Inspired by the arrival of David Lowery’s “A Ghost Story,” we’ve been thinking a lot about spooky movies lately. Here is a list of 13 (appropriately enough) recent and classic features — comedies, romances, and seriously shocking dramas — that have been haunting us while we get into the right spirit for Lowery’s film.
It’s easy to command goosebumps with a ghost story set in an old dark house, or a chillingly soulless high-tech research center. But filmmaker Ti West audaciously eschews the obvious by trolling for terror in the mundane environs of a contemporary urban hotel that, while certainly not gone to seed, apparently hasn’t been renovated since the late 1970s.
The mother of all “found footage” scary movies exploits with uncommon cunning the power of suggestion and the potency of imagination. Alfred Hitchcock, who famously enjoyed setting limits on himself, would have appreciated the filmmakers’ modus operandi: We can only see what the amateur filmmakers could have recorded, up until and including the smashmouth climax.
Just how cool was Cary Grant? He didn’t let anything, even death in an auto accident, spoil his plans for a fun evening. Along with the equally deceased Constance Bennett, he loosens up a stuffy banker (Roland Young) in order to gain access to Paradise in a sophisticated comedy that, years after spawning a ’50s TV sitcom with original “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” boss Leo G. Carroll, is ripe for a remake.
No less an authority than Martin Scorsese has praised director Lewis Allen’s atmospheric chiller about two siblings (Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey) confronting a vengeful spirit in a seaside Cornwall house as one of the scariest movies ever made. That may be an overstatement — but, trust us, only a slight one.
After the great French filmmaker Olivier Assayas gave us a truly haunting movie about the specter of mortality — “Late August, Early September” (1998) — it’s not surprising that he eventually followed up with this quietly unsettling drama about possible communication from the Other Side. Kristen Stewart gives a career-highlight performance a young woman who may, or may not, be receiving texts and other messages from her late brother.
Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s classic romantic fantasy (not to be confused with the less-than-classic 1968-70 sitcom) ranks high among cinema’s most charmingly bittersweet ghost stories. Gene Tierney is radiant and resourceful as the young widowed mom who unwittingly moves into a haunted house, while Rex Harrison is richly and roguishly amusing as the deceased sea captain who navigates his way into her heart.
In sharp contrast to its infamously ham-handed 1999 remake, Robert Wise’s stealthily scary movie is a low-key, slow-burning psychological thriller that repeatedly unsettles through the power of suggestion. Julie Harris is heart-crushingly vulnerable as a deeply troubled woman who may (or may not) be raising spirits in a reportedly haunted house.
An outstanding omnibus of four Japanese folk tales of terror, at once strikingly beautiful and distinctively scary. Arguably the best of the bunch: The cautionary drama about an ambitious swordsman who has a hair-raising experience when he returns to the loving wife he abandoned years earlier.
Jerry Zucker’s well-nigh irresistible entertainment hits the sweet spot between slick calculation and sweet emotion with its ingenious mashup of romantic dramedy, murder mystery and, of course, supernatural fantasy. The key to making it all work: Patrick Swayze’s affectingly sincere and irony-free lead performance as a murdered lawyer who returns to the scene of the crime to protect his endangered sweetheart (a never-better Demi Moore).
Decades before Iron Man and Nick Fury started to expand their universe, Ivan Reitman generated an unmistakable Marvel Comics vibe to fuel the hilarity in his amazingly popular and enduringly influential comedy-fantasy about unlikely heroes battling unwelcome ectoplasms in, above and around the streets of New York.
Elements of Victorian and Southern Gothic are shrewdly cross-pollinated in Jack Clayton’s meticulously subtle and disconcertingly creepy drama of possession and perversion (co-scripted by Truman Capote, and based on Henry James’ novella “The Turn of the Screw”), which has Deborah Kerr perfectly cast as a governess who suspects the children in her charge are haunted by the ghosts of two indiscreetly randy grown-ups.
The supernatural is suggested with witty subtlety throughout Anthony Minghella’s endearing romantic fantasy about a droll ghost (Alan Rickman) who returns to the drab London flat of his grieving lover (Juliet Stevenson) — and then purposefully overstays his welcome. Rickman’s character may be dead, but he doesn’t go around walking through walls, or shimmering with an incandescent glow. Indeed, he seems like the sort of fellow who would take a dim view of doing such things even if he could.
Bruce Willis gives one of his all-time best performances as a psychologist intrigued by a little boy (Haley Joel Osment) who sees dead people — lots of dead people, even ones who don’t yet know they’re dead — in M. Night Shyamalan’s ingeniously devious ghost story. Shyamalan avoids the obvious at almost every turn, relying on steadily mounting dread and shrewdly nuanced characterization to score maximum impact. And that ending? The beauty part is, when you replay the movie in your head, you realize that everybody played fair, that all the clues were in plain sight.