Today’s episode of Sounds of Cinema featured a look at haunted house movies. Here is a recap of the commentary from the show.
The Amityville Horror
The Amityville Horror was based on the supposedly true story of a haunting experienced by the Lutz family in their Long Island home. The facts in the case have been disputed and that controversy only added to the mystery of the Amityville haunting. The 1979 movie was enormously successful and inspired a series of sequels although the follow ups had little to do with the original material. A remake of The Amityville Horror was released in 2005.
The Others (2001)
Written, directed, and scored by Alejandro Amenábar, The Others is a very effective haunted house movie. The story concerns a mother and her two children who have an allergic reaction to sunlight. The mother maintains strict control over the household but her grip is disrupted by supernatural phenomena.
Five Nights at Freddy’s
Based on the video game, Five Nights at Freddy’s is about an out of work mall cop (Josh Hutcherson) who takes an overnight security job at a closed pizza restaurant and arcade haunted by murderous animatronic animals. Five Nights at Freddy’s will probably entertain the kind of viewers who simultaneously don’t like horror and want to watch something spooky around Halloween. For everyone else it’s too staid and too long.
There are two notable haunted house movies known by the title House. The first is the 1977 Japanese film (original title Hausu) directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi. A teenage girl and her friends travel to her aunt’s rural home where they encounter ghostly phenomena. 1977’s House doesn’t immediately suggest itself as a horror film or a haunted house picture. It gradually turns in that direction but with an unusual style that is far departed from the gothic look of many haunted house movies. House was a hit in Japan in its initial release and years later it became a worldwide cult title.
1986’s House is an American film about a troubled novelist who moves into the home of his recently deceased aunt in order to complete his next book. The movie isn’t a horror comedy but some of the visuals are a bit silly in a way that makes the movie campy fun. Three sequels followed. House was produced by Sean Cunningham, director of Friday the 13th, directed by Steve Miner, who helmed Friday the 13th Part 2 and 3, and featured a music score by Harry Manfredini, who scored most of the Friday the 13th movies.
Haunted house movies are often either about an evil that corrupts an otherwise good home or they are about some preexisting evil within the family. Cobweb is interesting in the way it weaves both of those ideas together. The film begins with eight-year-old Peter discovering a supernatural presence in his home but it’s unclear if this force is malevolent or not. Peter’s parents are eccentric and gradually revealed to be severe and even abusive; their choices might be sadistic or they might be driven by fear of something else and that uncertainty is in play until the climax.
Monster House is an animated feature about two boys who discover that the run down house in their neighborhood is actually a sentient and malevolent creature. This is a good example of a family movie that respects the intelligence of both kids and their parents. It gets pretty intense and is thematically heavy while managing to be appropriate for the family audience.
The People Under the Stairs
In the late 1980s and early 90s, Wes Craven wrote and directed a series of horror films for Universal Pictures, among them 1991’s The People Under the Stairs. The movie is fundamentally a haunted house picture but not in a supernatural sense. The story involved a young boy who breaks into his landlord’s house and discovers a terrible secret hidden in the walls. The People Under the Stairs is one of Craven’s wildest and most entertaining pictures.
Poltergeist was a very intense and quite successful haunted house picture in which a family’s youngest daughter is abducted by ghosts. Released in 1982, the movie was rated PG but it is more intense than that rating suggests. Poltergeist inspired two sequels and a television series. A remake of the original film was released in 2015.
Lucio Fulci is one of the legendary directors in the horror genre. His movies were mostly known for their gore but Fulci mounted ambitious productions on small budgets. 1983’s The Beyond (also known as The Seven Doors of Death) concerns a hotel constructed over a gateway to hell. At the time of its release, The Beyond was subject to censorship and like most of Fulci’s films it was critically dismissed but it has since achieved a reputation as an impressive work of surrealist horror and many of Fulci’s fans consider The Beyond to be the director’s masterpiece.
Disney has made three films out of their theme park attraction: the execrable 2003 movie starring Eddie Murphy, the 2021 version featuring the Muppets, and the 2023’s feature film starring LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, and Danny DeVito. None of the films are very good although the 2023 film is easily the best of the three.
Skinamarink is an interesting and ambitious experimental film. Virtually the entire picture consists of empty hallways and rooms and we occasionally hear their voices of children who are just off screen. Skinamarink is not a plot-driven movie. This is more of a mood piece. For viewers who are willing to go along with it, Skinamarink is a fascinating exercise in style and technique and there’s just enough happening here to suggest a puzzle to be solved. But this film is also going to alienate a lot of viewers who will be understandably frustrated by it.
A Haunting in Venice
Kenneth Branagh’s third Hercule Poirot film is an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel Hallowe’en Party. When a séance is interrupted by a murder, Poirot must solve the crime. A Haunting in Venice is a darker movie than Branagh’s other Poirot films but it also a bit more fun. The film includes notable supporting performances by Michelle Yeoh and Tina Fey.
The Haunting of Hill House
Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House is a classic ghost story that has been adapted multiple times. 1963’s The Haunting, directed by Robert Wise, is one of the best regarded supernatural films. That picture was remade in 1999 by Jan de Bont. The book was also adapted into a limited series for Netflix by Mike Flanagan.
The House on Haunted Hill
The Haunting of Hill House should not be confused with The House on Haunted Hill. This was a William Castle production starring Vincent Price and the movie imagines a group of people invited to spend a night in a supposedly haunted house for a financial reward. During its original theatrical run, cinemas showing The House on Haunted Hill would run a ghost skeleton across the auditorium with a pully system. The House on Haunted Hill was remade in 1999.