Staff Picks: Ghost Movies

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top ghost movies

As Halloween closes in, this weeks Staff Picks is looking at the top ghost movies in cinema history. As a note, this is not really about movies with ghosts in them, but more about movies that use the themes associated with ghost movies, and includes demon possession movies if they follow the spirit of a ghost movie. With no further ado, here is a look at the Renegade Cinema staff picks for the best ghost movies.

The Best Ghost Movies

best ghost movies

Sleepy Hollow

Caliber Winfield: There are few better films than this to watch during October. The film is steeped in atmosphere, drenched in incredible gothic imagery, backed with fantastic special effects, music, costumes & set pieces. Beyond that, it’s also a great whodunit, with some tense fight scenes spliced in. Arguably Burton’s best work, and easily the best telling of the tale.

best ghost movies

Beetlejuice

Tamica Phipps: Man..there are so many, how can I possibly pick? I absolutely love Beetlejuice…I still hesitate to say his name 3 times..lol. Michael Keaton was so wonderfully freaky and annoying. I’m also a big fan of Nightmare on Elm Street. I had so many nightmares about those movies that I started to know that I was in a dream. Some of them seem super corny now, especially with Freddy’s little corny jokes and phrases. Robert Englund was the perfect Freddy. The Sixth Sense was Awesome. I always love movies with a good twist. The Others had a good twist too. Who doesn’t love Bill Cosby as the Ghost Dad who literally came through the phone as parents often threaten (“don’t make me come through this phone and…..”). As a Lady, of course I was in love with Patrick Swayze as Ghost…and I’m a huge fan of Whoopi and Demi. And come on….Ghost Busters was awesome in its time.

I pick Beetlejuice Beetlejuice Beetlejuice! I’m a long time fan of all the main characters: Michael Keaton, Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin..and yes, even Winona. Beetlejuice was so disgustingly freaky in an extremely entertaining way. I both liked and disliked him. Even though it was sort of a comedy, as a child some stuff was still kind of scary or freaky to me…like the man who’s head was shrunk. That beetlejuice was such a menace.

best ghost movies

House on Haunted Hill

Tony Beaulieu: It’s a classic, and one of the first films that put a twist on the conventions of the horror genre. Also it has Vincent Price at his Vincent Priciest.

best ghost movies

The Sixth Sense

Derek Johns: There were very few films that gave me the creeps as a kid quite as much as The Sixth Sense. Even without the eerie atmosphere you’ve still got an Oscar worthy performance from Haley Joel Osment, good writing (almost enough to make me forget that it’s an M. Night Shyamalan movie) and one of the most iconic twist endings in movie history. Even though Shyamalan has since turned his own name into a pop culture punch-line, The Sixth Sense reminds me there was once a time when he was considered a good director.

best ghost movies

The Conjuring

Mike Luxemburg – Three movies were fighting for the title here with me. The new Hong Kong horror Rigor Mortis, Poltergeist, and The Conjuring. I already reviewed Rigor Mortis recently so that feels redundant (but go read it). Then I had to flip a coin, and The Conjuring won, so here we go. This movie is terrifying in the best way. It feels scary. Every moment could be a shocking attack on your mind, but James Wan plays it with surprising restraint. Instead of just throwing jump scares at you until your numb, this film builds a horrifying ambience and cultivates a sincere sense of concern for every character onscreen. The lighting work is nearly perfect. It transitions from the brightness and joy of an active family home to the dark greys of a nightmare reality. The camera is steadily moving, and not with quick cuts and disorienting fades, but with a steady hand that lets the madness onscreen play itself out in the most effective way possible. It’s a simple story of a family haunted by spooky ghosts, but it’s executed perfectly. James Wan knows that if you have a solid concept all you need to do is execute it to get a great ghost flick. No bells and whistles required.

best ghost movies

The Devil’s Backbone

Shawn S. Lealos: I’m going with The Devil’s Backbone. You can’t go wrong with Guillermo Del Toro. This is a Spanish language ghost movie that came out before Pan’s Labyrinth and proves that Del Toro’s best two movies might both be foreign language films. The best ghost movies have nothing to do with slamming doors and jump scares. The best ghost movies are all about learning what the ghost wants from the people being haunted. In this case, the story takes place in an old orphanage during the Spanish Civil War where a young boy is dropped off by his father, who will probably never return. While there, he soon begins to find himself haunted by the ghost of another young boy – and as it is in the best ghost movies – he has to figure out what the ghost wants done in order to rid himself of the haunting. It is atmospheric, it is scary and it is smart. It’s one of the best of its kind. Just to finish things off here, I also was looking at the American “Stir of Echoes” and the Korean “Tale of Two Sisters,” both of which have similar themes and you should check out as well.

best ghost movies

Paranormal Activity

Rick Tym: The first Paranormal Activity was a great movie-going experience for me. While I am also a fan of gorier horror, I find myself more affected by the things you can’t see that go bump in the night committed to film. The way PA was made — with no name actors, shot in director Oren Peli’s own house, minimal but effectively creepy effects — led to a slow burn build to a tumultuous closing. While my opinion in the PA sequels varies from most (I like them more than a lot of other people), no one can deny the success of the franchise. Sitting in the theater with a sense of communal dread as the Activity unfolded remains a fond movie memory for me — and watching this gem of a ghost story at home is rather spooky as well, perfect for this time of year.

Sandy Stachowiak: On may out the door, what Rick Tym said. Paranormal Activity. . Especially the first one was awesome! Scary and creepy… when it comes to ghost stories that one always comes to mind first.

best ghost movies

The Others

Caleb Masters: I actually had to think about this one for a while because while I love and respect classics like “The Shining” or “The Sixth Sense”, but I think that the movie that left a bigger impression on me was “The Others”. It’s a slow burn suspense horror movie but I thought that the angle of *spoilers* presenting the story from the perspective of ghosts who didn’t know they were dead was both innovative and shocking. The Sixth Sense did a very similar thing a couple of years earlier, but I found the characters, the emptiness of the atmosphere, and the delivery of the twist to be far more engaging than the former. 

I also want to give a shout out to both “What Lies Beneath” and “Stir of Echos” because I think both of those are hugely understated ghost movies that are very often forgotten by horror fans.

best ghost movies

Ghostbusters

Jesse Blume: Even though I was more freaked out by “Paranormal Activity,” than any other movie I’ve seen thus far, my pick for this category will be “Ghostbusters.” If you have to ask why, you haven’t seen the movie and you need to see it right now. Even though the film is nearly 30 years old, it’s still just as funny and fresh today as it ever was. It’s almost as infinitely quotable as “Pulp Fiction” is.

best ghost movies

Topper

Bethany Lewis: I love Topper (1937) and Topper Returns (1941). Its clever and witty in the way only screwball comedies of the 30’s can be. Cary Grant and Constance Bennett have excellent chemistry that reminds me of watching William Powell and Myrna Loy in the Thin Man series, and Roland Young is so dryly incredulous about everything that he’s just as hilarious as the screwball, fun loving, incorporeal couple by sheer contrast. Topper Returns is perhaps not as good as the original, but there’s something delightful about a plucky young girl teaming up with a stuffy older gentleman to solve a murder mystery…especially when it’s the mystery of the plucky girl’s own murder. And then there is the lost art of lingering on performances just for the sake of the performance. Cary Grant often times had scenes that weren’t strictly necessary for story coherence or plot progression, but it made the movie better because it felt like you were getting an extra little show, a glimpse of a great performance just for the fun of it. Topper is full of these little moments – unimportant bits of fun and showcases of talent and humor – that make it a wonderful, nostalgic romp of a movie.

best ghost movies

Pulse

D-Rock: I happened to catch this film on randomly one night and just completely became overwhelmed by the haunting atmosphere. The filmmakers created a haunting idea of ghost that I’ve never seen before. In Pulse, death is treated like an infinite state of loneliness that spreads like a cancer. It truly rattled me to my very core. The film has a slow-burn style of storytelling only magnified the chilling premise.

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About the Author

Shawn S. Lealos
Shawn is a film critic with over 25 years of experience in print and online media. He is a member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle and loves everything from critically acclaimed movies to B-level action flicks.
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