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Tag Archive: Watcher in the Woods


The first instinct of diehard fans of any classic book, song, TV show, film, or anything else, is to flinch at the notion of a remake or reboot of a beloved original.  For years we here at borg.com have included The Watcher in the Woods as a favorite recommendation of a ghost story.  It’s a Disney film unlike any other Disney film–the rare instance of a movie being stronger than its source material (the novel by Florence Engel Randall), a Gothic ghost story (or is it?) that may be the creepiest and scariest story the studio released, certainly the spookiest of the 1980s.  So a remake that is being released this year for the Lifetime channel being previewed at San Diego Comic-Con this year is going to hit our radar.

As a kid, the film bridged being surprising enough to get you to jump out of your seat without being an adult horror movie. As an adult, I have recommended The Watcher in the Woods to friends for children’s Halloween parties, and it’s proven still to be a hit for kids into their pre-teens.  Melissa Joan Hart, known best for her Sabrina, the Teenage Witch series, is directing the remake, and as with the original, she enlisted one of the best to ground the film, Anjelica Huston, who takes on the role made famous by Bette Davis.

The result?  Hart has at a minimum completely nailed the trailer.  In an interview below she discusses concepts kept and concepts updated.  But when you get to the trailer, any concerns for the remake pretty much vanish, like the key image of the trapped, blindfolded girl in the film.  And the creepy woods as a singular character.  In the original, “Bond girl” actress Lynn-Holly Johnson (For Your Eyes Only, Ice Castles) and Kyle Richards played the sisters with Richards at the height of her child-actor career between Halloween and Little House on the Prairie.  In Hart’s new movie, these roles are played by young actors Tallulah Evans and Dixie Egerickx.

Even if you don’t agree Hart gets this one exactly right, you’re going to watch it because it’s on cable, and why not?  Check out this nicely spooky trailer from Comic-Con:

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midnight-special-cast

Review by C.J. Bunce

Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial.  The Green Mile. Escape to Witch Mountain.  Watcher in the Woods.  Maggie.  Super 8.  The Omen.  D.A.R.Y.L.  A Perfect World.  Starman.  Michael.  Tomorrowland.  The Day the Earth Stood Still.  The Blues Brothers.  The Twilight Zone Movie.  What could these all possibly have in common?  Somehow they are all conjured up together into this year’s release, Midnight Special.

Let’s get the only problem with Midnight Special out of the way first.  It had an inexplicable limited release this past March.  And its theatrical and television trailer was creepy cool, but too cryptic to draw in the masses.  If you don’t tell people what your movie is about, they won’t always take the time to learn more and decide to see it.  And what a loss!  Midnight Special is not only one of the year’s best films, it’s one of the best films of the decade.

You will think about The Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life,” but it’s nothing like it.  You will think about Haven and Grimm, but it’s not like that either.  And you may even accuse Stranger Things of being a knockoff of this film.  But it’s very, very different.

adam-driver-in-midnight-special

A father and his old friend kidnap his son from a religious cult, with the government in hot pursuit for very different reasons, drawn in by the son’s mysterious abilities.  Is some messianic end looming ahead?  Why is the government justified in tracking the father down for treason?  Replace the enchantment and wonder you’d find in Spielberg’s Close Encounters and E.T. with a combination of mystery, curiosity, and heart-pounding dread.  Gripping, personal, riveting–Midnight Special will keep you guessing until the end.  What happened to this kid?  Why does he have these powers?  What ends will his father and his friend go to protect him from what seems like the entire world crashing down on them? 

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Stranger Things cast

Stranger Things is a rare thing among plenty of series bombarding viewers of streaming services.  It would never get accused of trying too hard.  It’s good but not great.  It features no major actors.  It has developed a cult following yet it is not produced by J.J. Abrams (think Lost, Fringe, Almost Human, Believe, Westworld).  And for all these things, it’s just what we want.  We’ve had enough of CGI and big budget explosions and special effects.  Low budget is just fine–for now.  It’s that movie you are looking for late on a Saturday night, but stretched to eight episodes long.

More series like this will make Netflix survive despite all the competition from other services.  Stranger Things is good enough–good at sci-fi and horror and coming of age retro fun–to get you to sign up with Netflix for your next binge watch session.  More important than its storytelling is how the story is told, and the efforts taken to make the series, the characters, the setting, the dialogue, all look like it was filmed in the early 1980s.  Several artists have even mocked up the series marketing material into VHS tape packaging.  Were it a movie-length feature it would probably fool many.  It’s in the same vein as Disney’s Watcher in the Woods.  Like Stephen King’s Firestarter, Stand By Me and Silver Bullet it features kids in a coming-of-age setting.  Its monster/alien horror and soundtrack (available here) reflects the look and vibe of John Carpenter movies.  The marketing screams Stephen King, especially that red-on-black title font.  And it will no doubt gin up nostalgia to spur cassette tapes of its soundtrack like Guardians of the Galaxy.

Stranger Things VHS

It’s Steven Spielberg’s E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, if the story had taken a darker turn, and very similar to Spielberg and Abrams’ Super 8 (Super 8 poster artist Kyle Lambert even created the poster for this series to further lock in the look).  Critics have picked apart odds and ends found in the background of scenes–this item didn’t exist then, etc.  But ultimately the overall feel is very right.  You’ll point to a pitcher on the table, a rug on the floor, a poster on the wall, all that you had back then.  And the season one wrap-up is as satisfying as you’re going to find in a TV series.

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Mia Crimson Peak

Victorian gothic romance directed by Guillermo del Toro with ghosts?  Yes, please.

But unlike previous Gothic haunts like Rebecca, Jane Eyre, Watcher in the Woods, The Others, or Wolfman, genre favorite director del Toro is amping up the gore and violence in Crimson Peak, his latest and–reportedly–the greatest of his trademark visually spectacular fantasies so far.

And it adds another movie to that sub-genre of horror we keep talking about featuring creepy little girls.

Chastain Crimson Peak

Not for the faint of heart, check out this trailer for Crimson Peak, after the break:

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Bates Motel

That’s right, Halloween is almost here.  This year we’ve been able to obtain an interview with one of the best horror writers around.  Who will it be?  Check back here on Halloween for a special borg.com interview.

For many, this week means tracking down spooky shows on Netflix, cable, or in the theaters.  Back in 2011 the four borg.com writers posted each of their top favorite Halloween flicks.  Since 2011 new films that fit the genre continue to be made, like The Woman in Black reviewed here last year, but there was also a few to skip, like Johnny Depp in Dark Shadows and John Cusack in The RavenThis year we were impressed by the totally fun and totally watchable Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, and the over-the-top but fun Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.  There are plenty of opportunities to get your fix of dark, spooky, creepy, or just plain scary movies.

ALVH-217 - Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) and his vampire-battling mentor Henry Sturgis (Dominic Cooper) plan their next move during a fateful battle with the undead.

One film available on Netflix we haven’t reviewed yet here at borg.com is 2009’s Orphan, which should appeal to fans of The Others and Skeleton KeyOrphan stars Bates Motel’s Vera Farmiga and Skeleton Key’s Peter Sarsgaard as a couple adopting a third child into their family, played by the brilliant young actress Isabelle Furhman.  It also features Warehouse 13’s CCH Pounder and Genelle Williams–both as nuns.  Orphan is excellently creepy and an all-around good thriller worth checking out.  And speaking of Vera Farmiga, if you haven’t been watching Bates Motel, you should.  It’s a great creepy spin-off of Hitchcock’s Psycho, and Season 1 is available now on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com.

Orphan movie - creepy little girl

Here is the link to our Halloween movie series from 2011 where you can view all of our recommendations.  Some of the staples of Halloween horror did not make our lists, like Friday the 13th, Halloween, Saw, Scream, The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby, Poltergeist, Nightmare on Elm Street, or Amityville Horror.   Jaws got our joint highest ranking, making three of our lists, and The Shining, The Exorcist, The Exorcist 3, Watcher in the Woods, The Ring, and Paranormal Activity seem to rise above the rest, showing up on two lists.  Seaside locales were the favorite location for scares, with Jaws, Rebecca, The Birds, The Ring, The Fog (both the original and remake) all taking place there, and creepy little girls are the favorite subject of–count ‘em–NINE of our haunts (The Ring, The Exorcist, Let Me In, Paranormal Activity 3, Watcher in the Woods, The Sixth Sense, The Shining, Turn of the Screw, and The Others). And we can now add Orphan and The Woman in Black to that creepy assembly.  (We Are What We Are was due out this year–another creepy little girl story, but it’s only been released in the UK so far).  For us the supernatural won out over monsters, saws and axes.  Four movies were by John Carpenter, three by Alfred Hitchcock.  The oldest movie was Rebecca from 1940, the newest came out in 2011, Paranormal Activity 3And look, we’ve got another one of those available now, too.

Happy Halloween watching, and don’t forget to come back to see what we have in store Thursday!

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

Marchlands cast - can you find Alice

With a television series featuring Doctor Who and Arrow’s Alex Kingston, Life on Mars’s Dean Andrews, Luke Skywalker’s pal Wedge Antilles, and the lead actress from Attack the Block, you just can’t go wrong.  And it’s really hard to beat an old British cottage near the woods as the setting when you’re creating a ghost story.  Add to it one of borg.com’s most discussed subjects: a movie about a creepy little girl, and you’re in for a good show.  That could not be more true than with the UK mini-series Marchlands.  UK production company ITV and 20th Century Fox created an expertly constructed five-part, supernatural drama mini-series that traverses three families living in different eras in the same British house.

Marchlands title card

Marchlands first aired in the UK in 2010, but it hasn’t been released in the States yet. In fact the only way to view it is to buy it from a British online retailer along with a DVD player that will play DVDs from Europe.   Along with watching all the other series from the UK long before they cross the lake to America, going the extra mile to get access to these series is well worth the effort.

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By C.J. Bunce

The focus of my creepy movie list is mood and surprises and re-watchability, as the setting and ambiance is what calls to me when it’s time to pull out some movies every October when each day gets darker and the wind starts kicking up the leaves.  I don’t like slasher flicks, and over-the-top shock horror isn’t my thing.  Movies like Hellraiser II and Phantasm may be flat-out scary, but they don’t give you much else entertaining.  I like the “modern classics,” the original Friday the 13th and Halloween, but ultimately they didn’t make my list because I don’t re-watch them as much as other movies.  I really liked The Ring and Donnie Darko, but ultimately they didn’t make it to the Top 10 for me, only because I haven’t had time to watch them over and over as much as most of those that made the cut.  On another day the ceiling hopping raptors in Jurassic Park, non-fantasy horrors of Coma and The China Syndrome, the creepy terror in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, the stylish suspense in Hitchcock’s Rear Window or Otto Preminger’s Laura, the sheer panic in Steven Spielberg’s Duel, the nervous tension in Blair Witch, as well as the “Zuni fetish doll” segment of Trilogy of Terror and one of my favorites–the “oil spill attacking kids at a lake” segment of Creepshow 2–could have made this list for me.  Every one of the shows above will make you jump when you least expect it.

So here’s where I did end up:

10.  Young Frankenstein (1974).  I figured any list I’d create for creepy/suspense/Halloween watching would have to reflect the classic Universal monster movies in some way.  My favorite is the parody of all of them, made by the master of parody, Mel Brooks.  Brooks held the classic horror films with such reverence that he re-created the original design for the Frankenstein laboratory for Young Frankenstein.  Yes, I know it’s not scary.  But as dark, gothic ambience is concerned, I know of no other film that did it so well, and in black and white this movie could have been made 40 years earlier–it feels like a 1930s film.  It’s also a movie all ages will enjoy–kids won’t understand the innuendo in most of the comedy, but the physical humor will have them laughing out loud.  I’ve watched this one so many times I have it practically committed to memory.  One of the best ensemble casts I can think of performed in this one.  Look for Gene Hackman in a great cameo, too.  Like a funhouse, there are startling jumps here, but they are all cloaked in humor.  Pull out the humor and you have a ghoulish Frankenstein story where off-camera you know the monster, with an inside joke-like smirk to the audience, is going to launch that little girl into the well after the last flower petal is gone.  Not a scary film, but Transylvania never looked creepier.

9.  28 Days Later (2003).  In a tie as the most recent film on my list, this is a rare occurrence where zombie-like people are actually interesting, creepy, and scary.  A few weeks after an outbreak engulfs Great Britain, a handful of characters try to find sanctuary away from the sub-humans that have resulted from the disturbing virus.  It doesn’t get much creepier than the plague in the single drop of water falling into Brendan Gleeson’s eye in 28 Days Later.  The movie is full of characters who look like they really are feeling the panic you would feel when there is no hope left and it’s left to every man for himself.  An opening scene with Cillian Murphy playing a patient who finally awakens to find an empty London was instantly a classic piece of cinema, reminiscent of the Australian film The Quiet Earth or The Day the Earth Stood Still.  With the feel of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the creepy UK film Lifeforce, and a little An American Werewolf in London, the filters and UK setting for the American viewer adds to the strangeness of this movie’s vibe.

8.  Prince of Darkness (1987).  My addiction to the TV series Simon and Simon and series star Jameson Parker is what caused me to rent this one back in the late 1980s.  It is John Carpenter’s approach that makes this one plain scary.  It is almost a scientific view of what university types would do if they were encountering an invader entering our world.  This time the invader is the devil, and the gateway is via a “hellmouth” of sorts made of gelatinous green goo.  Forget about any prior appearance you’ve seen of Alice Cooper.  He’s the coolest right here as one of the zombies creeping about to usher in the evil and trapping the researchers in their building with some very bad happenings.  The classic Carpenter crew is here, too, with Donald Pleasance as the priest, Peter Jason as the doctor, and Victor Wong as the professor.  The ultimate form that the “prince of darkness” takes at the end of the film is the big shocker.  And, yes, there’s some gore, but ultimately this film tries to be a lot better film than straight horror, and like all Carpenter flicks, manages to succeed.

7.  Final Destination 2 (2003).  Although this film certainly brings in the latex blood and gore by the boatload, this movie takes the concept of “death stalking those who cheated it” further than the original film and is actually a lot more fun.  It’s the first Final Destination mixed with some more carefully concocted Rube Goldberg-inspired chain reactions.  Ali Larter, co-star of the first film, gets a bigger role here, trying to help the cast of “lucky” survivors.  Suspense is amped up in this film, and non-stop angst, as you wonder just who and how the next guy is going to get eliminated by the seemingly random events.  Lots of red herrings, but all are fun, with plenty of opportunity for you to jump out of your seat.

6.  They Live (1988).  I saw the premiere of this film in 1988 and the name Roddy Piper went by in the credits.  I never made the connection the star was THE Rowdy Roddy Piper of WWF fame til years later.  The guy could act an dhe is very cool as this character.  They Live has a number of cool elements for a genre film:  an outsider-type fringe hero, a sci-fi twist, surprises around every corner, a feeling of paranoia seeps in, a big revelation that makes you question what is going on around you as you walk from the theater, and cool gimmicks–contact lenses and sunglasses that let you see the truth, including some creept subliminal messages.  My bias toward John Carpenter is evident on this list, but his movies are so dissimilar I just can’t help it.  Oppressive government, unfair economic advantages, sell-outs–this movie is much more than another horror flick–it’s part horror, part sci-fi, part political thriller, part action flick.

5.  The Birds (1963).  Like John Carpenter’s The Fog and Spielberg’s Jaws, this movie takes place on the seacoast, one of my favorite locations for an eerie thriller.  Alfred Hitchcock’s direction in this movie makes you feel claustrophobic, like you’re almost choking on the birds that inexplicably attack this little seaside village.  In the end it all comes down to being trapped again, this time in a house.  As a kid this one caused its share of jumps out of bed in the middle of the night.  It must be scary if it causes nightmares, right?  Some of the imagery will stick with you forever.  And check out the sultry and creepy character played by a young Suzanne Pleshette.  Compare The Birds and Jaws and you can see common themes and approaches the best masters of suspense use.  As Tom Petty says, “the waiting” is the hardest part, and sometimes you don’t really want to see what’s coming next.

4.  Silver Bullet (1985).  A series of deaths in Tarker’s Mill promps a town to band together to flush out the killer.  A fog shrouded forest, men splitting up, and one by one the men don’t make it out of the woods.  The town becomes paranoid of the night, canceling Independence Day festivities.  Enter cool uncle Gary Busey, who gets his wheelchair bound nephew Marty, played by a young Corey Haim (Lost Boys), a rocket and surreptiously fire it off despite all the adult fear.  An old covered bridge, a sheriff played by Terry O’Quinn (John Locke in Lost), a preacher played by Everett McGill (Twin Peaks), and a lot of creepiness.  The killer isn’t human.  Hey, sheriff, don’t go snooping around in there.  And a bat named Peacemaker.  Probably the quietest creepy thriller in the Stephen King adaptation arsenal, that quiet makes the gotchas all the better.   A perfect autumn night movie, not too much gore or irrelevant gross-outs, but the surprises are guaranteed to make you jump.  Megan Follows (Anne of Green Gables) plays Marty’s older sister, who sells a good portion of the fear through her powerful expressions.

3.  The Fog (1980).  I was 10 years old when I saw this at the drive-in theater.  It was a double feature with Phantasm and my brother and sister smuggled me in.  I got no sleep that night.  At the time both movies were blurred together, and I don’t know which movies the nightmares came from.  Years later I realized Phantasm was just another cheesy slasher flick, but I have re-watched John Carpenter’s original The Fog too many times to count.  This is my favorite ghost story movie.  One hundred years ago, Antonio Bay’s founders weren’t quite as honorable as the townsfolk see them today at the town’s centennial celebration.  It’s setting makes this an old sea tale of sorts.  Sultry-voiced Adrienne Barbeau (yes, I like sultry brunettes in my scary flicks) plays Stevie Wayne, who works in the lighthouse as a radio jockey, also warning boats about this strange fog… inching closer to the bay.  Hal Holbrook is the preacher who is slowly losing it as he realizes the truth of the town’s past.  Jamie Lee Curtis is a drifter who stumbles into the wrong town on the wrong night.  And there are a lot of ghosts that, despite looking like giant ticked-off Jawas, deliver sufficient creepiness.  Check this out for some great atmosphere.

2.  Jaws (1975).  Thinking I would quickly fall asleep my folks took me to this one at the drive-in theater.  I did fall asleep, but not before the opening scene.  How many movies can claim all that Jaws has accomplished?  Where Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho made everyone check behind the shower curtain, Jaws has kept people on the beach.  There are generations now who still feel a little nervousness whenever they put on fins and take that first step in.  The defining tuba theme alerting us to when the shark is really coming is forever apart of everyone’s musical vocabulary.  John Williams’s score is so brilliant because most of it is a light-tempo, summer frolicking medley, so when the clashing violin scare themes arrive the contrast makes the music its own character.   The fear is underscored by Robert Shaw’s ominous USS Indianapolis speech.  One of the best films of all time in any genre.

1.  Watcher in the Woods (1980).  When I was in junior high, as a treat to students, the school would play movies on Friday afternoons, each movie split over two Fridays.  I saw this movie on a full size screen in our huge auditorium, which roughly looked like the Ford Theater where Lincoln was shot.  My friend Jeff lived literally next door to the woods…you could see them out his window.  Jeff held his hands over his eyes for the first hour of the show and didn’t come back the next Friday for the rest.  Twenty-five years later my co-worker asked me for a recommendation because he was hosting a Halloween party for his kid’s group of 10 12-year-old boys.  I recommended Watcher in the Woods instantly.  The following Monday he thanked me and said the boys, and he, were glued to the entire movie.  Watcher was one of Disney’s first forays into something new.  It’s probably my favorite Disney movie.  Imagine you fall into a creek, what would be creepier than Bette Davis standing above you trying to push you down deeper with a stick?  Look for a lot of ambience and mood in this one, and a few things that go bump.  Bette Davis is scary here, even compared to her prior frightening performance in make-up in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?   She was made for creepy roles.  And, hey, that strange little girl, Kyle Richards, has her own TV show now.  Note:  Stay away from the original director’s cut or expanded version as it was so bad it almost canned the film in pre-production.  Stick with the theatrical release.

And that’s it!

So where did the four of us end up? 

Jaws gets the highest ranking, making three of our lists, and The Shining, The Exorcist, The Exorcist 3, Watcher in the Woods, The Ring, and Paranormal Activity seem to rise above the rest, showing up on two lists.  Seaside locales are the favorite location for scares, with Jaws, Rebecca, The Birds, The Ring, The Fog (both the original and remake) all taking place there, and creepy little girls are the favorite subject of–count ’em NINE–of our haunts (The Ring, The Exorcist, Let Me In, Paranormal Activity 3, Watcher in the Woods, The Sixth Sense, The Shining, Turn of the Screw, and The Others).  And the supernatural wins out over monsters, saws and axes.  Four movies were by John Carpenter, three by Alfred Hitchcock.   The oldest movie was Rebecca from 1940, the newest came out this year, Paranormal Activity 3.

I hope you like our lists and they prompt you to check out something you haven’t seen before.  Look for other lists here in the future.

And let us know what is on your list!

By Elizabeth C. Bunce

To be honest, this was a challenging list for me.  On the one hand, there is nothing I love better than a really great ghost story, so you’d think I’d be able to rattle off a list of ‘em just like that.  But that’s the thing—the really great ones, the ones that well and truly conjure up that perfectly spooky atmosphere and transport me wholly to the Hallowe’en, ahem, spirit… well, they’re pretty rare, actually.  I’m a little bit critical; I acknowledge that.  But that’s another reason to love these lists: I’m always on the lookout for the next The Others or Watcher in the Woods.

For me, atmosphere is everything.  Strike the right spooky ambience in a film, and you can overcome any number of shortcomings—including the total lack of an actual ghost in the story.  So here’s an assemblage of ten films that get the mood right, at least, making them excellent viewing when the lights are off and the late October wind howls outside.  In no particular order…

1.  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Ok, I hear you.  A Harry Potter movie on a Hallowe’en list?  Well, bear with me here.  Everything franchise-related aside, Azkaban has everything you’d want in a Devil’s Night creep-fest: the redesigned, gothic Hogwarts; the ghostly manifestations of the dementors haunting the castle and campus; the homicidal maniac on the loose; and oh, yes, the werewolf!  The film also drips with backstory and dark secrets, another element paramount to a great spook story.  And did I mention the werewolf?

2.  The Others (2001)
This one is creepy almost without trying.  Nicole Kidman plays the harried and pathologically overprotective mother of two light-sensitive children, occupying a remote English manor house in the days following World War II.  Though the scares here are primarily psychological, skin-crawling elements abound (what is up with those creepy kids? And those servants! Egad!), and the story has one of the best twist endings you’re likely to find.  So pull the blinds, get away from the windows, and watch for the seriously unsettling appearance of The Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, as Kidman’s estranged (or something) husband.  I can almost guarantee you’ll want to watch this one again, straight through from the beginning, when it’s over.

3.  Watcher in the Woods (1980)
For me, this film is the archetype of everything I want in a ghost story (erm, absent the actual ghost, I mean).  This 1980 Disney offering was based on a young adult novel by Florence Engel Randall, but this is a rare case of the film eclipsing (no pun intended!) its source novel.  It follows a pair of young American sisters who are renting a haunted English manor house for the summer, and who awaken the property’s chilling secret—and its chilling landlady, Mrs. Ayelsworth (Bette Davis).  Many years ago, Ayelsworth’s daughter disappeared from the estate, in a secret ritual her now-grown friends have sworn to keep silent.  But the past won’t be buried, and the apparent ghost of Karen Ayelsworth tries desperately to communicate with our heroines.  The setting here is pitch perfect, from the foreboding house to a murky lake, to the chapel ruins with ravens stirring through the dead leaves.  I loved this movie as a child, and it’s lost almost none of its wonder, atmosphere, and suspense. (Extended DVD scenes notwithstanding.)

4.  Rebecca (1940)
This 1940 Best Picture Oscar winner is a faithful rendition of the Daphne du Maurier novel by the same name. Du Maurier’s writing, Alfred Hitchcock’s direction, and George Barnes’s Academy Award-winning cinematography are so skillful and subtle that you will swear you’ve seen the ghost of Rebecca de Winter haunting Manderley yourself—though she makes no actual appearance in the film.  While the entire cast (particularly stars Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier,) turned in top-notch performances, the disturbing heart of the film is the unforgettable performance by Star Trek alumna Dame Judith Anderson as the first Mrs. de Winter’s devoted lady’s maid, Mrs. Danvers—the archetype for every creepy British servant to come.  This is psychological horror at its best; an exploration of how our own memories are the most frightening ghosts to put to rest.

5.  Skeleton Key (2005)
I’ll admit that I didn’t enjoy this film as much as I wanted to, but the fact that someone in our house bought the DVD, and our TV is mysteriously tuned to this movie every time it airs on late-night cable, should count for something.  Set in rural Louisiana, Skeleton Key drips with Southern Gothic creep-factor: Spanish moss, an old plantation dank with rot, an aging Southern belle, evocative voodoo set-dressing, and the unmistakeable tinge of old racism.  Add a smart heroine in over her head in something she doesn’t understand, plus a satisfying twist ending, and you’ve got a solid haunter with staying power.

6.  The Sixth Sense (1999)
M. Night Shamaylan’s career has been so utterly panned by now that it’s hard to remember that we all loved The Sixth Sense, and couldn’t stop talking about one of the best Gotchas! in horror film history.  Debate all you like, but this measured, thoughtful story of a boy with a problem, and the child psychologist who goes to unparalleled lengths to help him, is a mastery of mood, pacing, and misdirection.  You can watch it as a straightforward drama, and it’s a perfectly solid film.  The characters are skillfully drawn and acted with sincerity and subtlety, and you feel for the plight every single one of them is going through: the haunted boy, the caring therapist who can’t understand that his marriage is over, the lonely wife, and the desperate mother struggling to understand her troubled son.  But it’s in the moments we peek inside the child’s terrifying world that the horror of this story comes home, and whether or not you see dead people (or saw the ending from a mile away), you know you were a little skittish walking into your kitchen alone.

7.  The Ring (2002)
In the immortal words of Bravo’s Hundred Scariest Movie Moments, “There’s nothing creepier than a decrepit eight-year-old.” And while the combined lists on borg.com seem to bear that out, this is the decrepit eight-year-old you definitely don’t want to see climbing out of your TV late at night.  It’s not immediately obvious why this adaptation of the classic Japanese thriller is so frightening—is it the disturbing iconography in the underground video?  The ghoulish backstory?  The jarring cinematography and special effects?—but it all adds up to seriously unsettling viewing.  Bolstered by a strong mystery, a determined and believable lead, and the chilling ordinariness of her investigation, the contrasting horror seems all the more convincing, no matter how far-fetched a haunted videotape may sound.  Trust me: you’ll be glad you ditched your VCR.

8.  The Turn of the Screw (1999)
Henry James’s dark, “are they or aren’t they?” tale of two haunted siblings and the devoted governess desperate to protect them has been baffling audiences for 123 years, but that hasn’t stopped people from making movies out of it.  1961’s The Innocents, penned by no less a scribe than Truman Capote, is considered a modern classic, but this 1999 BBC version starring the brilliantly-cast Jodhi May in all her sloe-eyed anxiety captures all the frightening bewilderment of the original.  It’s never entirely clear what’s bothering the children in her care.  It could be ghosts, it could be pedophiles, or it could be the overactive imagination of the governess herself—but it’s from that uncertainty that the horror emerges.  With no true resolution to the tale—no laying to rest of the ghosts, no cozy denouement now that the danger has passed—The Turn of the Screw is ultimately unsatisfying, leaving you vaguely uncomfortable yet somehow wishing for more.

9. The Fog (2005)
At first glance, there really wasn’t an obvious reason to remake John Carpenter’s classic tale of a seaside town getting a belated and ghostly comeuppance.  But unlike ill-considered remakes before and since, The Fog loses nothing in translation—and even manages to surpass the original.  One of the most vital elements of a ghost story is arguably its backstory—the chilling past that rises to menace the present—and this 2005 adaptation gets it absolutely right.  The story of a town’s ill-gotten fortune at the cost of a doomed ship of lepers comes alive (or undead, at least) in rich period details, elaborate sets and costumes, and a powerful enriched storyline, all of which combine to create a pretty much perfect ghost story.

10.  Dead Again (1991)
This may seem an odd choice for a Hallowe’en list, but this 1991 Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson film deftly blends film noir, gothic romance, and the paranormal in a gripping, genre-bending mystery thick with atmosphere and suspense.  In two parallel storylines, Dead Again explores a post-war Los Angeles murder mystery that continues to haunt two people into the modern age.  Playing dual roles, both Branagh and Thompson excel, first as doomed lovers Roman and Margaret von Strauss, and as their modern counterparts, trying to unravel the secret of how that epic romance ended in a gruesome murder.  With its edgy, atmospheric soundtrack racing to a shocking twist ending, Dead Again is another film that will have you hitting the “replay” button on your remote as soon as the end titles roll.