Sarah Kirk says that spine-chilling ghost stories in horror films should be enjoyed this October and celebrate Halloween.
It's October and the spooky season has finally arrived. Halloween is quickly approaching, the air is getting colder, and the leaves turning burnt orange before blanketing the ground. This time of year offers solace, thrills, and excitement for watching horror films of any age, pumpkins, creative costumes, cemeteries, and ghost stories. If you're lucky enough to catch a movie at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, you might just get to experience all of these at once.
Our love for horror films comes from our desire to be entertained and shocked, which is why a horror film is an ideal companion for a chilly October evening. This list explores the most spine-chilling ghost stories—the ones that nightmares are made of. With the arrival of fall, it's time to cultivate some frights with these films.
Fear and panic await you in Session 9 (2001). A cleaning crew works through the Danvers State Mental Hospital and uncovers shocking tapes. Videos from a previous patient reveal the true horrors and the asylum's nightmarish past. The characters exude fear and rising tension, which radiate from the screen to the viewer, creating a frightful and eerie atmosphere.
Director Brad Anderson toys with the idea of reality by challenging the validity of what we see play out. The film's intricate storytelling keeps you on your toes. The film is enticing because of its sinister setting and morbid plot, which successfully qualifies it as an intellectually provocative experience that should be on your October watch list if you're searching for spooks and creeps. Session 9 is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Some of the best ghost stories ever told can be found in Gothic horror. The Innocents (1961), directed by Jack Clayton and based on the 1898 novel The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, features a solitary, foreboding, and beautiful mansion, dimly lit hallways, and unsettling occurrences lurking around every corner. The new governess, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), takes care of two orphan children, Miles (Martin Stephen) and Flora (Pamela Franklin). Miss Giddens believes Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde) and Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop), the previous governess, possess the children, as both exhibit odd behavior.
Mike Flanagan's The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020) and Floria Sigismondi's The Turning (2020) offer similar adaptations that are more contemporary, but the subtly unnerving film is the pinnacle of Victorian ghost stories. It delivers an eerie ambiance, ghostly figures, and a foreboding mansion, making it the ideal choice for the start of the spooky season. The Innocents is now streaming on Roku.
Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone (2001) is a horror thriller sure to leave audiences reeling. Set in 1939, the film follows Carlos (Fernando Tielve), a 10-year-old boy who has lost his father in the Spanish civil war. When Carlos finds himself abandoned in an orphanage with no way out, he quickly discovers that not everything is as it seems. Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), the school's caretaker, reacts violently when anyone pokes around one specific storage room. In addition to this, Carlos becomes the schoolhouse ghost's new obsession. Between Santi's (Junio Valverde) ominous warnings, the ticking bomb in the orphanage's courtyard, and the raging war, The Devil's Backbone tells a complicated story that questions death itself and is now streaming on HBO Max.
With perhaps the most shocking plot twist in cinema history, The Sixth Sense (1999) is a terrifying ghost story. Over 20 years later, M. Night Shyamalan's film is still iconic due to the brilliant acting, especially the moving performances of Haley Joel Osment and Toni Collete, and the touching story they tell. Cole (Osment) sees dead people everywhere. Dr. Malcom (Bruce Willis), a child psychologist, develops a bond with him. Cole witnesses suffering of ghosts, which traumatizes him, cuts him off from the outside world and eliminates any chance of a normal childhood.
Shyamalan takes great care in not letting the film fall into the tropes of a superficial ghost story. While it is ghost story, it's profound and compelling, digging deeper than any surface-level supernatural film with its heartfelt connections and stimulating dialogue. Dark themes and scares infuse it and what makes the experience truly terrifying is that the audience sees Cole's terrified reactions to his otherworldly encounters. The Sixth Sense boasts skilled cinematography and a compelling narrative, all perfect for an October viewing. The Sixth Sense is now streaming on Peacock.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." The ominous line from the classic film The Shining (1980) directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on the novel by Stephen King is well known to horror audiences. The supernatural horror film frequently features disquieting specters, terror, the decline of sanity, loneliness, and a plunge into madness. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) travels to the Overlook Hotel with his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd). Jack encounters writer's block and numerous paranormal occurrences in the hotel. His alcoholism, propensity for violence, and claustrophobic surroundings lead to the dissolution of his family, sending him down a dangerous path.
The Overlook hotel's sinister ever present hauntings are the scariest aspect of the film. Danny experiences psychic visions, and tensions rise with each passing day they are confined. The film conveys a constant sense of strained anxiety with unsettling shots, terrifying moments, and high-strung interactions between Jack and Wendy. The horror community places The Shining on a pedestal, and for a good reason—the film still frightens viewers. Its themes of insanity, isolation, abuse and the paranormal come together to create a chilling and indelible film. With nothing to do but stare into oblivion, no one around for miles, and unsavory spirits in the vastness of a haunted hotel, wouldn't you go insane? The Shining is now streaming on HBO Max.
A hauntingly beautiful and terrifying ghost story with a remarkable twist, The Others (2001)— a gothic supernatural horror film written, directed, and scored by Alejandro Amenábar— follows Grace (Nicole Kidman), a devoutly religious mother of two. Her children Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley), suffer from a rare photosensitivity disease and must live in darkness, shielded from the sun at all times. Grace moves her family to the English coast during World War II while awaiting news about her missing husband, her agitation, irritability due to chronic migraines and anxiety infecting every aspect of there lives. When Anne claims she sees ghosts, Grace initially believes the servants are playing tricks but something far more disturbing is at play. The Others is available watch on-demand from iTunes, Amazon Prime Video and Vudu.
Sleepy Hollow (1999), directed by the unconventional Tim Burton, is the epitome of a spooky, moody Halloween film. The novel, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, written by Washington Irving, is a loose inspiration for the film. When Johnny Depp's Ichabod Crane investigates the Sleepy Hollow murders, he discovers that the victims' heads have vanished. The fabled headless horseman (Christopher Walken) prowls the village at night, terrifying the locals and inspiring the ghostly phantom legend.
Burton's arsenal of artistic expression and talented actors like Depp, Christina Ricci, and Michael Gambon brings this mysterious story to life. Due to Burton's ability to create an otherworldly atmosphere through his art direction, Sleepy Hollow is the crown jewel of a spooky, gothic, and humorous movie. The gloomy environment of Sleepy Hollow, with its eerie forests and overall esoteric quality, fits the mood of October. Sleepy Hollow is now streaming on Hulu.
Directed by Hideo Nakata and written by Yoshihiro Nakamura, Kenichi Suzuki, and Nakata, based on the short story collection by Koji Suzuki, Dark Water (2002) is a Japanese horror film with dramatic overtones. It follows a divorced mother, Yoshimi Matsubara (Hitomi Kuroki) who moves into a rundown apartment with her six year old daughter Ikuko (Rio Kanno), and experiences supernatural occurrences including a mysterious water leak from the floor above. The frightening ghost story explores the fear of loss and the bonds of motherhood throughout the chilling and heartbreaking film. Dark Water is now streaming on Tubi.
His House (2020) boasts brilliant and moving performances from Wunmi Mosaku and Sope Dirisu as a refugee couple struggling to adjust to their new life in an English town that has an evil lurking beneath the surface of their house. Rial (Mosaku) and Bol Majur (Dirisu), after escaping from war-torn South Sudan are haunted by their past, not only the presence tormenting them. With a screenplay written by director Remi Weekes, the film is a visually stunning and creepy slow burn with plenty of genuine scares to delight audiences. In the words of Bol, "Your ghosts follow you. They never leave. They live with you. It's when I let them in, I could start to face myself." His House is now streaming on Netflix.
Directed by Ti West, the supernatural mystery The Innkeepers (2011) follows Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy). During the final days at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, the two decide to begin a paranormal investigation to reveal the hotel's haunted when mysterious and disturbing occurrences begin happening an old guest checks in. The film is a decidedly slow burn with a shocking finale. What's most compelling is the mystery is the investigation itself. While it doesn't push the boundaries of the genre and is a fairly slow burn, it effectively builds dread and is a charming low-budget horror film. The Innkeepers is now streaming on Peacock, Roku, Pluto, Vudu, Prime Video, and Tubi.
It's impossible not to associate October with horror movies. The two complement each other. Any spooky story or tale has an alluring appeal to audiences because it makes us question our beliefs. Ghostly appearances in horror films, hearing voices, or catching a glimpse of a shadow is enough to engage us and keep us watching. Get cozy, prepare yourself a hot and spiced apple cider, and prepare to be scared.