Storytellers have told scary tales about haunted houses for as long as humans have lived between four walls and a roof. Naturally, then when the first horror movies were made, haunted houses proved ripe playgrounds for filmmakers to capture on camera. As a result, some of the best haunted house movies are decades old – while others utilise modern technology to scare us witless.
With Halloween here, we've taken the opportunity to look at the best haunted house movies of all time. They range from bonafide classics to some more under-the-radar scarers you may not have seen, but all of them will leave you unable to sleep for a few weeks to come. Of course, not every house is necessarily a home, and we've included one hotel – you'll never guess which... Scroll on down for our picks of the best haunted house movies, if you dare.
10. The Innocents (1961)
Just mention the words haunted house movies and The Innocents silently makes its ominous presence known. It’s the oldest on this list, but don’t let that put you off this classic British horror. Deborah Kerr takes on a governess role to two mysterious children in a looming gothic mansion. Creepy kids in horror aren’t a modern invention and there’s a fascinating, if disturbing, case of possession at work in the Innocents.
Loosely based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (also the basis for The Haunting of Bly Manor) and with a script from none other than Truman Capote, this ghostly tale is packed with atmosphere you could cut with a knife. But this movies doesn’t need one of those to scare you. A disturbing soundtrack and claustrophobic camera mean we always feel as trapped within these walls as the children. The Innocents is vital haunted horror homework and a perfect introduction to a genre that really doesn’t want you to get a good night’s sleep.
9. Lake Mungo (2008)
The first (and not the last) documentary-style haunting on this list is a slow burner of a ghost yarn that will sneak under your skin when you really don’t expect it. Lake Mungo is the story of a family who have tragically lost their teenage daughter in an accident. As you may expect considering you're reading this list of best haunted house movies, she may or may not have gone particularly far.
Lake Mungo hits so hard just because it feels so convincing. Every interview with the family feels painfully real and, even as the story takes some unexpected twists, the movie constantly feels unsettlingly convincing. Few scary movies exist in a vacuum and, where plenty of films are happy to hit you with demonic forces who would villainously monologue, this one is almost too human in its delivery. If ghosts and spirits were real, would they be emptying the cupboards and stacking the plates dramatically on the table? Or would they just try to get home?
8. The Orphanage (2007)
If the best horror directors understand anything, it’s that there are few things scarier than masks and children. Add a sack mask to a creepy child at the end of a hall and it seems like director J.A Bayona hit the blood-curdling jackpot. Thankfully though, where other horrors would dine out on this alone, The Orphanage is the complete opposite of a cynical scare factory.
Laura, her husband, and son Simon move to the old orphanage where she grew up to re-open the facility as a home for children. She becomes worried when Simon starts talking about his new "friend" Tomas, but when he disappears entirely, things, quite understandably, take a turn for the worst. El Orfanato, to give it its Spanish name, isn’t afraid to scare you but there’s genuine anguish here too. Be suspicious of anyone with dry eyes at the end of this psychological nightmare.
7. The Changeling (1980)
Marketed in 1980 as an "experience beyond total fear," The Changeling plays a little differently in 2019. Yet, while we’ve all heard plenty of bumps in the night since, this is still a truly atmospheric ghost story as a grieving composer moves to an isolated mansion to get away from the memories of his wife and daughter. The best horror is about the human condition and The Changeling is as much an exercise in grief as an unnerving supernatural drama.
Yes, the movie features tropes that are the now ghost story staples, such as abandoned wheelchairs, locked doors, and echoing thuds through empty halls, but they don’t feel tired here. Instead, an atmospheric silence lurks around them that easily sends a chill down your spine. If you’re looking for a Sunday evening horror by the fire, The Changeling is perfect company. Just don’t be surprised when it follows you to bed.
6. Hell House LLC (2015)
Whether the idea of wilfully going into a dark house and paying people to scare you senseless is your idea of a Halloween treat or a nightmare, Hell House LLC is one of the most relatable hauntings on this list. Everyone knows what it’s like to feel safe in a theme park environment, so the idea of that going wrong makes for intriguingly horrific shenanigans.
The majority of the action is from the perspective of a motley crew of professional scarers constructing their first "haunt" in an old hotel. Unfortunately, the only reason we’re seeing them is as part of a documentary covering a tragedy that occurred on the attraction’s opening night. Constantly genuinely unnerving and inventive, not to mention definitely not for those with a fear of clowns, Hell House LLC is a brilliant found-footage surprise. You just might think twice before heading out for Halloween.
5. Ju-On: The Grudge
A horror so good that its own director and creator made it twice, Ju-on: The Grudge is the scream of the crop when it comes to making a house a home you’d never want to live in. Despite being seen as the original, this is actually a sequel to two direct to video productions. Ju-On, though, does a perfect job of introducing us to the concept of the Grudge. This is the idea that when someone dies amidst a fit of rage, a curse is born that will, by and large, eat everyone who encounters it for breakfast.
An unassuming Japanese home suddenly becomes the epicentre for this haunting misery as people disappear inside, only to be set upon by those who have already fallen to the curse. The idea is scary enough, but it’s the relentless execution, so to speak, that will get you. Maybe you always thought that inward yawning noise was silly when you heard people talking about how terrified they were? You’ll learn.
4. The Conjuring (2013)
While firmly on the fun ghost train end of the spooky spectrum with its perfectly timed jump scares, James Wan’s The Conjuring is an almost perfect haunted house movie. Sure, it might have spawned a whole MCU-style horror-verse, but don’t let that distract from the fact that the first film is a self-contained creepy journey into family hell.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga bring just the right tone to their performances as parapsychologists Ed and Lorraine Warren as they investigate the strange goings-on in the Perron household. And you’ll never be bored. In true Wan style, the haunting of the family is relentless. Beds are no longer a safe haven, the darkness behind doors becomes a terrifying void where evil lurks, and one particular scare goes down in the horror history books as, hands down, one of the creepiest of all time. Whether you believe the "based on real events" intro or not, The Conjuring is scare-tacular modern haunted house royalty.
3. Paranormal Activity (2007)
Technically, Paranormal Activity’s Katie Featherston is the haunted one here, not the house, but to leave Oran Peli’s found-footage phenomenon out of the ghostly fun would be criminal. The original and best – although PA3 has some good scares – Paranormal Activity runs on a beautifully simple premise. In an attempt to find a source for the strange activities in their home, Micah Sloat sets up a camera at the end of his and Katie's bed. By day, the pair go about their day to day lives, but by night, we’re treated to a dimly-lit static shot that just happens to be a masterclass in horror tension building.
As an audience, we obsess over the positioning of every door, the angle of every sheet. The complete lack of action is so riveting that when something does happen, it’s truly spine-chilling. What’s even more terrifying is that just switching on the light really doesn’t help...
2. Poltergeist (1982)
Sometimes it just seems unfair on other horror directors that Tobe Hooper not only created one of the most visceral slasher movies of all time (in the jagged shape of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), but also one of the best haunted house movies to boot. Here we are though, and if you’ve somehow managed to miss the creeptacular delights of Poltergeist, it’s time to grab a blanket, head to your streaming service of choice, and make sure you don’t end watching the remake by accident.
Plotwise, it’s a traditional set up: a young family is suddenly beset by strange goings on in their meant-to-be-safe home and invite scientific investigators in to take a look. As you would expect, they don't help the situation as much as you would like them to... Poltergeist is essential watching for horror enthusiasts as the movie influenced modern haunted horror such as James Wan’s Insidious. Again though, mind the clowns. They’re heeeere…
1. The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick’s frightmare tops this list of the best haunted house movies. Yes, the OVerlook is technically a hotel, but what is a hotel, if not the combination of dozens of miniature houses all stacked up on one other? Plus, it acts as a home for Jack Torrance's family – and some other bad spirited abodes. The Stephen King-created hotel houses disturbing twins, rotting women, and a dutiful bartender...
While the spirits form the otherworldly horrors, it’s the human element of the story that makes this ghost house so terrifying. Sure, some blood spilling from an elevator is unnerving, but it’s nothing compared to Jack Torrance’s gradual descent into madness as he turns on his wife and child. Artful atmospheric camera work and creepy residents are icing on an ominously chilling cake.