Co-writer/co-producer Guillermo Del Toro helps make Halloween come a little earlier this weekend in theaters with Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, a remake of a 1973 made-for-TV scare show of the same name that is available on DVD. In the modern update directed by Troy Nixey, Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce star as a couple with a young daughter that moves into a Gothic manor to restore it. Curiosity gets the best of the little girl as she explores the mansion and, before long, she unknowingly releases little goblins from behind a closed fireplace that begin to torment her at night.
Two of the most chilling haunted house movies—The Innocents and The Haunting—are available on DVD and have both been remade more recently with very different results. Filmed in stark black and white, 1961's The Innocents is about a governess charged with looking after two seemingly innocent children at a Gothic mansion when it slowly becomes apparent that the tots are being influenced by something terrible that happened in the building's past. The film inspired The Others, starring Nicole Kidman, which was an equally chilling ghostly tale. Whereas 1963's The Haunting will make you jump out of your seat with all the sudden loud banging on doors as four strangers try to find proof of the paranormal in the gloomy corridors of Hill House, the CGI-riddled 1999 remake starring Liam Neeson and Catherin Zeta-Jones elicits more snickers than scares.
Consider 1973's The Legend of Hell House as a companion piece to the original The Haunting. In The Legend of Hell House, four intruders (including Roddy McDowall in a severe bowl cut that should count as another character) get caught up in the madness of Belasco House, infamous for its history of ritualistic killings and orgies. Something terrible from the past is eating away at Jack Nicholson as well at the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, which—out of all the movies on this list—is arguably the most terrifying as we watch Nicholson snap and go after his wife and son with an ax. The Amityville Horror, which is based on a supposedly true story, features a family that runs screaming into the night after they move into a haunted house in which a man heard voices that told him to kill his family with a shotgun.
No list of haunted house movies is complete without a mention of Poltergeist, which features a house built over a cemetery where only the tombstones were moved. This poor planning amps up the supernatural activity as entities from the other side pull little Carol Anne Freeling (Heather O'Rourke) into another dimension and leave her family to deal with a real house of horrors. As frightening as Tobe Hooper's classic is, the film franchise has been saddled with a curse of its own after the deaths of several cast members, including the murder of Dominique Dunne and the abrupt death of 12-year-old O'Rourke from septic shock.
After a period during which the public seemed to prefer slasher and torture flicks, the haunted house movie has enjoyed a little renaissance as of late. In 2004's The Grudge, Sarah Michelle Gellar makes the mistake of entering a house where anyone who does is exposed to a curse from someone—in this case, a mother and child—who died in a powerful rage or extreme sorrow. Both Paranormal Activity movies feed on our fear of what is going on after dark in our homes via terrifying surveillance footage of disturbing occurrences. In the recent horror hit Insidious, we learn that it is a young boy—not a house—that is haunted, but that doesn't give the Lambert family or the audience any comfort as we are pulled into a nightmare of parasitic entities that seem to crawl out of the cracks and invade their home.
Yes, if Katie Holmes wants to survive Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, she should think of these haunted house classics on disc as her survival guide and start renting.