Floorboards creak, doors slam shut, and spooky spirits go bump in the night; the haunted house movie is a staple of the horror genre, and for good reason — paranormal thrills never go out of style. Where slashers and creature features come and go from cinematic trends, tales of ghostly apparitions and supernatural spooks never seem to go out of style. Perhaps it’s because the haunted house genre contains magnitudes. Gothic romance, quirky comedies, and of course, tales of terror populate the genre, which offers a big, free realm for filmmakers to play in. It’s also a visceral, primal fear, but unlike the zombies and slashers that prowl through other horror hits, there’s something fundamentally unknowable about ghost stories; a mysterious freedom that allows filmmakers to bend the rules without breaking the suspension of disbelief and discover countless ways to conjure up fear from the specters of the dead.
With that in mind, we tried not to be too pedantic about what could earn a spot on the list. The films didn’t have to be straight-up horror, though the nature of the genre ensures that there will be some chilling or at least morbid moments. We also allowed for films that offer a refreshing spin on the haunted house format like Insidious and Lake Mungo — they may not match the traditional idea of what a haunting looks like, but they absolutely embrace the structure and tropes of the genre to deliver their thrills and chills.
The haunted house genre is vast and enduring, which means this is nowhere near a comprehensive list, but in putting it together we looked for a mix of classics and newfound favorites from across the decades. So grab your EVP recorders and full spectrum cameras, and get ready for some ghostly good times in the picks below, and for more recommendations check out our list of underseen haunted house movies.