There are loads of movies about haunted houses, but only some of them move us in ways that have us yelling at the screen, "get out!" Unseen entities are the most terrifying theme and knowing that they are around you in your most intimate moments and while you sleep, well, that is what nightmares are made of. Let me share what I believe are the top 10 most realistic haunted house movies.
There are lot of movies with ghosts in them, but I am focusing this top 10 list on ones that occur in homes. I also want to share why these strike "home" as far as portraying very real aspects of hauntings.
In no particular order -
The Entity (1982) This movie involves a woman and her children living in a tiny house in Southern California. She begins to be attacked by an unseen entity that rapes and beats her. The story is based on a supposed real-life incident. The woman was studied by real-life university parapsychologists. And, the results were chilling. What strikes one as realistic about this is the study the parapsychology team does in the woman's house where they get results that are comparable to ones on extraordinary investigations. It also brings to light how someone's mental condition and/or possible bad family dynamics and substance abuse can skew the haunting, adding a bit of doubt about the legitimacy.
The Haunting (1963) A team is formed to study an abandoned mansion with a deadly past. The group involves a troubled lonely spinster with unusual psychokinetic capabilities. Ultimately, the house claims one of them. This movie is in black and white and beautifully based on Shirley Jackson's notable horror novel The Haunting of Hill House. Director Robert Wise did a masterful job getting across the mood, tone, and atmosphere of a haunted house. The subtle haunting characteristics of being touched while asleep, hearing voices, and sounds of pounding and doorknobs turning, are spot on for haunted homes.
The Amityville Horror (1979) A newly formed family on a second marriage buys an ideal house on the water on Long Island, only to find that they are not alone. The deadly murders long ago in the home seem to be changing the new owner and his family fears the ghosts as much as they do the changed father. This was a classic favorite of the haunted house genre. It was said to be based on a true story that has gone under debate for some time. It captured how ghostly events can pull a family apart.
The Changeling (1980) A widower who lost his wife and child in tragedy starts a new life in a new place. The composer of music finds a big old lonely historic home to pound away on the piano, only to find something is sharing the house with him. This movie with George C. Scott was beautifully done and the seance scene and its aftermath were terrifying. The ways in which the ghost showed his need were subtle but effective, from the musical notes to the broken window, and the EVP at the seance.
Poltergeist (1982) This movie has a modern new tract house and an adorable family that realizes too soon that their home is atop of sacred ground that was pilfered. Although the concepts of a kid being pulled to the other side may not be realistic, much of the odd poltergeist activity is classic, from objects moving and lining themselves up. The film gave just enough comedic relief for the very terrifying scenes to be a real classic.
The Legend of Hell House (1973) A haunted mansion with lots of killing and debauchery in its past and a team bent on stopping the haunting combines into a gothic, dark, and saucy haunted house tale. It is beautifully acted with Pamela Franklin and Roddy MacDowall. The haunting aspects are chilling from object movement to possession, from sex with a ghost to physical violence. The most realistic aspects of the story involve the vulnerability of psychics as well as the scientific aspects of cleaning a house but finding a hitch in the scope of the cleansing.
Paranormal Activity (2007) This movie involves a couple and odd happenings that lead them to surveillance of their own home to capture the phenomenon. It has some classic haunting features that are subtle, the kind of things people pass up until something a bit more terrifying occurs and then all the other breadcrumbs in the trail become evident. For some this was a really horrifying movie and for others the "home movie" feel was a bit tediously overdone by other camcorder movies like "Cloverfield," "The Blair Witch Project," and others. All in all, for a couple in a haunted home, this one was chilling.
Stir of Echoes (1999) A man and his family in a row house lead a regular working class life, until the husband gets hyponotized and latent psychic abilities arise. He is convinced their home is haunted and nothing will stop him from revealing the truth as he is guided by a vengeful murder victim. Kevin Bacon did a great job in this moody movie. It showed the way PSI abilities can pass through a family and what it's like to have the "shine." For a psychic, I thought this was one of the more realistic portrayals.
The Others (2001) In this movie, a woman and her children cower in a lonely mansion in the countryside, never going out, avoiding the light, and generally acting super creepy. Nicole Kidman did a fine job with this moody ghost movie. What it portrayed to me was something I always wondered in the Civil War mansion I grew up in - might the ghosts think they are being haunted?
The Sentinel (1976) This movie is trippy, but it holds some interesting elements that caught my attention. What if a woman moves into an apartment complex where the cast of characters around her are as quirky as the decor? What if she begins to have odd things happen that make her wonder if she's losing her mind? How does she interact with the people and what is the secret they keep? More importantly, why does the building seem to want her? I found this one to play like a weird dream, like the times you encounter a spirit coming in and out of sleep. You aren't sure if you're visited by the dead or you imagined it. The questioning of one's sanity is a real dilemma in actively haunted locations.