Haunted houses are a standard in horror for a reason. Inhabiting a space where the disembodied spirits of the deceased comes with compounded fears. It’s not just that there’s an unsettling invasion of the very space that’s meant to provide comfort and security, but the chilling level of unpredictability that comes with ghostly presences. A masked maniac can be stopped, or at least temporarily subdued, but all bets are off in haunted houses.

Both housing and ghost stories have evolved over the decades, too, keeping this subgenre fresh. From decrepit gothic mansions to newly built subdivisions in suburbia, any abode can be haunted. Even submarines or space ships. That’s a whole other article, though. Here we look back specifically at homes and living spaces whose ghosts spook audiences in spine-tingling ways.

These 20 are the all-time best haunted house horror movies.

The Sentinel

This underseen horror movie arrived at the tale end of a wave of Satanic/Catholic-centered horror that began in earnest with Rosemary’s Baby, peaked with the Exorcist, and started to wind down with The Omen. Though the eerie hauntings at the heart of the film are occult in nature, The Sentinel adheres to the rules of a haunted house story. Allison Parker moves into an apartment in an attempt to gain some independence, and it doesn’t take long before she starts hearing strange noises. And meeting her neighbors means bizarre encounters; that’s before she discovers through her real estate agent that she doesn’t actually have any neighbors. There may be hellish reasons behind it all, but this is one haunted apartment building.

The Legend of Hell House

Based on the novel Hell House by Richard Matheson, who also penned the screenplay, the haunted abode in this one is the Belasco House, a sprawling estate formerly owned by a rich serial killer. Physicist Lionel Barrett and his wife lead a team of mediums to investigate the “Mount Everest of haunted houses.” A set up that’s not unlike another classic haunted house feature also on this list, but the execution couldn’t be any more different. What it lacks in special effects it makes up for in atmosphere and one very menacing entity.


Or simply House, this Japanese cult classic takes the haunted house concept to wacky extremes. The premise has a group of seven high school girls traveling to a remote home belonging to one of their aunts, and it happens to be haunted. That doesn’t adequately prepare the viewer for the madness within. Take the haunted house tropes, like spooky cats, bleeding walls, vengeful ghosts, and combine it with hallucinogenic visuals and funhouse sensibilities, and you have the most bizarre haunted house horror movie you’ll ever see. I mean that as a compliment.

Paranormal Activity

The 2007 found footage film that launched a franchise proved you don’t need much to create atmosphere. For Micah and Katie, moving into a new home turns into an inescapable nightmare when strange activity becomes a nightly occurrence, ramping up with every passing night. The personalities of the two lead characters and the slow build of tension and scare-crafting has proven divisive in the years since release, but it’s hard to discount a movie that delivers such chilling moments. And the original kickstarted a series with even better sequels.

The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense

The breakout hit of M. Night Shyamalan’s career and the movie that embedded “I see dead people,” into the pop culture collective pulled at our heartstrings thanks to Cole Sear, the shy boy terrorized by ghosts in his own home. The scares are extremely effective, and the emotional arcs of the central characters grounds the supernatural aspects. It’s not the twist that makes The Sixth Sense such a doozy (though that’s memorable), but that it’s not actually Cole’s home that’s haunted- it’s him.

The Uninvited

Horror taught us from its early stages that if the price tag on a home seems too good to be true, well, it is. For a composer and his sister, they’re elated to acquire a seaside mansion for a bargain. It’s due to an unsavory history, of course. Though not scary by modern standards, this is a bonafide classic and early pioneer of some of the tropes of the subgenre. The ghostly mysteries, the atmosphere, and a chilling score makes for a fantastic, traditional ghost story.

Ju-On: The Grudge

The third entry in Takashi Shimizu’s terrifying franchise introduced Kayako and her equally terrifying son Toshio to international audiences. While most haunted houses bear the imprint of past traumas through its ghostly residences, Ju-On takes it a step further by ensuring that house is irrevocably cursed. Kayako and Toshio suffered horrible deaths, and their pain manifested in the form of vengeful spirits that doom anyone who steps foot into their former home to suffer the same fate.

Lake Mungo

A haunting portrayal of a family coping with loss after the drowning of 16-year-old Alice during a lake outing leads to some unexpected discoveries about the daughter and sister the family thought they knew. Handled mockumentary style, Lake Mungo uses interviews with the family to help piece together the puzzle of Alice’s secretive life, and with it, the potential of her spirit still lingering within their home. There are twists, chills, and a lot of heartbreak in one of the best haunted house tales you might not have seen.


This made for TV movie stirred up controversy for the BBC upon initial airing, as its mockumentary style left viewers convinced what they’d just watched had been real. It plays like a live TV special with a camera crew on-site attempting to investigate the truth behind the most haunted house in the country. Neither they nor the viewer was prepared for the scares that would ensue. That mockumentary, TV special style is precisely why this show works- you aren’t expecting the scares, so you’re caught completely off guard every single time. Even the subtle ones.

The Orphanage

Best Horror Films

What a debut by director J.A. Bayona (A Monster Calls, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom). As an adult, Laura returns to the closed down orphanage in which she grew up with plans to reopen it as a center for disabled children. But when her HIV positive son learns he’s adopted and goes missing soon after, strange things begin happening within the expansive orphanage. Laura’s former friends from childhood may never have left at all. It’s creepy, it’s moving, and it takes a few unexpected turns in terms of plot. Kids in horror are creepy, but kid ghosts? Even creepier.

House on Haunted Hill

Produced and directed by the king of the gimmick, William Castle, this Vincent Price vehicle followed a group of people who agree to be locked in a large haunted house overnight for a chance at $10,000. Their millionaire host and his wife have all sorts of spooky plans to help scare them out of their chance at cash, making for a fun twist on the haunted house tale. Despite some scares and suspense building, there aren’t any actual ghosts in this movie- just a vicious spousal spat that culminates in murder plots. The 1999 remake made sure to include them, but of course, we pay our respects to the original.

The Innocents

With Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of The Turn of the Screw heading to Netflix next year, as The Haunting of Bly Manor, now is a perfect time to revisit the earliest screen adaptation. Despite no job experience, a wealthy bachelor hires Miss Giddens to care for his orphaned niece and nephew so he can resume his travels abroad without a care. Miss Giddens soon comes to suspect that both the house and the children are haunted. The Innocents takes an ambiguous approach that works; is Miss Giddens having a mental break down or is there an actual haunting? That psychological turmoil, combined with the subtle and well-crafted chills, makes this a classic.

The Others

After a string of haunts in suburbia and modern settings, this one brought the ghost story back to its gothic roots. Set in 1945, a mother cares for her light-sensitive children while her husband is away at war. Things start going bump in the night, and soon the children claim to see other people inhabiting their home with threats that the house actually belongs to them. This traditional ghost story eventually gives way to a tragic reveal that changes the perspective of the entire film. If there’s one recurring theme of haunted houses, it’s residual grief that refuses to mend.

The Amityville Horror

Rapidly approaching its 40th anniversary, this adaptation of a novel of the same name launched an ongoing franchise that refuses to die. The plot sees newlyweds purchase a large lakeside house for a bargain price, unaware of the gruesome murders that had taken place prior. It doesn’t take long for evil to present itself in ominous ways, and this haunter is among the first to present a plausible reason the family simply can’t flee- they’ve sunk everything they have into this new home. The Amityville Horror was a huge hit at the box office thanks to the popularity of the book and the cast. The iconic scares helped too.

The Conjuring

The Conjuring

James Wan took everything he’d learned from Insidious and Dead Silence, poured it into this franchise starter and perfected the art of the scare. Like the Lutz family from The Amityville Horror, the Perron family sink everything into their purchase of a fixer-upper farmhouse only to find they’re unwanted guests of the entities who live there. The Lutz family didn’t have the Warrens to aide them, though. The Conjuring offers up an all-you-can-scare buffet, but with characters you sympathize with. The box office never stood a chance.

Burnt Offerings

Adapted from a novel and brought to life by horror TV master Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker), a lot of the familiar tropes in haunted house horror took their cues from this one. The Rolf family get an opportunity to trade their cramped New York apartment for a mansion on the cheap for summer vacation. The only caveat to the low rental fee is that they have to consent to bringing the owners’ elderly mother three meals a day up in the attic room. But despite the familiarity with modern haunted house fare as we know it, Burnt Offerings presents the most unique haunted house of them all. I won’t spoil it, but between the refreshing concept and its talented cast, this is a must.

The Changeling

After suffering the devastating and traumatic loss of his wife and child, composer John Russell relocates across the country, renting a historic Victorian mansion. The mansion’s history means that Russell has ghostly encounters to deal with in addition to his still raw grief. Peter Medak’s seminal haunted house film is definitely slow burn, but with the deliberate unraveling of the mystery behind the unhappy entity and the bone-chilling scares, The Changeling is an all-timer. You’ll never look at a seemingly benign red ball the same way ever again.

The Haunting

Based on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House novel, The Haunting sees Dr. John Markway enlist a team to investigate the reported paranormal activity at 90-year-old mansion Hill House, the original home to the Crain family before tragedy befell them. One of the investigators, Nell, came into the investigation already wracked with guilt over a loss, making her fragile mind susceptible to the house. The Haunting takes a two-prong approach to the terror; Nell’s psychological deterioration and the legit paranormal activity. Director Robert Wise delivers a masterful treatise on grief and horror, and proves even a G-rated movie can get under your skin.


We can thank this seminal horror film for the advent of the PG-13 rating system, as this PG film isn’t for the faint of heart. The Tobe Hooper-directed, Steven Spielberg-produced haunter is a special effects bonanza that helped transition the haunted house away from the sprawling decrepit estates that were customary and into the familiar setting of suburbia. In a brand new neighborhood, no less. Of course, we soon learn it’s because the developers built it upon a cemetery. And the poor Freeling family suffered most of all for it.

The Shining

Yes, the Overlook Hotel technically isn’t a house, but the Torrance family did use it as living quarters during Jack’s tenure as hotel caretaker during the offseason. For all intents and purposes, the Overlook became their home. At least until the ghosts of its past helped usher in Jack’s mental breakdown. Stanley Kubrick focused on the psychological element of Stephen King’s haunting novel, but that didn’t make it any less supernatural or horrifying. Kubrick’s disturbing vision, the talented cast, and the memorable iconography of this adaptation forever solidified its ranking as an all-time cinematic masterpiece.

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Author : Meagan Navarro

Publish date : 2019-08-06 20:28:40