. Scott, usually an explosive and irascible presence, is powerfully withdrawn as a bereaved man who moves into a creaky old property. It doesn't take long for him to realise that the building is haunted by a young child named Joseph, whose initially menacing presence eventually gives way to something more tragic and moving. Blending solid atmosphere with effective scares (watch out for that wheelchair scene), The Changeling reminds us not to just every ghost by its cover.

6. Zuul – Ghostbusters (1984)

Comedy blockbuster Ghostbusters isn't necessarily a horror movie, but it does contain several genuinely alarming moments. It's testament to Ivan Reitman's direction that he can flip from the delightful buddy banter chemistry of the Ghostbusters to near-apocalyptic scenes of impending doom. These manifest through the character of Sigourney Weaver's Dana Barrett, who discovers devil dogs lurking in her fridge that portend the arrival of the evil Zuul. Of course, the sardonic Pete Venkman (Bill Murray), who is attracted to Dana, doesn't take it seriously at first, but Zuul swiftly makes his presence felt in the shocking chair scene. Will next year's Ghostbusters: Afterlife, directed by Reitman's son Jason, match this for atmosphere?

7. Reverend Henry Kane – Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)

The first Poltergeist movie suggested the malevolent phantom known as The Beast. However, we didn't get to see his human embodiment until the sequel. The cadaverous Henry Kane is a genuinely unsettling presence, harassing the Freeling family in the wake of their first supernatural encounter. He emerges clad in black with a mocking, suggestive smile, and appears to have diabolical plans for the young Carol-Anne (Heather O'Rourke), who's only just come to terms with her initial escape from The Beast. Actor Julian Beck was suffering from terminal cancer during filming, and by translating his pain into the performance, he conjured a truly ghoulish entity.

8. Jennet Humfrye – The Woman In Black (1989)

Susan Hill's famously terrifying ghost story has prompted a long-running stage production and two big screen movies, one of which starred Daniel Radcliffe. However, the 1989 made-for-TV adaptation deserves fresh appraisal, and given it's recently been released on DVD for the first time, that's now possible. Unlike the Radcliffe movie, this prioritises a sense of Gothic menace and brooding dread over jump scares, as an ominous phantom spells doom for a hapless young lawyer. Herbert Wise's direction is cloaked in mist and suggestion, and when it wants to let rip, this unassuming production really knows how to scare us.

9. Sadako – Ringu (1998)

There's no way that movies can hurt us, right? The masterful Japanese horror Ringu taps into this elemental fear, in which the ghostly child Sadako emerges from the TV set to scare her victims to death. When a mysterious videotape begins circulating, those who watch it receive a phone call informing them that they will die in seven days (hence Sadako). A journalist and her ex-husband then set off on a quest to uncover the tape's mysteries. Ringu truly epitomises the word uncanny, imagining an off-kilter world in which the material and the spectral are just a hair's breadth from each other at every turn. It was a blockbuster smash-hit at the time, establishing a new craze for Japanese ghostly horror movies.

10. Kyra – The Sixth Sense (1999)

M. Night Shyamalan's blockbusting supernatural thriller contains one of the best movie twists of all time. However, it deserves to be remembered for more than that. The Sixth Sense brilliantly harnesses our contradictory responses to the notion of the afterlife, exploiting it for both scares and tear-jerking sadness. When Mischa's Barton's undead Kyra first appears to vulnerable Cole Sear (Oscar nominee Haley Joel Osment), it's genuinely terrifying. But as a sign of Shyamalan's brilliant script, Cole than seeks to discover the truth behind her death, helping her to move on and utilising his 'sixth sense' for the greater good. For a movie populated with ghosts, it's primarily about healing and redemption.

11. The old woman – The Others (2001)

Reminiscent of The Innocents, The Others is shrouded in layers of shadow and suspense that guarantee a spookily entertaining time. Nicole Kidman delivers a career-best performance as an isolated mother raising two light-sensitive children in her Jersey mansion. When the house appears to be invaded by something otherworldly, however, things start to fall apart at the seams. Like the earlier The Sixth Sense, The Others is as moving as it is scary, largely thanks to Kidman's fiercely dedicated performance. But director Alejandro Amenabar springs some great shocks on us too, with the old woman ghost prompting skin-prickling chills.

12. Santi – The Devil's Backbone (2001)

Guillermo Del Toro is a 'one for me, one for them' director, alternating crowd-pleasing Hollywood epics (Pacific Rim) with more personal chillers. The latter films delve deep into Spain's tortured Civl War past, exploring how the notion of ghosts takes on literal and figurative meanings. Before his Oscar-winning Pan's Labyrinth, Del Toro delivered The Devil's Backbone, a superior supernatural chiller. At an isolated orphanage outside Madrid, the young inhabitants are tormented by a spectre named Santi – but are his intentions truly evil? The path towards finding out is rich in allegory, scares and emotion, reminding us throughout that the living are more dangerous than the dead.

13. The elevator ghost – The Eye (2002)

Hong Kong delivered a barnstorming ghost story in the form of The Eye. With set-pieces to rival the likes of Ringu, this exploits a devilishly creepy premise: a cornea operation that results in the patient being able to see dead people. It's a bit derivative of The Sixth Sense, but a continued atmosphere of malevolent menace keeps us on the edge of our seats. The supremely scary moment where the central character discovers she's not alone in a lift is a fine moment of prolonged terror and suggestion. Jump scares are simply not needed when the air of horror is this potent.

14. Red-faced demon – Insidious (2011)

James Wan initiated the gore-porn sub-genre with Saw, but he's always had an affection for more traditionally creepy, ghostly tales. To that end, he directed Insidious which, despite its fair share of predictable jump scares, does contain several truly unsettling sequences. When a family discovers that it's not their house that's haunted, but their son, it prompts all manner of supernatural antics. The eventual leap into the dimension known as 'The Further' is just silly, but for sheer popcorn-spilling shock, one cannot beat the sudden appearance of the red-faced demon (played by the film's composer Joseph Bishara). Even when you know it's coming, the scene still packs a punch.

15. Bathsheba – The Conjuring (2013)

James Wan again, with another story of undead menace. Having birthed the Saw and Insidious franchises, Wan then performed the same trick with The Conjuring, a surprise horror blockbuster that kick-started the Conjuring Universe. The movie derives inspiration from an investigation by Ed and Lorraine Warren, real-life ghostbusters who have allegedly tackled several inexplicable cases. When they're called to a remote Rhode Island farmhouse in the 1970s, they're confronted by malicious witch Bathsheba who has seemingly cursed the land and the family now living on it. Before it all goes OTT at the end, the preceding clap game is more than enough to give us the willies.

16. Annabelle – Annabelle (2014)

Once more unto the Conjuring Universe, dear friends. The Annabelle series arose out of the first Conjuring movie, in which the malevolent doll appeared in the Warrens' museum of supernatural curiosities. Is she a conduit for demonic activity, or just a child's toy? This being a Conjuring movie, it's quite obviously the former with all manner of shrieking shocks deployed for audience-manipulating effect. Still, who can resist a creepy doll movie? People clearly can't get enough of Annabelle – she's already powered her way through three movies, and may well appear again in next year's The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It.

17. The djinn – Under the Shadow (2016)

Let's conclude with a ghost story that's more considered and thoughtful in its presentation. British-Iranian director Babak Anvari helms this Persian-language chiller, one that melds the country's recent political past with the fairy tale mythology of the Middle-East. In the midst of post-revolutionary Iran, a young mother and her daughter suspect that their apartment has been invaded by a malevolent djinn spirit. Could this be anything to do with the missile that landed, unexploded, on the roof of their tower block? Anvari's melding of topicality with fleeting terror (rarely has a fluttering bit of drapery been so scary) earmarks Under the Shadow as a scary movie with brains and frights to spare.


Which movie ghost has scared you more than any other? Tweet us your responses @Cineworld. And happy Halloween!