I still haven’t seen The Conjuring so shush if any comments in some way lean towards spoilers on that one. There are a couple haunted house movies on this list. I pay little attention to what the critics say about movies (or books or anything for that matter) so this is purely my personal list of the Top 5 movies that have scared the be-jeebus outta me over the past oh, 40 years or so.
#5: Aracnaphobia (1990)
I suffer from this phobia (fear of spiders for those who don’t know) and I tell you what, I could NOT bring myself to see this baby on the Big Screen. NO WAY was I going to sit through two-hours of GIANT spiders – in the dark. Instead, I waited until it was available in a rental and even then I was I not thrilled with the idea. A spider as big as my television screen? Are you serious?
Anywho – this Frank Marshall-directed film starred Jeff Daniels, John Goodman and Harley Jane Kozak and involves a spider from South American who hitches a ride via coffin to a small, unsuspecting town. Said spider is highly venomous and breeds with a standard American house spider. TERROR ensues. The two most horrible scenes for me are when one of the GIANT spiders (there is no such thing as a small spider to us Aracnaphobes) is crawling around on the inside of a lamp shade and you can see its cute little (GI-NOR-MOUS) shadow skittering along in there just as a hand reaches up to turn off said lamp. Mega-Spider drops down and that’s that. The other scene took place in the shower. I’m sorry, Norman Bates you ain’t got nothing on this, NOTHING! Another spider is happily skipping along the top of the shower rod while the innocent and oblivious, naked and helpless victim washes up below. If I didn’t always check the shower walls, ceiling and curtain BEFORE this movie, damn straight I did after seeing it – and still do.
#4: Legend of Hell House (1973)
The screenplay for ‘Legend of Hell House’ was written by Richard Matheson and based on his own book ‘Hell House’ . It tells the story of the “Mount Everest” of haunted houses. In many way this is a classic haunted house tale in which five people walk in and not so many walk back out again. I won’t tell you how many or who makes it back out alive (sane is questionable).
It stars my all time favorite actor, Roddy McDowall along with Pamela Franklin and Clive Revill. McDowall and Franklin both play psychics. McDowall is a physical medium and has been to Hell House before. Franklin is a mental medium and foolishly goes against McDowall’s advice to “stay shut off” during the duration of their stay. The scientific mind is portrayed by Revill who is certain he can clear the house off all ‘spirits’ with his handy-dandy electromagnetic destroying machine. The original owner of Hell House was Emeric Belasco who was well-known for his sado-mascochistic parties that were only made more lovely with excess drug and alcohol use. Belasco mysteriously vanishes after the discovery of a mass murder within the house which sets it up as a prime haunted real estate. It ain’t pretty in Hell House and it’s not portrayed as such. It’s violent. It’s sexual. It’s in your face haunting. I’ve seen it at least half a dozen times and will likely watch it again just as many more before my time here is through.
#3: The Other (1972)
Not to be confused with “The Others” (2001 – starring Nicole Kidman) these two movies have nothing in common but their very similar names. No, my number three choice is set in 1935 and takes us on a dark ride through the minds of twin brothers, Niles and Holland Perry as they scamper and play tricks on their family and neighbors, deadly tricks.
Niles is the good brother while Holland is the little devil who comes up with all these schemes to scare people literally to death. Not only that, but Niles has come into possession of not just Grampa’s ring but a lovely finger wrapped in wax paper to go with it. Niles really tries to be good and is doted on my his grandmother who teaches him The Game which allows him to see through the eyes of other creatures – most dramatically illustrated when he gets a crow’s eye view of the farm on which they all live. But, something ain’t quite right with the Perry Twins – no, sir, and when their mother finds out exactly what that is she pays the price with a paralyzing fall down the stairs. You don’t even want to know what happens to that missing baby but you’ll find out anyway! Chris and Martin Udvarnoky play the fiendish twin brothers with Victor French and John Ritter in supporting roles. It was directed by Robert Mulligan and was adapted for film by Tom Tryon (who also wrote “Harvest Home” from which we got the warm and fuzzy film “Dark Secret of Harvest Home” starring Bette Davis) from his book of the same name. Also a good one but didn’t make the Top 5.
#2: Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)
This could very well be where my idea for Blood of the Scarecrow sprang from. “Dark Night of the Scarecrow” was a made-for-TV movie that aired on CBS and scarecrows were never the same to me after.
Bubba is a mildly retarded man who is befriended by a town girl by the name of Marylee and a good number of the town folk ain’t too pleased by this completely innocent friendship. When Marylee is attacked by a dog, Bubba comes to the rescue but is almost immediately accused of not just attacking the girl himself but raping her as well. The Haters quickly form a posse and decide if the law won’t take care of business, they will. Bubba’s mother gets word of this and dresses her son up as a scarecrow and instructs him to stand in the field very still to try and fool his would-be killers. Unfortunately the costume doesn’t fool the bloodhounds and Bubba is shot dead where he stands. The lead accuser, Otis, sticks a pitchfork into Bubba’s dead hand in an attempt to make it appear as if Bubba was killed with that instead of multiple gun shot wounds. But, gentle, sweet Bubba isn’t so kind in death as he was in life. The stalking of Otis Hazelrigg begins and it’s all that you could hope for!
#1: The Haunting (1963)
The 1999 remake of this AMAZING film blows. I’m sorry, but it does and it takes such a HUGE swing away from the Shirley Jackson novel “The Haunting of Hill House” that it doesn’t even seem like the two movies could possibly be based on the same book. Okay, the characters have the same names and it’s in a haunted house but that’s where the similarities end.
The original movie stars Julie Harris, Claire Bloom and Richard Johnson and was directed by Robert Wise. It is told from the perspective of Eleanor “Nell” Lance (Julie Harris) who receives an invitation to help investigate this alleged haunted location along with several others. Nell has spent most of her life taking care of her invalid mother and for her this is the chance of a lifetime, to do something, to go somewhere and to be someone special. She’s special alright. Upon entry, Nell feels as if she’s finally come home and that may not be such a good thing. The best scene in the movie is when the spirits are walking up and down the hallway outside Nell’s room. Out of fear, Nell and Theo (Claire Bloom) are sharing a room by this point and though we never SEE anything ghostly, we hear it, we sense it, we see what it can do. Your imagination starts to go crazy as the doorknob turns and the door itself bows under the power of the entities on the other side. You know it’s bad when even the wallpaper starts to watch you and when someone you thought was holding your hand, isn’t. I’ve watched this movie many, many times and each time I’ve been spooked by it in some new and wonderful way. Maybe I’m just a masochist but I look forward to the goosebumps I get every single time I get a chance to watch this.
In conclusion, I hold “The Haunting” on par for all other haunted house movies since I first saw it. I have some serious doubts that “The Conjuring” is going to be able to top it but I’ll give it a shot as soon as I can.