Spirits on the Screen


source: pixabay

Wishing You A Very Happy Halloween!

To get into the right “spirit,” I have a question for you: what are your favorite films with ghosts? Let’s trade recommendations. I can’t wait to hear. Here are my top ten in chronological order.

  • The Shining (1980): Even though the movie is terrifying, I have re-watched it many times. Probably because Jack Nicholson is compelling…and of course the cinematic aspects are fantastic too. (But mostly, it’s Jack.)
  • Poltergeist (1982): I showed this to a college class, and they were just as freaked out as we all were back in the day. It definitely holds up. There’s something about the domestic setting that adds an extra kick—it’s not happening in a creepy mansion on the edge of town, but right there in the sunny suburbs.
  • Ghostbusters (1984): Professors-turned-ghost-catchers? Yes, please. Plus, five gold stars for the banter, humor, and memorable one-liners. And I have to say that I loved the 2016 reboot too.
  • Beetlejuice (1988): Exquisitely weird—with Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Michael Keaton, Winona Ryder, and Catherine O’Hara being all hilarious and delightful.
  • Ghost (1990): The pottery-wheel scene and…hmmm…what else happens in that movie? Kidding. Perfectly calibrated blend of heartwarming and suspenseful, with engaging performances by everyone.
  • The Blair Witch Project (1999): Preceded by a marketing campaign that suggested that the students in the film were missing and the footage had been “found,” so it was a genuine experience to watch this, filmed documentary-style with a most unsettling ending, in theaters when it first came out. (Side note: we went camping the next day. Um. Worst scheduling ever.)
  • The Sixth Sense (1999): The dramatic pacing is perfection and so is the reveal. There’s a reason that famous line—you know the one—is borrowed and repeated all over the place. (I’m trying very hard not to give anything away here.)
  • The Haunting (1999): An adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s amazing Gothic novel, The Haunting of Hill House, this had a great cast and was quite entertaining (if you can ignore one scene where it slides briefly into an action film mode, with the main character basically taunting the ghost). However, I’m still waiting for an adaptation that faithfully reflects the more subtle psychological aspects of the original story…
  • What Lies Beneath (2000): Focuses on a mother who is having trouble adjusting to being an empty nester and is repeatedly told that the weird stuff happening in her house—and next door—is all in her head. (Of course it’s not.) There’s one scene so chilling that I still get goosebumps thinking about it. Love Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford’s performances.
  • Crimson Peak (2015): Beautifully filmed and edited, with rich Gothic elements. The twists and turns are splendidly disconcerting.

And just for you, one bonus item (a mini-series):

  • Sharp Objects (2018): A brilliant adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s brilliant novel, with brilliant performances. Extremely dark, insistently thought-provoking, and incredibly moving. It starts slow but simmers into one heck of a boil. (If you do watch, be sure to pay attention to the shifting words onscreen…and to watch all the way through the final credits of the finale.) Overall rating: wow.

I’ll confess that it was difficult to narrow it down to ten…already I’m thinking of others (like The Others, ha) that should be included. But now it’s your turn: what are your favorites?

Note: this post was originally published at the wonderful Femmes Fatales blog in October 2018, during the launch of Lila Maclean academic mystery #3, The Spirit in Question, which is of course the most ghost-y book in the series. 🙂


41 thoughts on “Spirits on the Screen

  1. Thirteen Ghosts, for sure. The remake, since I still haven’t gotten to watch the original yet. The Conjuring series and The Shining- but only the miniseries. Wasn’t a fan of the movie. Garfield’s Halloween and Casper are cute kids one.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Great list, Cynthia! I’ll nominate the 1963 adaptation of THE HAUNTING. Another good one is THE TURN OF THE SCREW version starring Lynn Redgrave.
      It wouldn’t be Halloween without a mention of Scooby Doo on Zombie Island, where the ghosts are real!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I bought a little stuffed ghost named “Stanley” for my grandson from there this season. I saw it in an author’s Facebook post and had to have it for him.


    1. Ohmygosh … Sixth Sense for me too! What a great movie. I don’t watch it every year, so I’m definitely ready for rewatching.

      And Cynthia, I’m a big scaredy-cat so I don’t have any recs for you, but I’ve seen (and loved) most of the ones you listed.

      Liked by 4 people

        1. The six that I watched (and the bonus, so good) weren’t particularly scary, even for a scaredy-cat. And weirdly, I love zombie movies (especially Shawn of the Dead and Zombieland) but I’m just not a fan of those movies that make you jump out of your skin. Gah … getting sweaty palms just thinking about it!

          Liked by 2 people

    2. YAY for first viewings: Halloween was incredibly scary (still remember sitting in the theater, heart pounding) and Sixth Sense was such an experience–loved how it made us rethink the whole movie we just watched. Thank you. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I heartily agree with all your selections, Cyn! Hubs and I recently rewatched watched The Haunting (1963).
    I want to recommend Winchester, which is currently streaming free on Amazon Prime. Released in 2018, I somehow had missed it altogether. Based on the story of Mrs. Winchester of the Winchester Guns fortune, who consulted mediums and believed her house was inhabited by ghosts of people killed by Winchester guns. Helen Mirren is excellent as Mrs. Winchester — and the movie is scarier than I expected!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I used to love scary movies and have seen the first eight movies that you listed. I do not like them anymore, but I can still watch “Ghost” and “Ghostbusters.” But some of my favorites were older films such as “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, ” “Topper,” “Topper Returns,” and “Rebecca.” You might not think that “Rebecca” was a ghost story, but it was the idea of Rebecca still being a presence in their lives that made it so good.

    Liked by 3 people

        1. I agree and glad to see that you of the younger generation like it also. The wonderful thing about Rebecca, a great book, is that the movie did it justice.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. My all-time favorite movies are the “Thin Man” series. The book was good, but the movies are special. Every time I watch them, I see something new. I can now say the dialog as they say it, but they never get old. I have them on DVD in case TCM isn’t showing them for a while. Asta in the “Thin Man.”

      Liked by 2 people

        1. I agree. By the way, read Margaret Dumas Murder at the Movie palace Murder. There are three and I hope that she writes more. Murder at the Palace, Murder in the Balcony and Murder on the Silver Screen. One of her mail characters is the ghost of an usherette named Trixie. Set in San Francisco. Very good reads. And you are right the first two are the best.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I can’t watch horro movies. I literally have nightmares. I guess that’s why I enjoy the Ghostbusters and I just watched Beetlejuice last night! Both are laugh-out-loud. More my kind of ghost stories.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I loved The Others with Nicole Kidman. Very creepy! When I was a kid, I loved the Disney movie Blackbeard’s Ghost. It was fun and not frightening. Now I’m thinking I’d like to see it again.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. A few people have already mentioned The Ghost and Mrs. Muir–one of my faves. I tend to prefer friendly ghosts. (Oh. Right. Casper.) I edited the Blair Witch book series (YA). They came out around the same time as the film(s) so I unfortunately had to watch the movies (in broad daylight, in NYC, not the woods) to prep. I was beyond terrified, but fortunately the author was a very sweet friend of mine who basically held my hand through the process (and wrote some great books!). I also was not a fan of Scrooge. All 3 ghosts gave me the creeps. Really, Ghostbusters was more my speed, lol.


  7. Beetlejuice, because Michael Keaton is simply the best in that movie. And The Ghost and Mrs. Muir – because Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison are a beautiful couple in it.


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