Hitting theaters later this summer is Annabelle: Creation, the latest installment in the growing universe of films based on the original The Conjuring. In addition to the upcoming film, next year will see the release of The Nun, a spin-off from The Conjuring 2, exploring the mythology behind the terrifying spectre that haunted Lorraine Warren.
In a world of films that explore shared universes, the development of these intertwined films is all a credit to the effectiveness of the first film, directed by James Wan. One of the original film's producers was recently quoted as saying a Conjuring 3 would avoid repeating itself by exploring supernatural occurrences that weren't related to a home haunting, but lucky for you, there are plenty more great horror films out there that focus on spirits who refuse to die.
While there is an abundance of horror films that feature a wide variety of supernatural happenings, we're going to stick with the explicit conceit that the film's characters are being terrorized by spirits from another realm as opposed to all manner of supernatural activities. For example, while
For example, while The Shining is an effective film, most of the threat comes from Jack Torrance's descent into madness as opposed to the threat presented by lingering spirits. The Insidious films are also quite effective, but rather than a disembodied haunt, the film created the concept of "The Further," which is another plane of existence.
That being said, let's dive in and see some of the best haunted house films of all time!
The Conjuring (2013)
Prior to this tale of a small family in the '70s, James Wan had already earned his acclaim in the horror realm thanks to films like Saw, Insidious, and Dead Silence.
Wan flexed his stylish muscles with The Conjuring, based on the real-life couple Ed and Lorraine Warren, seminal demonologists who came to the aid of families in need that felt like they were plagued by nefarious spirits.
The director created an eerie atmosphere and cast the talented Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga to help sell the frightening sequences, pulling the viewers' focus to exactly where he wanted, if only to shock you from something appearing just outside of every frame's focus.
The Conjuring is so frightening, in fact, that despite its relatively tame language, complete lack of sex/nudity, and minimal bloodshed, the film earned an R rating for "sequences of disturbing violence and terror."
The Amityville Horror (1979)
Long before The Conjuring, The Amityville Horror also throws subtlety out the window.
When a family can't turn down a deal that sounds too good to be true for a new house on Long Island, they learn the price is a result of how hard it is to convince anyone to buy a house in which multiple murders were committed.
While many films take a subtle approach to showing hauntings, The Amityville Horror goes all-out. Whether it's a priest being attacked by swarming bees, bleeding walls, or demonic pig creatures, the James Brolin and Margot Kidder-starring haunted house film takes the motto "go big or go home" to heart, providing the audiences with some huge scares.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
The Conjuring is incredibly stylish and The Amityville Horror is very deliberate, but Paranormal Activity is neither of those things.
Taking the "found footage" conceit that was made famous by The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity is a compilation of footage shot by a couple who have recently purchased a camera in hopes of documenting the weird things happening around their home.
While the script and acting are mediocre, the direction and editing help engage the viewer. The most compelling sequences are static shots where the filmmakers have gags of a door opening, a curtain blowing, or a Ouija board moving on its own, which helps sell the footage as coming from a pair of untalented cameramen.
Paranormal Activity will never be regarded as highly as many other haunted house movies, but the film's effectiveness cannot be denied.
Unlike Paranormal Activity, Poltergeist was the result of both a burgeoning horror filmmaker and one of the definitive directors in the history of film, with debates about who did what continuing to this day.
Another case of a family accepting a deal of a lifetime on a new house, it isn't long before strange occurrences start happening to the Freeling family. What starts as objects innocently moving on their own escalates to the disappearance of young Carol Anne, leading the family to seek the help of a local team of paranormal investigators to find answers.
Directed by Tobe Hooper, who made a name for himself with the gritty Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and written/produced by Stephen Spielberg, the Spielberg influence is felt so heavily that many rumors have circulated that the Jaws filmmaker directed more scenes than Hooper did.
Wherever the truth may lie in the division of direction, Poltergeist showed an entirely different approach to ghosts, with the family attempting to use science and logic to uncover the truth instead of just screaming their heads off in every scene.
The Legend of Hell House (1973)
Much like The Conjuring owing their legacy to a film like The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist owes its effectiveness to the paranormal investigations present in The Legend of Hell House.
When a group comprised of a physicist, a minister, and a medium get the chance to investigate the "Mount Everest" of haunted houses, how can they say no? The group of individuals boards themselves up in the creepy location, determined to prove one way or another that life after death truly does, or doesn't, exist.
While many of the events of the film would be enough to send anyone running, the characters in Hell House know what's at stake in proving if there's a life after death, and no matter how intense the phenomenon gets, they remain steadfast in their goals.
As you can imagine, the more stubborn the characters, the more the house itself tries to scare them, resulting in a chaotic climax and surprising reveal of what is causing all of the strange happenings.
The Others (2001)
Thanks to the success of The Sixth Sense a few years prior, audiences clamored to see stories of the supernatural that weren't the typical R-rated, gore-filled bloodbaths that became the norm in the '80s, which thankfully led to The Others.
Set in 1945, Nicole Kidman stars as the mother of two young children who have a condition that makes them sensitive to sunlight, resulting in most of their lives being shrouded in darkness in a giant house in the English countryside. When the children begin to claim they aren't alone in the house, the house's caretakers alert them to the tortured past of some of the home's former residents.
The Others is incredibly moody and, much like The Sixth Sense, has a clever narrative twist to explain the goings-on that's highly entertaining.
Although you only see half a dozen characters throughout the entire film, their compelling performances and eerie vibe makes for one of the best haunted house films of the '00s.
The Innkeepers (2011)
Taking place during the final weekend of operation at an old hotel in a small Connecticut town with a sordid past, The Innkeepers sounds like the plot of countless other haunted house films over the years. Thankfully, it's far from it.
The film focuses mostly on the two employees who work at the hotel, played by Pat Healy and Sara Paxton. They both hate their dead-end jobs and kill time by trying to record audio or video that could make them a success on the internet.
What makes the film truly stand out is how entertaining and endearing Healy and Paxton are, making you genuinely care about what happens to these characters. With many other haunted house films, audiences can't wait to see how the director might scare them, writer/director Ti West gave us two compelling characters who you actually hope don't encounter a single dangerous thing so that they can make it through the night safely.
Additionally, the film is based on the house in which West stayed in while filming The House of The Devil, where many of that film's cast and crew experienced paranormal phenomena.
Photo Credit: Warner Brothers