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Ghost Took Haunting to Another Level, But Which Ghost Story Is the Spookiest?

Ghosts have haunted the movies since there were movies to haunt: silent-era audiences shuddered through not one but two versions of Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carol. Since then, tales of specters have just kept evolving. There’s the spooky Uninvited; the melancholy Changeling; the sexy Demi Moore-Patrick Swayze romance, Ghost; and the pioneer of the Japanese horror phenomenon, Ring. With so many different takes on the genre, choosing the best can be haunting. Here we narrowed the list down to our top ten picks for the scariest ghost stories on the big screen. Read on, if you dare!

10. The Sixth Sense
M. Night Shyamalan’s breakthrough movie blew all other ghost stories out of the water — including the arguably better (and similarly themed) Stir of Echoes, which was released a month later. And all because little Haley Joel Osment whispered “I see dead people” with such creepy conviction. Whether you saw the end of the movie coming from a mile away or not, there are still many moments that are pretty startling.

9. Poltergeist
A single brief sequence — the one in which little cutie Carol Anne stares raptly at a static-filled TV screen, puts her hand to the glass, and giggles “They’re here” in that unforgettable childish singsong — qualifies this Steven Spielberg-produced suburban horror tale for any list of the ten most chilling ghost movies. Add the one in which the world’s creepiest clown doll comes to malevolent life during a thunderstorm, and the case is closed.

8. The Others
A skittish young wife (Nicole Kidman) awaits her husband’s return from WWII to the isolated island home she shares with her pale photosensitive children. The rambling house is haunted — there’s no doubt about that — but by whom and why? Genre fans will guess long before the shocking revelation, but Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar works up and maintains a seriously ominous atmosphere.

7. The Curse of the Cat People
No, the sequel to 1942’s Cat People didn’t slink onto the wrong list: it’s a lovely, delicately eerie little story about a lonely, imaginative child befriended by the ghost of her father’s first wife, who may or may not have been a lethally beautiful were-panther. Truly haunting, in the best sense of the word.

6. The Invisible
You can’t really talk about this Swedish movie without spoiling the big revelation. The frustrated teen ghost drifting unnoticed around his hometown isn’t a ghost at all: he is actually lying in the woods nearby and nearly dead. His confused ghost has been cut loose from his flesh just a little ahead of schedule. The American remake is formulaic, but the original cleverly bends genres and builds to a satisfying — if devastating — conclusion.

5. The Innocents
A high-strung governess whose absentee employer charges her with caring for two young siblings on a luxurious but isolated country estate becomes convinced that they’re possessed by the licentious ghosts of their previous governess and her lover. Is she projecting her own feverish fantasies onto a pair of guiltless children, or is she dead right? And which alternative is the more disturbing?

4. Paranormal Activity
Oren Peli’s low-budget spook-house ride uses the overused mock-documentary format made famous by The Blair Witch Project, telling the story of a likable young couple’s torture by some malevolent something via faux-home-video footage. Overhyped? Yes. Scary as hell? Double yes. And Paranormal Activity 2 and Paranormal Activity 3 are just as good.

3. Ju-on Series
They solve the haunted-house problem, answering the question, Why don’t people just get out of the house when the ghostly high jinks start? In the Ju-on movies, they do. But once they’ve entered the pretty little house in suburban Tokyo where a mother and child were murdered, the haunting sticks to them. The American remakes are good, but the Japanese originals are outstanding.

2. The Devil’s Backbone
Set in 1939, Guillermo del Toro’s tale of two lost boys, one living and the other dead, unfolds in an orphanage for children who’ve lost their parents to the Spanish Civil War. It’s spooky and perfectly attuned to the horror of being a child in a world so filled with predatory, violent adults that the ghost of a murdered youngster holds no terror at all.

1. The Haunting
A doctor interested in the supernatural and his three volunteers — a hipster psychic, a wealthy playboy, and a timid wallflower — investigate Hill House, long reputed to be a hotbed of, yes, paranormal activity. Suffice it to say that science is no match for things that go bump in the night. Hill House is haunted — haunted as hell — and it preys on the weaknesses and insecurities of its uninvited visitors.

Like a ghost story with some romance? Don’t miss Ghost on Thu., Dec. 8, at 8PM I 7C.

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