Now that we’re all stuck at home — you are staying at home, right? — many of us are starting to feel like ghosts haunting our respective houses! In that spirit (heh), I’ve compiled a list of fabulous ghost movies to keep you entertained while social distancing.
Some rules before we get started:
I really wanted to focus on the theme of being “stuck” in some way. We’re all STUCK right now, so why should our movie characters be any different, right? So, while Ghostbusters is a fantastic film, it’s not on my ghost movies list because neither the human characters nor the ghosts are “stuck” in any way (both the exterminators and the specters zip around the city willy-nilly!).
So I’ve collected ghost movie favorites that feature humans stuck with ghosts (in their homes or stuck to their person) and ghosts stuck with humans.
Also, there had to be ghosts in the films in some way or another. So while House on Haunted Hill has humans stuck in an “allegedly” haunted house (it’s not) and Paranormal Activity is sometimes referred to as a “ghost” movie (it’s not), those didn’t make the list either. I’m all about GHOSTS today. This is my ghost movies list! Demons are hereby banished from my ghost movies list!!
And, yes; not leaving my home in over a month is starting to have an impact on my sanity.
Shall we begin?
Humans Stuck with Ghosts
You’re stuck with ghosts and the ghosts despise you!
Imagine the strangest anime you’ve ever seen. Now imagine falling asleep and having a fever dream about it. Multiply that by about 1000 and you’ll start to grasp what Hausu (also known as House) is like.
The main characters in this horror-comedy are seven adorable Japanese schoolgirls who’re named for their tropes: There’s Gorgeous (the pretty one), Prof (short for “professor” — the smart one), Kung-Fu (the sporty one), Melody (the musical/artistic one), Sweet (the sweet/nice one), Fantasy (the daydreamer), and Mac (short for “stomach” — the chubby cutie).
I don’t want to spoil anything so let’s just say… The seven girls go visit Gorgeous’ aunt in her severely haunted house and meet their ends in hilariously cartoonish (and gory!) ways. It’s a live-action cartoon, basically, with some absolutely stunning visuals that you NEED to see (and share with everyone you know once we’re all out of quarantine!).
Based on a short story by Stephen King, Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is a writer who goes around debunking allegedly haunted locations. He’s incredibly jaded.
However, when he gets invited to The Dolphin (a hotel) and is told not to stay in room 1408… He views it as a challenge and, of course, he stays in room 1408.
Minimal spoilers here: The hotel room is, indeed, haunted and things don’t go well for Mike once he’s trapped inside.
I’ll be honest: Poltergeist isn’t a favorite ghost movie of mine. I saw it much later in life and had zero nostalgia for it (and was far-too-old/jaded to be spooked by it); however, it’s a “must-see” for any movie buff. At the very least, you’ll be able to “get” all of endless the jokes/parodies done on scenes from it!
Ghosts, poltergeists, skeletons, and other spookies terrify the occupants of an otherwise nice house. Chairs get stacked, drawers get opened, little girl gets sucked into another dimension in her closet, and there’s one rad scene involving a bathroom mirror that I won’t spoil if you haven’t seen it yet.
13 Ghosts (1960)
If you haven’t watched any of William Castle’s other films, then skip the ghost movie marathon (I’ll give you a pass!) and go watch The Tingler, House on Haunted Hill, Mr. Sardonicus, Homicidal, Straight Jacket, Zotz!… Pretty much any of his other films. Then, circle back and watch this one to be a Castle completionist.
While 13 Ghosts is fun, if you love William Castle films, it’s definitely not my favorite of his movies. It’s only 84 minutes long but feels longer due to some pacing issues. But… it was the only movie of his that fit with my theme o’ the day!
It’s got a family stuck in a haunted house with 12(!) ghosts. For me, this is a good film to wind down with. It’s very innocent and old-fashioned, the jump scares won’t make you jumpy, and you don’t have to be fully focused (or conscious) to get the gist of what’s going on. It’s very relaxing.
If you stay awake: There’s a classic William Castle “gimmick” at the end!
The Conjuring (2013)
This is one of those “based on a true story” movies which should be taken with a grain (or a heaping handful) of salt. If you push that aspect out of your mind and just enjoy it for a very fun (fictional!) ghost movie, I think you’ll enjoy it.
It takes place in 1971 and real-life demonologists, Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), investigate a ghost-riddled house.
Side note: If you want another fun “true” story to add to your ghost movies watch list, check out Demon House (2018). It’s a documentary(!) by Zak Bagans from Ghost Adventures that’s highly entertaining and basically serves as the origin story for his trademark eyeglasses.
Stir of Echoes (1999)
I haven’t seen this movie since it came out and I might pass on re-watching it due to the (minor spoilers/trigger warning) sexual violence elements. That said, scenes from this movie are still with me over 20 years later!
Mainly, I remember Kevin Bacon really going all out with his performance (as always) and chugging a TON of orange juice. Like… I think of Kevin Bacon in Stir of Echoes whenever we have orange juice in our fridge!
I’m including this movie because I noticed that Shudder recently uploaded it to their streaming service. I like Shudder and applaud them for getting more films on their platform! (As discussed with MutantFam.com’s Frank on last week’s podcast, I’m enjoying their ever-increasing selection of movies while waiting for the next season of The Last Drive-In).
Go watch Kevin Bacon get spooked by a ghost in his house while drinking OJ!
(Mostly) Friendly Division
You’re stuck with ghosts and the ghosts (mostly) dig you!
The Frighteners (1996)
The Frighteners is one of my all-time favorite movies (not just ghost movies!) and you absolutely MUST watch it. You must. I’m adding that to my official rules for this post.
Michael J. Fox is a con man who sends his ghost pals to “haunt” houses and then charges the homeowners a fee to “exorcise” said ghosts. It’s all wacky good fun until a very BAD ghost (a serial killer) shows up and starts murdering people.
I won’t say any more than that about the plot. If that doesn’t intrigue you enough: Watch it for an unforgettable performance by Jeffrey Combs an FBI agent and Dee Wallace as a gal who’s, er, stuck at home.
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Little kid can see and talk to ghosts and is stuck with a (21-year-spoiler alert!) ghost pal.
Even if you already know the “twist,” this M. Night Shyamalan classic is worth a re-watch. It’s on Netflix right now!
Bonus: 100% Kid-Friendly Division!
The humans in these encounter benign ghosts — great picks if you have kiddos who want to join in on the fun (or if you need something to knock out with at bedtime).
Mr. Boogedy (1986)
Let’s get one thing straight: Mr. Boogedy and its sequel, Bride of Boogedy, are objectively terrible ghost movies. You’ll swear Mr. Boogedy is a three-hour epic rather than a 45-minute mini-film because it’s painfully dull.
That said, if you’re around my age, you’ll remember this made-for-TV movie from your childhood and the nostalgia will be (unfortunately?) irresistible. It’s on Disney+ now — and it’s guaranteed to look WAY better than your home-recorded VHS copy! — so feel free to torture your kids with it.
Plus, it has John Astin in it! He’s always a joy to watch, even if the rest of the film isn’t. Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd… this movie gave one of my former friends a lifelong fear of vacuum cleaners and I always found that very funny. (“Just kidding! Just kidding!”)
Monster House (2006)
This is one of Robert Zemeckis’ computer-animated movies… but it’s somehow FAR less creepy than The Polar Express. Kinda weird considering this is the spooky supernatural film where kids get stuck in a haunted house and the other is a “feel good” Christmas tale. But there you have it.
Monster House might be a little intense for very young (or very sensitive) kiddos, but it’s a fun little movie. And it’s the closest thing we have to a film version of Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always for the time being (le sigh).
There’s a lot of running around and goofing off at first; but, eventually, the three main kids end up stuck in the spooky house and get tormented by ghosts. Fun!
Honorable Mentions: ParaNorman (2012) is a pretty awesome ghost movie that utilizes stop-motion animation. I didn’t “officially” include it because both Norman and the ghosts are pretty free-roam. You can also try watching Coco (2017) which is a lovely Disney computer-animated film involving ghosts.
Ghosts Stuck with Humans
The ghosts are the main characters and they’re peeved about being stuck with humans!
The Others (2001)
Nicole Kidman and her dead kids are “haunted” by the living. They’re not pleased about it.
The Others is a lot of fun. It’ll have you saying “sometimes… I bleed” at inappropriate moments for weeks after watching.
(Mostly) Friendly Division
The ghosts are the main characters and they’re (mostly) chill about being stuck with humans!
Heart and Souls (1993)
Again, Heart and Souls is one of my all-time favorite movies — it’s in my top three fave movies EVERRRRRRRRRRRR! If you haven’t seen it (most folks haven’t, in my experience), you need to put it at the top of your “must watch” list. Seriously. I’ll wait.
Did you write it down? Cool.
So, Heart and Souls is a ghost movie that follows four dead people who’re “stuck” to Robert Downey, Jr. And, minimal spoilers, they possess him — with delightfully humorous results — in order to act out their last wishes before “moving on.”
Ahhhhhhhhhhh… Beetlejuice! With the memorable performance by Michael Keaton as the title poltergeist, it’s easy to forget that the main characters are actually stuck-at-home ghosts: Adam and Barbara Maitland!
Adam and Barbara (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) are dead folks who cannot leave their home. That becomes a problem when their home is sold to new owners (The Deetz Family — played by Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones, and Winona Ryder).
At first, Adam and Barbara haunt their own home and attempt to frighten its new inhabitants away — with a little help from Beetlejuice — but… Well, you’ll just have to watch it and find out.
This horror-comedy is an absolute classic and includes some AMAZING special FX work.
Speaking of which: I’ll be interviewing my dad, Robert Tharp, on this Friday’s episode of the HorrorFam.com Podcast about the special FX work he (and Mom!) did on Beetlejuice back in the day! So be sure to come back Friday to listen to that. I’ll include some of Dad’s personal, behind-the-scenes photos with the written transcript!
In the meantime… Don’t you have a ghost movie you should be watching?
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Lauren Spear (née Tharp) is the owner of LittleZotz Writing, a super-respectable multiple award-winning website for freelance writers. She’s also the HorrorFam.com founder! Lauren grew up in the horror industry (her parents did practical special FX work for many of the horror movies you love from the ’80s and ’90s) and basically created this site so she could freely gas on about creepy stuff and stop having to pretend to be normal.