With Ridley Scott’s hotly anticipated Alien-prequel/Prometheus-sequel, Alien: Covenant, mere days away, I’ve definitely got Xenomorphs on the brain. I literally have to force myself to think in other directions. Of course, horror is comprised of so many wonderful subgenres, I found myself significantly and pleasantly distracted by delving into a classic category: Haunted Houses.
When compiling a list of terrifying haunted house horror movies, it’s important to establish parameters. These are movies where supernatural activity is integrally connected to a specific physical location, so films like Insidious and Paranormal Activity don’t count as those films feature a haunting connected to a person (making the exact geography inconsequential). Even the cabin in Evil Dead wasn’t technically haunted; it was the Necronomicon that brought the evil in. I’m also excluding films where a perceived haunting turns out to have a rational explanation (i.e. an intruder in the walls or a mental breakdown); films I won’t mention by name for fear of spoiling anything for folks who might not have seen them.
Below, in no particular order, are my choices for the Top 15 Most Terrifying Haunted House Horror Movies! Have a read and let me know if your favorite made the list.
The Amityville Horror (1979, Directed by Stuart Rosenberg)
Official Synopsis: Chiller about a family who is terrorized by supernatural forces when they move into a new house in New York State which was the scene of a recent mass killing and the home of an 18th-century Satanist. When swarms of flies appear from nowhere and the pipes and walls begin to ooze slime and blood, they call on a local priest to exorcise the evil spirits.
To this day, that scene with the red eyes peering into the window scares the shit out of me! Based on supposedly true events that transpired at 112 Ocean Avenue in Long Island in the 1970s, both the story and the house itself have become iconic; the attic windows look like evil, soul-piercing eyes. Unless it gets another postponement, Amityville: The awakening will hit theaters this June; it’ll be the 17th film in the loosely connected franchise (many of which are clunkers).
Related Article: Embattled “Amityville: The Awakening” Gets Summer Release Date
Poltergeist (1982, Directed by Tobe Hooper)
Official Synopsis: Strange and creepy happenings beset an average California family, the Freelings — Steve (Craig T. Nelson), Diane (JoBeth Williams), teenaged Dana (Dominique Dunne), eight-year-old Robbie (Oliver Robins), and five-year-old Carol Ann (Heather O’Rourke) — when ghosts commune with them through the television set. Initially friendly and playful, the spirits turn unexpectedly menacing, and, when Carol Ann goes missing, Steve and Diane turn to a parapsychologist and eventually an exorcist for help.
Poltergeist made something abundantly clear: Building a house on a former (or current)burial site comes with serious consequences. The maggots in the meat triggered my gag reflex and the face-ripping scene had me scared of looking into mirrors for years! Poltergeist is filled with iconic moments and lines of dialog, from “They’re here” to the pool full of skeletons, making it an unforgettable an enduring (if somewhat cheesy) classic.
The Others (2001, Directed by Alejandro Amenábar)
Official Synopsis: Grace (Nicole Kidman), the devoutly religious mother of Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley), moves her family to the English coast during World War II. She awaits word on her missing husband while protecting her children from a rare photosensitivity disease that causes the sun to harm them. Anne claims she sees ghosts, Grace initially thinks the new servants are playing tricks but chilling events and visions make her believe something supernatural has occurred.
Loosely based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, The Others is an epic Gothic masterpiece and one of the first truly excellent horror movies of the 21st Century. With brilliant performances by every member of the cast and a twist ending that will knock you on your ass, The Others is smart, atmospheric, and (most importantly) scary as Hell!
Related Article: The 25 Best Horror Movies of the 21st Century So Far
1408 (2007, Directed Mikael Håfström)
Official Synopsis: Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is a successful author who enjoys worldwide acclaim debunking supernatural phenomena — before he checks into the Dolphin Hotel, that is. Ignoring the warnings of the hotel manager (Samuel L. Jackson), he learns the meaning of real terror when he spends the night in a reputedly haunted room.
A hotel room becomes an inescapable & hallucinatory nightmare, one that feeds off an individual’s deepest fears and regrets like a supernatural sadist. For famed debunker Mike Enslin, it’s a soul-crushing exercise in loss and tragedy, lamenting the life that could have been and loved ones lost forever. Great FX and a fantastic atmosphere make 1408 an entertaining and emotional viewing experience; when folks make lists of the best films based on the works of Stephen King, this winner is too often omitted.
A Haunting in Connecticut (2009, Directed by Peter Cornwell) [Featured Image]
Official Synopsis: When their son Matt (Kyle Gallner) receives a diagnosis of cancer, Sara (Virginia Madsen) and Peter (Martin Donovan) Campbell move to Connecticut to be closer to his doctors. At first all is well, but then Matt becomes increasingly disturbed by what appears to be paranormal activity. Sara turns to a priest for help, and the ghosts are seemingly banished — but Matt’s condition takes a sudden and unexplained turn for the worse, and the lives of Sara and the rest of her family are endangered.
Another one too often omitted when horror aficionados reminisce about the greatest haunted house movies of the genre is 2009’s A Haunting in Connecticut. It portrays a convergence of supernatural energies: A house that served as a funeral parlor (and the site of occultist rituals) is somehow activated by the appearance of a dying teenager, whose proximity to death makes him a conduit. A Haunting in Connecticut has a great script and awesome FX, creepy phantoms, including a scene involving ectoplasm that’s both shocking and enthralling.
Lord of Tears (2013, Directed by Lawrie Brewster)
Official Synopsis: Lord of Tears tells the story of James Findlay, a school teacher plagued by recurring nightmares of a mysterious and unsettling entity. Suspecting that his visions are linked to a dark incident in his past, James returns to his childhood home, a notorious mansion in the Scottish Highlands, where he uncovers the disturbing truth behind his dreams, and must fight to survive the brutal consequences of his curiosity.
The first featured filmed helmed by the filmmaking duo of Lawrie Brewster and Sarah Daly, Lord of Tears is an oppressively gloomy modern Gothic masterpiece. It also introduces The Owlman, an ancient evil with a taste for incantations and infant sacrifices. Hex Media, the company behind both Lord of Tears and the wildly successful The Unkindness of Ravens (2016) is currently working on The Owlman’s next tale of terror: The Black Gloves.
Related Article: The Owlman from “Lord of Tears” Will Be Back in a New Feature Film
The Conjuring (2013, Directed by James Wan)
Official Synopsis: In 1970, paranormal investigators and demonologists Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick Wilson) Warren are summoned to the home of Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger (Ron Livingston) Perron. The Perrons and their five daughters have recently moved into a secluded farmhouse, where a supernatural presence has made itself known. Though the manifestations are relatively benign at first, events soon escalate in horrifying fashion, especially after the Warrens discover the house’s macabre history.
The house in 2012’s The Conjuring was just as creepy as the ghost of the witch Bathsheba who haunted it. The house’s isolated location and the demonic, knotted tree out back both add to the film’s suspense and palpable dread. The scenes in the basement are especially chilling. In many ways, The Conjuring is like an R-Rated version of Poltergeist, one that doesn’t pull any punches and will linger in your subconscious long after the end credits role.
Related Article: $900M Lawsuit Threatens to Make “The Conjuring” Franchise Disappear
Crimson Peak (2015, Directed by Guillermo del Toro)
Official Synopsis: After marrying the charming and seductive Sir Thomas Sharpe, young Edith (Mia Wasikowska) finds herself swept away to his remote gothic mansion in the English hills. Also living there is Lady Lucille, Thomas’ alluring sister and protector of her family’s dark secrets. Able to communicate with the dead, Edith tries to decipher the mystery behind the ghostly visions that haunt her new home. As she comes closer to the truth, Edith may learn that true monsters are made of flesh and blood.
Guillermo del Toro is a master of modern Gothic, with an epic, creative style that’s instantly recognizable, and Crimson Peak is pure gold. The mason’s dark history manifests in all manner of ghastly apparitions, always terrifying and with undertones of macabre beauty. Body actors Doug Jones and Javier Botet excel at delivering shock and palpitations as the kind of characters you do not want to find lurking in dark corridors.
Related Article: Top 10 Times We Were Terrified By Javier Botet!
The Orphanage (2007, Directed by J. A. Bayona)
Official Synopsis: Laura (Belén Rueda) has happy memories of her childhood in an orphanage. She convinces her husband to buy the place and help her convert it into a home for sick children. One day, her own adopted son, Simón (Roger Príncep), disappears. Simon is critically ill, and when he is still missing several months later, he is presumed dead. Grief-stricken Laura believes she hears spirits, who may or may not be trying to help her find the boy.
Beautiful, tragic, and absolutely chilling, The Orphanage is a paradigm of haunted house horror. The supernatural aspects are terrifying, but the emotional devastation of a woman searching for her missing son makes this film impactful and unforgettable. The apparition Thomas (played by Óscar Casas) is a harrowing ghost and one of horror’s creepiest kids.
House (1985, Directed by Steve Miner)
Official Synopsis: A mounted fish moves, household objects levitate, and monsters haunt a troubled novelist (William Katt).
Decades before the term PTSD was widely understood, Steve Miner’s House was a metaphor for how the lingering effects of combat can devastate families. House is one of the few horror-comedies on this list, but it’s still an effective thrill-ride that holds up decades after its initial release. Great special FX and a knockout supporting performance from George Wendt (Norm from Cheers) help make this film exceptional.
Related Article: 1980’s Era Horror Movies that NEED a Remake
The Woman in Black (2012, Directed by James Watkins)
Official Synopsis: Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), a lawyer, is recently widowed and grieving the loss of his wife when he is sent to a remote village to put a deceased eccentric’s affairs in order. Soon after his arrival, it becomes clear that the villagers are hiding a terrible secret. Kipps discovers that his late client’s house is haunted by the spirit of a woman who is trying to find someone and something she lost, and that no one — not even the children — is safe from her terrible wrath.
Yes, Daniel Radcliffe was probably too young to effectively play a married lawyer mourning the death of his wife; and yes, the sequel got such terrible reviews I still haven’t seen it, but 2012’s The Woman in Black is best when viewed as a straight-up haunted house film. The isolated setting of the mansion is incredible; the concept of a rising tide that makes the home unreachable (or inescapable) for hours at a time is awesome and the sticky peat that surrounds the road is ready to swallow up secrets. The titular Woman in Black is an exceptionally scary specter with an insatiable need for vengeance.
We Are Still Here (2015, Directed by Ted Geoghegan)
Official Synopsis: In the cold, wintery fields of New England, a lonely old house wakes up every thirty years – and demands a sacrifice.
Barbara “Don’t Call Me a Scream Queen” Crampton leads this tales of supernatural terror; We Are Still Here has a retro aesthetic and some truly terrifying spirits (ones that smolder—an incredible effect).
The Innkeepers (2012, Directed by Ti West)
Official Synopsis: During the final days at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, two employees determined to reveal the hotel’s haunted past begin to experience disturbing events as old guests check in for a stay.
Ti West effectively shucked the shame of having directed Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever with his follow-up feature, the highly original and genuinely compelling supernatural saga The Innkeepers. This was one of the first films to capitalize on the Paranormal Reality Show phenomenon of the 21st Century and features an intelligent script and a talented cast.
The Entity (1983, Directed by Sidney J. Furie)
Official Synopsis: Single mother Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey) is raped and attacked by an invisible force. She begins therapy with Dr. Phil Sneiderman (Ron Silver), a psychiatrist who believes Carla’s traumatic past is motivating her to commit self-induced injuries, rather than anything supernatural. When the attacks continue, Carla invites two college students with an interest in the paranormal to visit her house. After seeing the ghost in action, they agree to help Carla defeat her invisible attacker.
One of the scariest haunted house films ever made is one where you never even see the haunter. In The Entity, a mysterious force terrorizes a single-mother is the most violent and invasive manner possible. The idea of an invisible force beating the shit out of you before forcibly sodomizing is terrifying beyond belief. The Based on Actual Events tagline ups the horror exponentially.
The Shining (1980, Directed by Stanley Kubrick)
Official Synopsis: Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) becomes winter caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel in Colorado, hoping to cure his writer’s block. He settles in along with his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and his son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), who is plagued by psychic premonitions. As Jack’s writing goes nowhere and Danny’s visions become more disturbing, Jack discovers the hotel’s dark secrets and begins to unravel into a homicidal maniac hell-bent on terrorizing his family.
Perhaps the best loved, most horrifying haunted house movie ever made is The Shining. The ghosts who inhabit the Overlook Hotel are chilling, but it’s the effect these entities have on the unstable mind of a tortured writer that takes things from scary to unbearably disturbing. With more iconic scenes, images, and controversy to list, The Shining is probably the best studies piece of cinema ever produced, one that will no doubt continue to challenge and enthrall viewers for decades to come.