NOTE FROM RENAE: The accidental theme here at the blog this week has become ghosts! You must know how happy that makes me. In a couple of days I’ll be sharing an updated version of the Courting Creepy Ghost Stories list. In the meantime, enjoy this piece by Pamela Morris.
What with all the hoopla going on about The Conjuring, (which I have yet to see, btw) and the myriad of ghost hunting shows out there, I figured it was time I shared my own ghostly experiences. It truly makes no difference to me whether others believe in this sort of thing or not. My boyfriend is a total non-believer and I still love him regardless.
The earliest true ghost story I was told came to me from my maternal grandmother, Angeline. She was visiting friends for the weekend and had been given the spare room to sleep in. This room was used by anyone who came to visit them, including numerous grandchildren. On her first night there, she was preparing for bed. As was her habit, she always read a bit before turning off the light for the night. She was doing just that when the door opened and…
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Nearly every haunted house movie begins the same way – a middle-class family invests every penny they have in an old fixer-upper. There is a married couple, a child (or children,) a cat and/or a dog. There is often (though not always) something a little dysfunctional or unusual about the family. Communication is these families is usually spotty at best. The husband and wife don’t confide in each other. The parents ignore unusual behavior by the kids or the animals, and don’t give credence to anything odd the kids say. The family is full of hope. It’s a brand-new, high-stakes, fresh-start for everyone.
Then bad things start to happen.
Ogre and I just got back from seeing The Conjuring. It’s a great movie in many ways, destined to become a horror classic.
I could not help but ask myself the same question I always do when I see another haunted house movie:
- When, exactly, would I pack up my shit and get the hell out?
When you’ve see The Conjuring (and I recommend you do if you haven’t) PLEASE come here and tell me when YOU would flee. (Or, at the very least, seek out professional help.)
WARNING: If you click the following (READ THE REST OF THIS PAGE) link, you will see a detailed list of scary events that happen to the Perron family, leading up to the moment when they contact the Warrens.
I’ve been stricken with the flu since Saturday, but I’m feeling much better. Tonight, I return to work at the paranormal hotel. I’ll work tomorrow too, and maybe venture back to the gym for a nice gentle treadmill walk.
If you follow @RRudeParanormal, you already know that my first trip to our brand new health club on Friday evening delayed my realization that I had the flu. The confusion was compounded by my decision to spend all of Friday night writing … and consuming far too much coffee and too many cigarettes. When I woke Saturday morning, feeling awful, I thought I knew what was going on. I “cleverly” tweeted: Gave myself pseudo-flu. First made body aches @ gym. Then stayed up all night smoking. Voila: fatigue, burning eyes, sore throat & cough.
Having thus appropriately mocked myself, I went about my day.
Halfway through my regular shift at the hotel that night, I found myself sprawled on the floor in the office annex, out of sight of any cameras or guests. It was a long, surreal night. (I don’t do fevers well.) And it’s been a long week. Somewhere in that time, there was a trip to a nice doctor who gave me a miraculous slip of paper that said I shouldn’t go to work, or be near anyone. Mostly I’ve been sleeping (and aching and coughing and sneezing and taking dangerously hot baths) but I did put the finishing touches on the following video.
Back in January, my husband and I spent a few hours practicing our paranormal investigation skills in room 217 at the old hotel. We made many mistakes, forgot to do half of what we intended, and had a great time together.
Right now, I’m working on the EVP session that begins just as this video ends. I’ve been shocked to see that no one is posting the kind of EVP video that I want to see – the kind that shows the waveform / sonograph of the suspected EVP right in the video. Turns out, that isn’t as easy to do as I assumed it would be. I’ll figure it out, but it’s going to take a little time and tech. Though it would be easy to spend more hours tweaking part one, It’s time to move on. Before I become immersed in part two, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned so far:
- Practice using your intended investigation tools more than you think you need to – they will be uncooperative when it’s dark, and there’s a camera recording your every hesitation.
- Don’t think you can ad-lib your way through missing props or non-functional tools. Have a backup plan.
- Don’t forget the tripod.
- Wear contacts if you have to. Glasses are distracting in night vision.
- If you’re over 40, try to avoid profile shots.
- Wear dark, matte clothing. The glowing shirt I’m wearing is just a pastel, cotton, button-up.
- Expect that EVERYTHING you record could end up in the final cut – “orbs” don’t wait for you to be ready.
We’re planning a trip to the infamous Palmer House this April. Maybe, by then, I’ll be ready.
NOTE: Thank you for visiting one of the most popular articles at The Paranormalist. Occasionally, I will add a link, which may of particular interest to ghost lovers, to this area of the post. Also, please note that this list is updated frequently to reflect developments in the genre. This page is being updated in August, 2015…a bit at a time.
The Ghost Story Genre:
In case it’s somehow possible for you to not know it, this is my favorite sub-genre of horror. Herein are the movies that most effectively creep-me-right-the-hell-out.
This is the genre that takes its time with me, the one that subtly builds eerie, evocative worlds, then populates those worlds with unforgettable characters. I remember the sly little thrills that glimmer in the corners of these films far longer than I remember the pulse-pounding chases of other sub-genres. (I am particularly vulnerable to a figure glimpsed in a mirror, or skulking through the frame, or simply manifesting quietly behind the main action.) I love the intimate scale of ghost stories. An entire tale can unfold in the space of a single room, on a single night, for a single person.
This genre’s slow and gentle approach seduces me into believing it all, even if only for a few moments. I am addicted to the escalating sense of dread provided by these films and I’m eager to share the best of the best with you.
You’ll see I’ve departed from my strict 13-best formula a little, I had to – there are just too many gems I would have had to discard if I’d remained faithful to format. It is also likely that you’ve seen many or most of the movies on the top 13 list. (Good ghost stories tend to do well at the box office.) I expanded the selection of recommendations here so there is somewhere to go after you’ve seen the blockbusters. As with all my Courting Creepy posts, I will update as I find even more great examples.
As always: Please let me know if I’m hitting my targets squarely, and feel free (even compelled) to make suggestions for inclusion.
[Click the linked titles to see each film’s IMDb entry.]
The 13 most haunting films, for ghost story lovers:
– Though the actual ghosts in this story are eerie, it’s the living who will unsettle you – especially the child Miles and the governess, Miss Giddens (played by a gorgeous Deborah Kerr.) That said, there is at least one chilling manifestation, near the lake, that will stay with you for a long time. It was watching this movie, back in October of 2011, that set me on the path toward Courting Creepy, though I didn’t know exactly what I planned to do at the time.
– Special acknowledgement for being the movie most likely to make one think twice about holding hands with someone in the dark. If it weren’t for The Changeling (below) I might list The Haunting as the best of the best. This is a classic for so many reasons. Be prepared for a leisurely pace and subtle effects.
– Best. Ghost. Movie. Ever.
This film’s effectiveness comes from the fact that the haunted protagonist is a smart, pragmatic, mature, manly man – John Russell – who is played beautifully by the great George C. Scott. If that’s not enough for you, there’s that creepy wheelchair too.
– Special acknowledgment for implanting into my mind the ghosts that I’m most likely to hallucinate when patrolling the ever-so-long halls of the hotel on the night-shift: The Grady Girls. Despite Kubrick’s emphasis on Jack’s mental disintegration (rather than the haunts of the Overlook Hotel) the effectiveness of the ghosts themselves is not diminished. Stephen King wrote creepy ghosts, period. The key, I think is in the mysterious nature of some of the dead – one finishes the movie wanting to know more details about why the spirits roam the Overlook.
This movie has a passionate, loyal following, and for good reason: it’s a clean, classic ghost story, well told. As a bonus, it’s beautifully atmospheric. I mean, come on, how could it be anything less than awesome, considering it begins with an appealing little boy being locked into a cloakroom, where he witnesses the appearance of a mysterious apparition, on Halloween, 1962. (If you are looking for more movies set on Halloween, check out: 13 movies – set on or around Halloweentime – to watch in the 13 weeks before Halloween.)
– Is there anyone alive who hasn’t seen The Sixth Sense? There’s still some fun to be had if you view it again with the intention of pin-pointing the exact moment when you SHOULD have figured out what was going on. Better yet, find a young relative who isn’t a movie buff and watch him/her experience it for the first time. (They are easier to find than you think they’d be – my son watches no television and few movies. It’s all about gaming and the internet these days … says the old woman.)
– I know, I know. Once a movie has been parodied as much as The Blair Witch Project has, it’s hard to take it seriously. Scoff all you like, then tell me where you’re taking your summer camping trip. I’ll be sure to drop by and leave a little arts & craft project dangling from a nearby branch. We’ll see how silly this film is then. Shaky-cam be damned – this is a scary film.
– Nicole Kidman. Elegant. Understated. Refined. Creepy as hell. And the movie is too.
This is a special film. Though it’s set in a glaring, arid desert, at the end of the Spanish Civil War, this movie evokes a mood that is dark, lush and timeless. Mysteries and secrets hide in every shadow. The characters are compelling, and we understand the very human emotions and motivations behind their actions. It’s beautiful too. (This film is in Spanish.)
– I preferred The Ring over the Japanese original, Ringu. The centerpiece of both films is a videotape, and it is the American version of this movie inside the movie that gets me.
– By the time I saw this film (on DVD, in September 2012) I’d all but given up on contemporary horror and taken refuge in older movies. After watching The Orphanage, I gushed about it here. This is the film that made me realize that great horror is still being created, it’s just that you might have to look a little harder and further afield for it than you did in the past. (This film is in Spanish.)
The Awakening (2011) *new to top 13*
– This film has just edged The Amityville Horror out of the top 13. I worry that my modern sensibilities are making me demote films that I feel are are dated, but I’m soothed by the fact that this is an excellent period piece, set in 1921. Like many of my other favorites, it is a subtle, beautifully filmed story that unfolds slowly. This is especially fun for we paranormal folk, because the female lead is a paranormal investigator.
I am not a big fan of the real-life Lorraine and Ed Warren. There I said it. ‘Seems to me they have a clear agenda, and that is to assign a demonic nature to the hauntings they come across. On the way to the movie with my husband, Ogre, I shared that opinion. (He’s not well-versed in paranormal studies, and had never heard of the Warrens.) AFTER the movie, he said, “Well it’s no wonder the Warrens approved the film, considering how the studio bent over backwards to …” be so complimentary. (I’m paraphrasing that last bit – I can’t repeat what he actually said. This is a PG-13 blog.)
But this list is about the quality of a MOVIE, not how closely it parallels true-life. For that reason, The Conjuring has rocketed into my top 13 – and I expect it to stay there. The cast is stellar, the acting superb. The production values are top-notch. It’s chock-full of effective scares. It will especially appeal to anyone who grew up in the 70s (or loves the era) – the details are dead on.
After you’ve seen this movie, do me a favor and go here: When would YOU get the hell out of the house in The Conjuring? to answer my one question poll.
~ bonus ghost movies ~
The Uninvited (1944)
– This is a much-beloved movie that reliably shows up on other best horror lists. Frankly, I don’t get it. It’s not even quite bad enough to make it to the campy list below.
Carnival of Souls (1962)
– A soundtrack consisting almost entirely of pipe organ music makes me crazy, but the uncanniness of Mary’s life after she survives a car wreak, takes a job in a new town, becomes obsessed with an abandoned theme park, deals with a smarmy fellow-roomer and repeatedly encounters a mysterious, threatening stranger, is strangely compelling.
Dementia 13 (1963) – *former top-13*
– The inciting story here is a bit trite and forgettable but – thanks to the much more interesting backstory about an estate’s pond – there are some killer visuals in this movie. ‘Probably most famous for being Francis Ford Coppola’s first Director credit.
The Legend of Hell House (1973)
– Special acknowledgement for most perverse ghost: Emeric Belasco. Richard Matheson adapted, and toned down, his own novel for the screenplay. Another reason to watch it: Roddy McDowell.
Burnt Offerings (1976) *new*
Karen. Black. That’s a good enough reason to watch it. Otherwise, I think it’s a bit of a slow mover with an unexpectedly shocking scene in a pool. (At least to me.) Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bloody or graphic film, but that one scene made me flinch and I still don’t like to think about it. Gotta love horror that really lingers in the mind.
The Sentinel (1977)
– Because the beginning scenes in this movie are so wooden – so reminiscent of 70s porn – my finger had half-pushed the make-it-stop button … then Burgess Meredith showed up with a cat. I set the remote aside. Several intense elements stand out in this otherwise mediocre film: the introductions of the weirdly interesting and disturbing neighbors, a quick visit from a truly terrifying apparition, and a freaky crowd scene near the end. All that said, I do like the plot of this movie – I just wish it had been made better.
The Haunting of Julia (1977) aka Full Circle *new*
– Mia Farrow stars in this haunted flat movie. Her waifish appearance and neurotic manner is perfect for the role of Julia, an American housewife who separates from her husband and moves to London after accidentally killing her own daughter in the horrifying first few minutes of the film. The unfolding of the back-story of the London ghost(s) she encounters is both puzzling and engrossing. There is a lot of (not gory) cutting and breaking going on in the movie, and I believe the ending would have made more sense to me if I had been paying closer attention to that particular motif as I watched. Part of the effectiveness of this movie comes directly from the soundtrack, by Colin Towns.
The Amityville Horror (1979) *former top-13*
– Special acknowledgement for most successful warp-age of a harmless farm-animal into a terrifying demon-creature: Jody the Pig. Not the best writing, not the best acting. But those windows! That hip-shaped roof! This film is replete with so many images and ideas that have become horror tropes that it’s a must see.
Ghost Story (1981)
– John Houseman, Melvyn Douglas, Fred Astaire, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. – This film is worth watching if only to marvel at the ridiculously appealing cast of aged leading men. They make the young actors in the film almost invisible, even despite the full frontal nudity.
Poltergeist (1982) *former top-13*
– Like The Amityville Horror, this movie has become canon. Toby Hooper and Stephen Spielberg teamed up to give us a ghost movie extravaganza of special effects – which is cool, if you enjoy that sort of thing. As for me, though, I have nightmares about a simple and subtle effect — those damned kitchen chairs.
Stir of Echoes (1999)
Kevin Bacon. And who doesn’t love bacon? Seriously, this is a pretty good film which I’ve firmly wedged into this list’s sister post: 13 unsettling films – for psychological horror fans – at Halloween (or anytime.)
What Lies Beneath (2000)
– This movie stars two actors I like: Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford. It’s directed by Robert Zemeckis. I remember seeing it in the theater. I’ve just read the IMDb synopsis and watched the trailer. Yet I still can’t say that it made much of an impression on me.
Session 9 (2001)
– I added this film to the list upon the suggestion of a reader. I’m still not entirely certain it belongs here, but you’ll have to decide for yourself. The question, of course, is: Does a ghost haunt this abandoned mental institution? This is an eerie, unsettling movie, and well worth watching.
Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
– I had a terrible time following the plot of this time-shifting movie, but I didn’t care – because the visual scares were just brilliant. Wonderful use of mirrors and peripheral vision shots. I can’t tell you my favorite scene of all without spoiling it for those who haven’t seen the movie, but I will tell you that it involves a bed and the direction of attack. I have not seen the American remake, The Grudge.
– A ghost movie with the star power of Halle Barry, Robert Downy Jr., Penélope Cruz and Charles S. Dutton. Very smooth and professional treatment. Both pretty and scary, but not particularly memorable.
– Special acknowledgement for creepiest ghost that we also feel sorry for: The Mechanical Girl.
The Skeleton Key (2005)
– A voodoo ghost story, set in a decaying plantation house, in the bayou outside New Orleans. This movie was made for me. (I have a thing about New Orleans.) The stand-out in this film is Gena Rowlands as the eccentric and unpredictable plantation owner. She deftly switches from charming to menacing and back again throughout the movie.
White Noise (2005)
– Not a great movie for me to watch this month as I prepare to do my first EVP recordings at the old hotel, in rooms 107 & 217. This is a decent movie – though probably not as scary for some as it was for me. The EVPs heard in the opening credits are purportedly genuine.
– The axe Jack Nicholson used in The Shining has a cameo in this movie. John Cusack stars in this film which is based on a Stephen King short story. You’d think I’d adore it, but it’s a little too special effects-heavy for my taste. I love reality bending in books, but it’s hard to portray it well on film. There is much to know about this film though – after you’ve seen it, read through the IMDb trivia page for lots of fun stuff.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
– This movie has some flaws, including characters that are hard to identify with or even like, and some well-parodied special effects. (Ouija board.) Despite that, I still get the willies when Katie watches Micah sleep.
The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)
– I have dreams in which I find rooms I didn’t know existed attached to my home. In this movie, there is a locked room in the basement that reminds me of my dreams. The Haunting In Connecticut brims with make-you-jump-out-of-your-skin moments, but I have a little trouble suspending my disbelief long enough to really enjoy it – I can’t help but wonder what good mother would allow her sick, vulnerable son to choose the creepy basement room for his own when there are several perfectly good bedrooms upstairs. (Maybe there is an element, too, of being a bit freaked out, in a not-good way, by a ghost story that shows a teenage boy being tormented. My son is 17.)
– A great all-around thriller with an involving plot, spoiled slightly by the bizarre decision to go with a Darth Maul-like makeup. Like Annie, from The Pact, this family tries to do the sensible thing when things go wonky, which makes one want to root for them.
The Innkeepers (2011) *new*
– A good movie that takes a fresh approach to about half of its content. (It’s a strange blend of familiar, even tired, haunted-location tropes combined with innovative characterizations.) Sadly, I never really connected emotionally with any of the characters, so I wasn’t drawn in as much as I should have been. That said, it was great fun for me to see a haunted hotel film. Because of this movie, I wonder about the intentions of certain obviously single guests that check into my paranormal hotel. The movie was filmed at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, in Torrington, Connecticut, which is open for business.
An American Ghost Story (2012) *new*
– This is a micro-budget ($10,000) independent film, and it shows the love its creators have for it in every shot. There is nothing new here — in fact there is at least one very old trope — but I love it anyway. No blood. No gore. Lots of creepy atmosphere, even though it’s set in a modern house. You can watch this film with anybody except, perhaps, a very young child.
The Woman in Black (2012)
– I found the last third of this film to be a bit of a let down, but that’s only because there was so much to love in the first two-thirds. Lots of wonderful atmospheric stuff, beautifully shot.
– A solid spooker, with some great imagery and a building sense of menace. To me, it feels very traditional, though it has its own flare. Turns out, “Writer C. Robert Cargill got the idea for the script from a nightmare he had after watching The Ring.” And that explains my perception, I think.
The Pact (2012) *former top-13*
– Special acknowledgement for the most kickass, yet entirely believable, female lead in a ghost story: Annie, played by Caity Lotz. Unlike so many films, where you find yourself thinking “what kind of idiot would actually go down those stairs,” it’s hard to fault Annie for her decisions and actions.
Mama (2013) *new*
– I have always been fascinated with feral children. The twist in this film, of course, is that the two very young children who must survive without human companionship are raised not by a wolf or a baboon, but by a non-corporeal entity. I wish the movie had spent more time on how the children lived alone and the way that effected them once they were recovered. The story of how Mama came to be is interesting, but then the movie takes a somewhat cloying turn at the end. Jessica Chastain does a fantastic job of showing character development in this movie as she reluctantly transforms from a happily childless rocker to a responsible parent.
~ campy fun ~
13 Ghosts (1960)
– Another William Castle production. This one was screened with special glasses that allowed a theater-goer to “see” the actual ghosts.
The Fog (1980)
– Adrienne Barbeau and Jamie Lee Curtis and Janet Leigh. Oh my.
Best ghost movie ever: The Changeling.
Back in late November, I made the following excited post to my personal Facebook page:
I found the haunted room here at the new hotel!!!
Yes, there were three exclamation points. You’d think I would have immediately come here to the blog to share the story, but I was otherwise monopolized. At the time, I was deeply embroiled in my quest to complete 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo. When that was done, I was ensnared by my life – or rather the lives of my menfolk. I’ve been helping my husband get pysched up for starting his new job (which he begins tomorrow – praise all the saints) and helping my son get calmed down for his first *college-level finals (and his first real date – oh-my-God, how old am I?)
* Remember, he’s only just turned 17, I’ve still got some mothering to do.
For the last two days, I’ve been concentrating on preparing myself for the next phase of this new life we’re creating. I’ve organized & disciplined the HELL out of my calendar and my planner. (When I listen carefully, I can hear them still whimpering faintly.) I’ve set new goals and recommitted to old ones. I’ve tidied up some of the pages around the blog.
I’m feeling organized, confident and hopeful. I know what I need to do next, and what I need to do after that. Soon I’m going to go get cozy, on this wintry night, with a horror movie. (We’re having the first snow storm of the season here in Minnesota.) There’s a little time now, though, to tell you my mini-ghost story.
In room 566:
Deep in the night, on a mid-week shift at the new hotel, I realized a particular room – which had never before been available – was marked as rent-able. I had noted it on the list before, because it is labeled as a king suite. As far as I knew at the time, the hotel did not have any suites. When I had asked about it, I was told that I didn’t have to worry about it because a long term guest was in residence there.
Curious now that it was unoccupied, I set the back-in-five-minutes sign on the counter and went to have a look. I took the elevator to the top floor, then walked about half-way along the hall until I came to the correct door. I knocked – like I always do – waited, then let myself into the room. I located a single switch to my left, and flipped it on. A dim light from one wall-mounted lamp oozed out to fill the room, but it was weak, and it left soft shadows in the corners. Directly in front of me there was a living area furnished with a slightly shabby sofa, two matching side chairs, a scarred coffee table and a large television encased in an open armoire that stood against the right hand wall. In the middle of the big room, a writing desk pressed up to the back of the sofa. Beyond that, against the far left wall, a low king sized bed crouched between two night stands.
I stepped into the space and let the door shut behind me. To my left there was a small kitchenette, separated from the rest of the room by a wall of its own and narrow breakfast bar. I ran my fingers along the bar top as I crossed toward the desk. I was wondering where the bathroom was, and if it was any larger or grander than those in our regular rooms. I stood next to the desk’s bench for a moment, until I figured out that the bathroom was next to the kitchenette, and that it didn’t look like it could be very spacious.
It was then, when I was standing in the middle of the room, facing the bed, that the television behind me came to life.
I spun around, thinking someone had followed me into the the room and turned it on. There was no one near the television, except for the white-haired news anchor displayed on the screen. For a few seconds, I stood frozen, then I turned in a slow circle, scanning the room for any possible spot that could conceal a person. (I have a fear of letting myself into an occupied room. It’s been haunting me ever since the unexpected occupant in room 217 spooked me badly.) Finally, I thought to check the bathroom. It, too, was empty. Even though, by then, I was convinced that I was truly alone in the suite, I looked for the room’s remote control. It was resting on one of the night stands.
One part of my mind was scrambling for a rational explanation, but it was having some trouble because another part was busy screaming, “Appliances that turn themselves on and off are classic signs of a haunting!”
At last my rational brain deduced a plausible answer: the television had to be plugged into a socket that was powered by the switch I had flipped upon entering the room. Without realizing it, I’d provided power to a television that had been left on. There had been a delay simply because some TVs take a little time to warm up. (Later, of course, I realized that some TVs from the 70’s required warm-up time, but I wasn’t thinking about how old or new the set was in that moment.)
Since I had figured out the probable explanation, one thing remained to do: I went back and turned off the only switch I had touched since entering the room.
The room instantly went dark … except for the flickering, bluish light the television continued to pour out. I had to cross the suite to fetch the remote in order to kill it.
So what do you think? Faulty wiring maybe? Or some kind of reverse sleep timer?
Or just the way things are at:
photo credit: Dfardin Licensed CC BY-NC 2.0 (Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic)
It has been cropped to square.
NOTE: This post may have been re-titled and edited from its original form,
for inclusion on The Paranormal Hotel homepage.