(If there's something strange, in the neighborhood, who ya gonna call? ScreenAnarchy!)
As Jack Skellington's minions so gleefully sang in The Nightmare Before Christmas
: "This is Halloween, this is Halloween, Halloween! Halloween! Halloween! Halloween!". So we here at ScreenAnarchy decided to have some of our writers tell about their favorite movie ghosts.
Now this is in no way meant to be a comprehensive list, but just contains some personal stories, for fun's sake. Some will mention the scariest ghost they saw in the cinema, some will go for disturbing. Some go for emotional involvement, some take a wide definition and choose whatever haunted them the most... That means your own favorite ghost may not be in this list, but that is not because it would not be "famous" or "scary" enough. This list is purely subjective, and many writers went with a surprise choice rather than an obvious one.
Also, it's rather hard to describe a ghost sometimes. Try finding a picture of the ghost in Robert Wise's The Haunting
, for example, even though it's one of the best and most atmospheric movies about a ghost ever made.
Me, I couldn't decide on a single ghost, so I put in three. Heh...
Have a look, and please share your own favorite with us in the comments! What is your favorite movie ghost?
Peter Martin, James Dennis, Trung Rwo, Daniel Rutledge, Kwenton Bellette, Michele "Izzy" Galgana, Kurt Halfyard, Todd Brown, and Ernesto Zelaya Miñano
contributed to this story.
Ah, to be a young teen again and see Ghostbusters for the first time. It was funny, cool, and one of the biggest special effects extravaganzas of its time, even though some of it now looks a bit wonky in its stop-motion and matte painting glory. And most of the ghosts in it tend to be rather cuddly, like plush toys, so it wasn't too scary.
That was not true of the first ghost you get a good look at, though. The "library visitor" is probably the only true scare in the entire film, and it made you sit up a bit straighter for the remainder of the film.
In the two years since I wrote an article about five films that frightened me (which you can read right here), I have seen dozens of horror movies, many of which featured ghosts, and the only one that gave me a jolt was last year's The Conjuring.
But those ghosts pale in comparison to the banshee that appears in Darby O'Gill and the Little People. As I've written before, my mother took me to see this inoffensive children's movie from Walt Disney when I was but a wee lad. In my parents' view, the only safe and decent movies for a child had to have the Disney imprimatur, so when this movie (starring Sean Connery, pre-James Bond) was re-released, off we went. In one scene, the aforementioned banshee finally appears, and its ethereal appearance and spooky cry frightened me terribly; I'd never seen anything like it.
And then I went home to the safety of my bedroom, where my parents left the window open on a hot night, and warm gusts of wind keep pushing the thin curtains hither and yon, looking for all the world like the horrible banshee, and I didn't sleep well for days.
My favorite ghost is Huay, the deceased wife in Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.
I didn't read anything from this Palme d'Or winning movie before seeing it, that's why I feel shocked when a ghost slowly appear at the dinner table. Her name is Huay, the dead wife of a dying husband, and she looks as normal as a living woman. No white face, no long hair, no scary face, no long ragged white dress. She looks like some one you can see in a convenience store. And unlike any normal ghost, Huay doesn't haunt people, doesn't scare them (a little bit at the beginning though), doesn't take revenge or any bad things like that. She's just around her sick husband and takes care for him, shows him the fantasy and reality of life and death itself. The way she cares for him when she knows that he's gonna die, even when she's not alive anymore, made the movie so emotional and touched me a lot. In Thailand, I heard that there are many ghosts and people feel normal when they encounter one. Because ghosts are basically just wandering souls, not the scary things made up by all the horror flicks.
My favorite ghost is in The Fog (1980).
As well as having the most spellbinding radio DJ in movie history (that voice!) by way of Arienne Barbeau's lighthouse-based Stevie Wayne, The Fog is also one hell of a creepy picture. As with so many of Carpenter's movies, it's the atmosphere that makes the piece. Of course there are some 'real' ghosts here - sailors ship-wrecked 100 years earlier, returning to wreak vengeance on those who conspired to steal from them - but the biggest goosebumps rise from the titular fog bank as it envelops a small Californian town. A gothic cinema staple for many years, Carpenter deftly uses the fog as covert transport for his ghosts in what is really a (barely) veiled slasher pic. Sparsely glimpsed, the re-animated (?) sailors play second fiddle to the ethereal, insidious fog they emerge from. Slowly, yet relentlessly, moving through the town, it always reminded me of a zombie hoard; not quick, but incredibly persistent and nigh on unstoppable. Fear of the dark can be somewhat assuaged by turning on a light, but that fog just keeps coming, lethal yet intangible - a ghost in its own right.
I love Asian horror, and greatly admired Japan's output from mid 90's to early 2000's.
Having never seen a Thai horror movie before I had no idea what I was in for and decided to give it a go with the decidedly creepy-sounding Shutter (2004). Thailand's ghost stories could be the most chilling; the way their lore handles haunting is an altogether different phenomenon of vengeful spirits.
Shutter is a masterfully executed ghost-revenge tale with a wicked and absolutely terrifying twist that I would be remiss to spoil.
Needless to say its final image is forever ingrained in my memory as one of the most terrifying and genuinely chilling moments in cinema. I have goosebumps right now just writing about it!
Michele "Izzy" Galgana:
For my ghostly pick, I chose Guillermo del Toro’s 2001 tale of haunting and heartbreak, The Devil’s Backbone. The story takes place at an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War; little Carlos arrives and a large bomb, presumably a dud, is lodged in the ground. Featuring ghosts, gold, and the aforementioned bomb, the imagery here is loaded; some of the fates of the characters, both good and bad, are locked. This is the beginning of a journey that marries its tragedies and scares, resulting in a heartbreaking, poignant fable. From within the shadows comes a white, melancholic boy who is forever stuck and misunderstood for all time, to show Carlos the real secrets of the orphanage.
Because it is so very sad, The Devil’s Backbone is not one of those films that most people can watch again and again… or in the case of a mass audience, even once. However, for those willing to explore the dark, tragic side of foreign horror cinema, a treasure box awaits.
The things that go bump in the night, while terrifying, are trying to tell you something. Pay attention.
Wary as we are of M. Night Shyamalan these days (his enormous talent might just as well have been one of the subjects in this article), for a while he had an amazing and near-perfect run. This started with The Sixth Sense, which is still one of the better ghost films out there, twist or no twist. It helps that it gets pretty scary at times as well, especially when we see the world through the eyes of young Cole, who so famously "sees dead people".
After a few truly shocking moments, we get to see the ghost of a vomiting girl, who becomes pivotal to Cole's gaining of acceptance of his gift. But ooh, did she make me jump when I saw her first!
No movie ghost has made a bigger impact on me than creepy old bastard Delbert Grady in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. He's played by Englishman Phillip Stone who shares a pivotal scene with Jack Nicholson in which they discuss family problems and hotel management. It's a terrific scene, driven largely by Stone's intense stare, and it gives the word "corrected" a chilling new meaning. Although Grady's equally creepy twin daughters and their blue dresses are more recognisable, it's old Delbert himself that invaded my subconscious and gave me many ghostly nightmares.
Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is brimming with ghosts and branded-on-the-brain images. There is the iconic creepy twin girls along with their even creepier man-servant dad that did them in with an axe, a decomposing woman in a bathtub, a satanic bartender, two particular era of American history, both the twilight of the Native American Indian in the south-west US in the 19th century, and the elite jet-set Gatsby's of the roaring twenties. There is even the haunted wisps of the crumbling Torrance family who are put into the crucible over 6 months in the isolated Overlook Hotel, by the self-absorbed patriarch, teacher and wannabe writer, Jack.
But I want to focus on the blink-and-you-miss-it image of two men -- one in a teddy-bear costume the other in a tux -- witnessed by Wendy late in the film, at a point when the entire Hotel is freaking the fuck out. It is arguably the most heightened sequence of action in the lengthy ordeal that is more often portentous than propulsive. Were these two men engaging in oral sex in the privacy of their room on New Year's Day in 1929 only to be interrupted by Wendy Torrance brandishing a weapon in 50 years later? I love the chagrined look on the men's faces, it's menacing, but not one of embarrassment, more curiosity in how they could have possibly been interrupted. When I was a child, seeing The Shining for the first time, the image stayed with me, even as I didn't really understand it. It was never comical, just bizarre. It makes a bit more sense to me now, but still packs an effective array of gooseflesh when it flashes in front of my eyes during my annual screening of the film.
In an interesting post-script, this is not the only ghost to 'give a little head' on screen. I refer you to another blink-and-you-miss it sequence involving a floating lady in Ivan Reitman's PG rated 1984 classic, Ghostbusters.
Ernesto Zelaya Miñano:
As a kid, I was easily frightened by movies. I was scared of the Evil Wolf/Head on a Stick from The Neverending Story. I watched Jaws and didn’t even want to flush the toilet for fear that a Great White would pop out and bite my head off. I was pretty sure that the odd shadow on my bedroom wall at night was Freddy Krueger waiting for me to fall asleep.
But the one horror movie boogeyman which haunted my dreams for over a decade was Pinhead and his crew of horribly deformed S&M enthusiasts. Thanks to the fine folks at Showtime, who at one point aired Part III at least twice a day, along with a cheap B-movie about female kickboxers starring the daughter of some guy who made shampoo, I couldn’t escape from Pinhead. It wasn’t something I was supposed to watch at the tender age of 11, but I couldn’t help myself. I covered my eyes and was so shocked at the gore that I vowed never to watch any movie starring the guy with the pincushion head.
Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees you could outrun, since they obviously never learned to sprint after victims (at least until Jason started teleporting); by that point Freddy was a joke, riding around on skateboards or crossdressing as a witch. But Pinhead? If he showed up, you were pretty much screwed. There was no bargaining with the Cenobites: you open the puzzle box and you’ve got chains coming out of every orifice.
I wasn’t haunted by ghosts, though I do believe in them; I was haunted by the Hellraiser movies. It took many years of movie watching and a lot of resolve to finally sit down and face them, and… you know how what terrified you as a kid can now seem cheap and tacky? That was pretty much my reaction. The first one had some great ideas and was at times torpedoed by a low budget. And Hell On Earth is pretty awful, turning a potentially great mythos into another crappy slasher film complete with a Motorhead music video. Inferno was solid, but could barely be called a Hellraiser movie.
I’m not haunted by Cenobites anymore, thankfully; but the whole concept still creeps me out. I’m not creeped out by serial killers or ghosts, but by the prospect of the Gateway to Hell. Funny how my mind works sometimes.
While I don’t think I would ever pitch Kurosawa Kiyoshi’s Kairo to anyone as a terrifying film - it’s too much about isolation and loneliness for that – there are certainly moments in it that are. The big one being the the picture above, when a ghost slowly approaches our lead character who is cowering behind a couch in fear. It’s remarkable when watched in isolation now how Kurosawa achieved this scene without much of anything in terms of visual effects or makeup. It’s nothing but speed manipulation and masterful sound design and yet it still stands – for me, at least – as one of the most effective ghost sequences ever put on film.
I'm the kid that never liked horror movies - I either found them way too scary when I was super young, or way too dumb when I was a teen. That said, the scariest two things I saw as a young'un was Jaws (I've written before how it made me scared of showers), and Poltergeist, a film I watched at a friend's house and we stopped (spoiler) after the house implodes - for years I thought the family simply died and the credits rolled.
Still, if I had to pick ONE "ghost" that messed with my young mind it'd be the Angel of Death from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Being a nine year old Jewish kid is kind of perfect for that scene - you're already thinking of what's to come when you turn 13, and that whole sequence with Toht, Belloq and Dietrich feels like the most evil Bar Mitzvah ever! Yet it's the epic music by John Williams and gorgeous transition from the "it's beautiful!" Angel to the visage of death that most struck home, followed by the best face melting in cinema history. Indy and Marion are supposed to have their eyes shut so they don't see, I couldn't keep my eyes off the screen as I clutched the edge of my seat in terror.
Ghosts are an important part of Star Wars, and have been from the original trilogy onward. And, while the "extended universe" of fan fiction and novels contain the evil variety as well, ghosts tend to be supportive and wise, councilors in time of need even.
Trust the Robot Chicken team to screw this all up by throwing Jarjar into the mix. Darth Vader, fed up with being called "Annie" all the time by the annoying squealer, kills Jarjar, and good riddance. But while he was a revoltingly designed character, Jarjar was "good" according to canon, so he returns to Darth the same night, all "Meesa sparkly-glowy!", to remain by his side, always.
Truly the most horrific ghost of them all.
It's enough to make a Sith Lord go no, NO, NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!
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