Gimme Five: Movies with Bone-Chilling Ghosts and Demons

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I am in no way suggesting that these films were the best of this horror sub-genre. I am simply saying that, to me, these movies left a lasting impression at the time they were viewed.

I consider these movies terrifying in a way that may not make you jump from your seat in fear, but after they end they leave a stain in your mind forever. I am writing this assuming those that read it saw these movies. I will not give full synopses of the films. We are going to just dive right in.

In order for these movies to qualify, they had to fit at least three of the following four criteria: They had to be good movies, not of the B variety; the ghosts/demons/apparitions for the most part have to be nameless/faceless entities; they have to be scary, or leave you feeling uneasy afterward; and there must be at least one or more iconic moments …

THE SHINING (1980): There are so many theories about Stanley Kubrick’s vision for The Shining. Conspiracies abound about what the film was truly about. Stephen King, himself, was not a big fan of Kubrick’s adaptation. Over time, I believe King became more accepting of it. This movie is what I call, cinematic horror. For some reason, it’s hard to consider this movie true horror. Some people would say it plays more like a psychological thriller. Whatever you consider The Shining to be, no one can argue how tense it is. There is a scene where Danny is riding his toy bike through the hotel. Literally, that’s all that’s happening. Accompanied with really tense music, the camera follows Danny from behind, as he turns every corner, the audience turns every corner. Though nothing is happening, you have this feeling of anxiety come over you as you wait and wait for something, anything, to happen. That is one of many scenes that are just creepy, though nothing horror-ish is going on. The hotel itself is a great character in the film. Maybe, it’s because the year it was shot and everything in the late ’70s/early ’80s was yellow, brown and orange; but for some reason, as upscale as the hotel appears to be, I wouldn’t step three feet into the surrounding towns of this place. The Shining, more than any film on this list, is atmospheric. It’s not the hotel, it’s not Jack and his axe, it’s everything about this story that just feels claustrophobic an uneasy. Oh yeah, one more thing. The two little twin girls that ask Danny to come play with them? Truly terrifying.

ICONIC MOMENTS: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Redrum. Here’s Johnny!

POLTERGEIST (1982): I personally no longer find this movie scary. However, I was a young kid when I first saw it — and it always stayed with me. It’s a classic haunted-house movie. A family moves into a house that was built on a Native American burial ground, and horror ensues. What I find creepier than the ghosts themselves are the actors Heather O’Rourke (Carol Anne Freeling) and Zelda Rubinstein (Tangina). Though they are not the proverbial “bad guys” in the film, they are just as eerie. When Carol Anne is putting her hands on the TV and Tangina first comes into the fold, they provide the unpleasantness the rest of the movie just doesn’t have. First off, children are just scary. Even if they are not the ones who are the ghosts or demons or vengeful spirits, you stick a kid in a horror film, I immediately do not like that kid. There is something terrifying in their innocence. Tangina, well though she is not a child, she out-scared the ghosts. Her voice, her face … I don’t know what it is about her, but when she is on camera, she just makes me creeped out. Though over time the special effects have become dated and — given horror movies of late — the overall story is a little flat, this movie is an iconic ghost story, with two great iconic moments.

ICONIC MOMENTS: “Step into the light, Carol Anne.” They’re heeeeere!

THE CONJURING (2013): This is the most recent movie on the list. For about 20 years, ghost stories, especially haunted house movies, were pumping out garbage — i.e.. A Haunting in Connecticut, The Haunting, the remake of Amityville Horror, Dream House, etc. Recently, however, horror movies have made a serious comeback in the mainstream. Up until a few years ago, there was nothing scary anymore. Everything was CGI, special-effects bullshit. Fast forward to 2013, and you get a story that has been done over and over and over, but somehow, manages not only to breathe some life in a old sub-genre, but be scary as all hell. The scariest part of this movie is: nothing. Let me explain. There is a scene where the mother is hearing doors slam, laughing throughout the house, and she decides to follow the noises and investigate. Now, I know what you’re going to say. How is that nothing? Well, if you are a horror veteran, a little laughing and doors slamming are, like, Ghost Story 101. This movie, however, manages to make the atmosphere so tense and unnerving that you just fear something is going to happen at every single turn. I don’t know what, but I know the next time this chick turns the corner, there is going to be something. But there wasn’t. She didn’t open a door and a stupid cat pops out so the audience can jump from their chair — and I think that’s what was even scarier. The movie somehow manages to play with your mind into thinking that, any moment now, something will surely come out, but it drags you along for half the movie before cashing that in. By the time those god-awful hands come out for a quick clap, you’re just completely terrified. I love horror movies that don’t rely on cheap tricks, like something popping out to scare the audience. Before anything really happens in The Conjuring, you’re already afraid and that’s not easily done in this day and age.

(SURE TO BE AN) ICONIC MOMENT: Hey, wanna play a game of — hide and clap? [*clap clap*]

THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005): So, we are at our first Demon possession story. Up until now we have been dealing with ghosts. In my own opinion, ghosts are nothing compared to demons. Demons are not just vengeful spirits, but the incarnation of evil. The Exorcism of Emily Rose is part horror, part courtroom drama, and all terrifying. Actress Jennifer Carpenter is largely the reason. Her ability to contort her body and derange her face is captivatingly scary. What I love about this movie is that it shows how she could be possessed or she could be mentally ill. Since it’s based on true events, you really never know if she was or wasn’t, but the scenes in which she is full-on mad are truly unsettling. You watch this movie once and you’ll never look at 3 a.m. the same way.

ICONIC MOMENT: OK, so I cheated. There really is no iconic moment in this film, but there should be: The scene where Emily Rose’s sister finds her on her knees in her room, eating, well — just watch it and see. It’s the kind of imagery that stays with you for a while.

THE EXORCIST (1973): This is the horror movie to which all horror movies should be measured, at least in this sub-genre. You feel this movie more than you watch it, and once you do watch it, it stays with you for a long time. It’s unsettling, it’s disturbing, and it’s pure terror. When the movie was first released, it caused mass hysteria in movie theaters across the country. People were passing out in the theaters, or running out scared for their lives, and the amount of possession-related incidents/claims practically tripled after its release. Name me one movie that has had that kind of effect? It’s filled with iconic moments, it’s loaded with scares and, even though it came out in 1973, it never feels dated. The terror is just as terrifying now as it was then. I still can’t watch the crucifix scene without cringing and turning away. There are people that have sworn off pea soup because of this movie — even though pea soup is delicious! My Aunt Joanne, to this day, can’t even have a conversation about this film. She was one of the many people who ran for their lives. Everything about this movie was perfect: the casting, the haunting musical score, the fight between good and evil, Father Karras’ creepy mom. It all worked. If you are a fan of horror, this is required viewing. This is the Godfather of horror movies, and the Citizen Kane of ghost/demon stories.

ICONIC MOMENTS: “What an excellent day for an exorcism.” “Your mother sucks cocks in hell,” The power of Christ compels you! Pea-soup vomit, with a little head spin. Shall I go on?

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James Errigo

James Errigo

A Brooklyn native, Errigo writes about music, television and film from a varied interest base that includes everything from Led Zeppelin to Van Morrison, horror to comedy, Van Halen to Sam Cooke, Tarantino to Kubrick, and Joe Cocker to Disturbed. He started playing guitar at 13, joining a Nirvana cover band called Backwash not long after. Errigo later founded the Brooklyn group Goetia. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
James Errigo
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