The 25 best ghost movies to give you chills

5. Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)

Some of the films on this list have that easy, pleasant feel of a Victorian ghost story. Frightening, certainly, but gently so. Ju-on is not one of those films. It’s ghost story built on the idea of relentless, unforgiving hate and family tragedy. It’s made worse by just how ordinary it all it. There are no cobwebbed mansions or flashes of lightning. Most of the horror happens in innocuous places. It gives you the uneasy feeling of nowhere being safe - staircases, cupboards, and airy family homes all become suddenly threatening. At times you’ll feel sympathy for the ghosts - they’re victims of a violent and possessive father - but the whole thing is so hopeless and inhumane that it’s impossible to come away feeling anything but despair. And that death rattle will haunt you forever. 

4. The Orphanage (2007)

Known as El Orfanato in its native Spanish, this is yet further proof that all Spanish horror directors should be checked for links to illegal human research on the fear gland. Somehow the very first feature from J.A Bayona, The Orphanage sees a woman, Laura, along with her husband and their adopted son moving into the beautiful house where Laura lived as child. She plans to transform it into a home for disabled children but not only does she begin to see apparitions of previous residents, her son goes missing. The Orphanage preys on and subverts your base fears; big scary houses, the fear and desperation in losing a child, unsettling imagery of ‘creepy kids,’ The most famous scary images from The Orphanage revolve around a little boy with a sack covering his face but is he as scary as he looks? Bayona knows what terrifies us and still manages to deliver a heartfelt and touching ghost story that’ll have you hurting long after the credits roll. 

3. Paranormal Activity (2007)

The Blair Witch Project might have single-handedly rebooted the found footage genre but Paranormal Activity managed to revitalise the shaky cam for not one but now six movies. Only the original is really worth your time though. When couple Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, played by actors of the same name (not confusing at all) start experiencing strange noises, Micah decides to film the bedroom while they’re asleep. How tense do you think you can get while watching people sleeping and static door? Well, it turns out that watching a room where nothing is happening is absolutely excruciating. In a good way. Director Oran Peli gradually ups the ante too. The night day cycle becomes shorter, we gradually see more and more activity and by the end of its tight 86 minute runtime, you feel like you’ve absolutely been through the emotional wringer.

2. The Shining (1980)

Stephen King notoriously doesn’t like Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his famous novel but even the horror master has to be wrong sometimes. The Shining is an exercise in terror. Dread creeps along every corridor of The Overlook Hotel when new caretaker Jack (Jack Nicholson) and his wife Wendy (Shelly Duvall) move in for the winter months along with their young son Danny. This is the ultimate haunted house movie. The oppressive corridors are packed with ghosts, the ballroom is a sea of trapped souls. The iconic “Here’s Johnny” moment might be delivered expertly by Nicholson and scare-worthy on it’s own but this is at the peak of the hotel’s power. Its tendrils have worked their way into Jack, twisting him from the inside. There are few things as scary as a father turning against his family, and that’s before you know the snow means they’ll never even be able to get out the door or that the ghosts of the two little girls in the corridor just want to play.

1. Poltergeist (1982)

Poltergeist is a film that, tonally, really shouldn’t work. Mixing legitimate, unsettling, modern haunted house horror with heartwarming, suburban ‘80s family drama, it should be entirely incoherent, an interesting experiment hamstrung by inconsistency. Fortunately, the film’s two halves are represented by two of the decade’s greatest cinematic figureheads, producer and writer Steven Spielberg bringing the same warmth and deft sense of awe and wonder he exhibited in E.T. the same year, while Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Tobe Hooper delivers the same instinct for blunt nastiness that made him a star. The two film-makers complement each other wonderfully and, with the film populated by likeable and entirely real performances throughout, Poltergeist is an affecting and distinctly spooky time indeed. 

Louise Blain

Louise Blain is a journalist and broadcaster specialising in gaming, technology, and entertainment. She is the presenter of BBC Radio 3’s monthly Sound of Gaming show and has a weekly consumer tech slot on BBC Radio Scotland. She can also be found on BBC Radio 4, BBC Five Live, Netflix UK's YouTube Channel, and on The Evolution of Horror podcast. As well as her work on GamesRadar, Louise writes for NME, T3, and TechRadar. When she’s not working, you can probably find her watching horror movies or playing an Assassin’s Creed game and getting distracted by Photo Mode.