Over the course of cinema history, horror fads have come and gone. We’ve seen all sorts of trends in terror, such as vampires, slashers, and torture porn. But one constant has been the supernatural movie, proving that cinema audiences have an eternal fascination with haunted houses and spectral stars. As we await British true life haunted house movie WHEN THE LIGHTS WENT OUT, let us take a look at some of the silver screen’s greatest ever ghosts…
10. Dr. Malcolm Crowe
THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)
Child psychologist Dr. Malcolm has been having a rough ride of late, having found himself as the recipient of some serious bad luck. First off, he was shot (by a former New Kids on the Block member, no less). Next, he was lumbered with oddball Cole (Haley Joel Osment), a pint-sized psychic who claims to see dead people. If all that wasn’t bad enough, Dr. Malcolm’s wife has become increasingly distant. Oh, and he’s dead.
THE SIXTH SENSE remains one of modern cinema’s creepy classics, and kick started the current fascination with ‘the twist’. The cornerstone of the movie is Willis, delivering an understated but touching performance as the ghost that doesn’t know he’s dead. A genuine Brucey bonus.
9. Marley & Marley
THE MUPPETS CHRISTMAS CAROL (1992)
‘A Christmas Carol’ remains arguably the greatest ghost story of all time. It has been adapted, remade, and re-imagined countless times. And The Muppets version is perhaps the best of them all.
Brilliantly cast as The Muppet’s Hecklers, Scrooge’s (Michael Caine) former business partners appear to warn him of the consequences of his miserly ways. Though the story boasts some other classic ghosts (of Christmases Past, Present, and Future, for instance), all are over-shadowed by these grumpy old buggers, whose top-notch chain rattling and singing prove this as one of cinema’s definitive hauntings.
Long before Tim Burton made the likes of PLANET OF THE APES and ALICE IN WONDERLAND, he used to knock out smart little goth-fests such as BEETLEJUICE.
When Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Barbara (Geena Davis) are killed in a car accident, they try to bio-excorcise their old house of a yuppie family. Having little luck with their new-found supernatural talents, they enlist the help of Beetlejuice, who will stop at nothing to escape his ghostly exile.
Featuring innovative special effects and set pieces (Bannana Boat Song, anyone?), BEETLEJUICE remains a cult favourite, and is anchored by Keaton’s career-best performance as the ghost with the most.
7. Obi-Wan Kenobi
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980) & RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)
After being struck down by his former pupil Darth Vader, all that remains of Kenobi is a pile of clothes. But as he warned the villainous Vader, he became more powerful than Darth could possibly imagine. So powerful in fact, that he was able to help Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil) become a fully-fledged Jedi Knight and defeat the Empire, if only through the odd whisper and aloof apparition here and there.
Kenobi remains one of the coolest Jedi ever – whilst all the others were being taken down like suckers in Episodes I-III, Kenobi kept his kudos, kicking butt and taking names. He was such a badass that he was able to resurrect himself from the dead, a skill demonstrated in only the very best Jedi. Even Sam Jackson isn’t that nails-hard. Yes, the force is strong with this one…
6. Peter Quint
THE INNOCENTS (1961)
Peter Wyngarde has been afforded cult status for a number of reasons – be it his legendary moustache, his camp lothario Jason King, or surreal musical aspirations. But Wyngarde’s finest hour came is the form of Peter Quint, the mysterious figure that haunts Jack Clayton’s THE INNOCENTS.
This adaptation of the Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw remains one of the most influential celluloid ghost stories, inspiring films such as THE SIXTH SENSE and THE OTHERS. Wyngarde’s performance is one of the film’s strengths – a creepy and affecting character that ensures THE INNOCENTS sends shivers down spines at all the right moments.
GHOST CHASE (1987)
There just aren’t enough haunted clocks in cinema these days. Or crap haunted rubber butler puppets either. So thank goodness for GHOST CHASE.
When budget film maker Warren (Jason Lively) inherits his uncle’s estate, the spirit of said uncle’s butler, Louis, possesses an animatronic model created for his latest horror feature. Together they embark on a mission to seize hidden loot from the evil spirit of Warren’s uncle.
I shit you not.
And all from the brains of Roland Emmerich, who brought us such cerebral delights as INDEPENDENCE DAY and THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW.
With a synthed-up soundtrack and supporting cast of nobodies, GHOST CHASE is a forgotten and brilliantly awful gem from the arse-end of the eighties. It’s well worth a look on DVD. If you can find it. But don’t hold your breath.
4. Johnny Charles Bartlett
THE FRIGHTENERS (1996)
Before Peter Jackson went supernova with a certain group of homoerotic Hobbits, he made THE FRIGHTENERS, the forgotten jewel in his crown. Stocked full of good scares and genuine laughs, the movie is an understated classic, and Jackon’s last hurrah before he got all ‘serious’.
Frank (Michael J. Fox) is a psychic con-man, arranging hauntings for him to excorcise with his three spectral chums. But Frank soon finds trouble in the shape of Johnny Chalres Bartlett, one of modern cinema’s most sinister villains. A former murderer, Bartlett keeps up his hobby in the afterlife, squeezing the life from the hearts of the living. Busey’s maniacal looks fit the role perfectly, bringing the murderous ghost to life (or should that be death?).
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)
Jack – who looks increasingly like a meatloaf – is a rare kind of ghost. He hasn’t come to scare, harm, or amuse himself with a cheeky haunting – his intentions are all good. After being killed by a werewolf, Jack walks in limbo until the wolf’s bloodline is severed. He comes to warn best friend David – a newly cursed werewolf – that the only way is for David to take his own life.
Griffin Dunne’s performance as Jack is a masterstroke, bringing genuine humour to a role that is inherently ghoulish (‘Have you ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring’). This is aided, of course, by Rick Baker’s groundbreaking effects work, which shows Jack decaying day-by-day, until all that remains is a skeleton in a wig. Not only the definitive werewolf movie, one of the quintessential movie ghosts too.
There’s a whole containment unit’s worth of spirits to choose from across the GHOSTBUSTERS franchise. Be it the floating librarian (‘Where are you from, originally?’), Viggo (‘The scourge of Carpathia, the sorrow of Maldavia’), or the Scaleri Brothers (‘You’re next Bubbles’). But it has to be Slimer, who not only features in both films, but managed to nab a starring role in the eighties cartoon version too.
Slimer was apparently conceived partly as the ghost of John Belushi, tipped as the original Peter Venkman and a man who knew how to live (and die) to excess. Slimer’s crowning moment comes during a confrontation with Venkman (Bill Murray) – ‘He slimed me’ – which leads to the Ghostbusters first victory.
Who you gonna call indeed.
1. Sam Wheat
Patrick Swayze had a number of great roles over the course of his career – from DIRTY DANCING’s Johhny to POINT BREAK’s Bodhi – but Sam Wheat from GHOST is arguably his greatest. With a stellar supporting cast, GHOST is scary, funny, and heartbreaking all at once.
When a mugger kills Sam, his confused ghost follows his grief-stricken girlfriend Molly (Demi Moore), and soon discovers that his best friend Carl (Tony Goldwyn) was responsible for his death. In order to protect Molly from Carl’s devious ways, Sam enlists crooked psychic Odemae Brown (Whoopi Goldgerg) to help him along. The film boasts some ingenious creepy moments – such as Sam’s poltergeist-style taunting of Carl – and memorable characters. Who can forget the subway ghost?
However, the real crux of the movie lies in the relationship between Sam and Molly, which is a true Hollywood romance. But there is one question – would Sam have chosen to wear that burgundy v-neck sweater had he known he’d be doomed to wear it for eternity. Still, awful jumpers aside, we love you Swayze.
WHEN THE LIGHTS WENT OUT arrives in UK cinemas 14th September