Halloween: 10 classic haunted house movies to creep you out

As Halloween draws closer, it's time to bolt the windows and stay alert for creaky floorboards. That's because we're firmly in the period for classic ghost story movies, the sort that invite delighted chills as the nights draw in and the temperature drops.

If you're looking for spooky inspiration, we've rounded up some essential ghostly tales that will lend a frisson to your Halloween. Scroll down to discover what they are.


1. The Innocents (1961)

Director Jack Clayton brought impressionistic, subtle terror to this exquisite adaptation of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw. Black and white cinematography from Freddie Francis (with the edge of the frame often painted black for added claustrophobia) draws the audience inexorably into the story of Bly Manor. There, Deborah Kerr's repressed governess must grapple with her conviction that two young children are under the influence of malign spirits. Kerr's superbly controlled performance, an insinuating, creepy script from Truman Capote and an eerie nursery rhyme ('O Willow Waly') continue to strike fear into the hearts of viewers.

2. The Haunting (1963)

Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House is considered a landmark of the genre. It blurs the lines between haunting and the onset of madness, and this ambiguity fuels Robert Wise's seminal adaptation of the story. Like the earlier The Innocents, it uses black and white photography to lend appropriately shadowy atmosphere to the tale of Hill House, where Julie Harris' vulnerable Eleanor Vance is coming apart at the seams. By keeping the spooks off-screen and suggesting terror through clever camerawork and effects (everything from fish-eye lenses to rubber prop doors that appear to 'breathe'), Wise crafts a timeless haunted house classic. 

3. The Amityville Horror (1979)

Supernatural horror of a decidely less subtle kind is on offer in this paranormal extravaganza. The Amityville Horror takes inspiration from a real-life incident in upstate New York whereby a family claimed they were plagued by all manner of demonic goings-on. This ranged from eyes looking through windows to walls that oozed slime. Although the story was widely discredited, that didn't stop Hollywood launching in with a ripe adaptation starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder. Lalo Schifrin's lullaby-driven score works overtime to keep things creepy, even as the narrative becomes increasingly silly.

4. The Changeling (1980)

There are many underrated horror films out there and The Changeling has to be near the top of the pile. George C. Scott is superb as a grieving man who seeks solace in a creaky old house. But, of course, the building has a tragic past, culminating in some brilliantly scary moments orchestrated by director Peter Medak. Bouncing balls and sentient wheelchairs become the stuff of nightmares, while the playback from a seance evokes unexpected poignancy. Like so many ghost stories, The Changeling is preoccupied with loss and longing, which gives it emotional heft amidst the frightening set-pieces.

5. Poltergeist (1982)

This blockbusting haunted house chiller is as famous for its on-set production woes as it is for its scary moments. Debate still rages as to whether nominal director Tobe Hooper or writer/producer Steven Spielberg ought to claim helming credit for the movie. Certainly, Poltergeist mixes styles of both filmmakers, with Hooper's signature Texas Chainsaw nastiness melding with Spielberg's characteristic suburban family tropes. The film melds sweet and sour in its story of young Carol-Anne, who is sucked through the TV set by ghosts, with Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar nominated score propelling us along. The production was allegedly cursed with many of the actors, Carol-Anne's Heather O'Rourke included, falling victim to tragedy.

6. The Woman in Black (1989)

Forget the Daniel Radcliffe movie. There's only adaptation of Susan Hill's seminal gothic novel that you need to concern yourself with. Recently issued on DVD for the first time, this understated yet bone-chilling ghost story captures the essence of its source novel, recognising that atmosphere and restraint, not jump scares, are what truly resonate with viewers. When a young lawyer travels to remote Eel Marsh House to sort a deceased client's affairs, he brings undead evil upon his head and must get to the bottom of the mystery. The sparing appearances of the titular woman in black, plus that unforgettably bleak ending, still make this an eerie and superior adaptation.

7. The Others (2001)

Director Alejandro Amenabar proudly honours the tradition of Jack Clayton's The Innocents with this sumptuous shocker. Nicole Kidman gives a career-best performance as an isolated young mother in post-World War II Jersey. Her two young children are light-sensitive and must be kept in perpetual shadow at all times, which is bad news when ghostly activity begins to occur. Lacing its dark interiors with occasional splashes of amber light from lanterns and candles, The Others is an atmospheric marvel, and an emotional one too, with plenty to say about the unfinished business between the living and the dead.

8. The Grudge (2003)

Japanese culture has a rich tradition of ghost stories, or kwaidan as they're known. As in Western culture, these are often cautionary and blood-curdling tales, in which the dead are malevolently targeting the living. Takashi Shimizu's The Grudge is just such a story, being the story of a cursed house whose inherent rage spills onto those who visit it. The Grudge helped popularise late 1990s/early 2000s Japanese horror, picking up the mantle of the blockbusting Ringu from 1998, and exposing Western audiences to yet more lank-haired spirits with wide-eyed expressions. The Grudge eventually spawned its own franchise, including multiple English language remakes and sequels.

9. The Orphanage (2008)

The legacy of the Spanisn Civil War has left the country populated with all manner of spirits, both figurative and actual. This has long been a favourite topic of The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo Del Toro. And he's helped boost the careers of other talented filmmakers in this field, including J.A. Bayona, whose film The Orphanage is a terrifically gripping ghost story. Belen Rueda is superb as a mother pining for her lost child, whose orphanage is suddenly invaded by a sinister child in a sack mask. Rich in atmosphere and ultimately tear-jerking, the film recognises that horror, and specifically ghost stories, work best when they're rooted in a sense of character.

10. The Conjuring (2013)

The ongoing 'Conjuring Universe' started here with this box office hit from Saw director James Wan. The filmmaker leaves the gore and torture behind for this elegant and old-fashioned story of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, played with conviction by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. Their 1970s investigation into an allegedly haunted Rhode Island farmhouse uncovered some unpleasant surprises, at least as the film depicts it. There are many predictable jump scares but the quality of the acting, effective period detail and subtly menacing moments (the clap game) give this a bit of an edge over the competition.


What are your favourite haunted house movies for Halloween? Let us know @Cineworld.