The Right Coast

April 17, 2005
One scary house
By Tom Smith

The grossest movie this weekend (in terms of revenues) was The Amityville Horror. Reportedly a bad remake of a bad movie based on a bad book about an allegedly evil house. I plan to give it a miss, and maybe watch the DVD when it's out.

I knew a guy who knew the people who lived in the house in the 1970s, and he said the people who lived there thought it was . . . a perfectly nice house (except for the curiosity seekers).

Difficult as it may be to believe, there is reason to think the haunted house tale is a big hoax.

But you want to see a good haunted house flick? The best of them all is probably the original of The Haunting, based on Shirley Jackson's thoroughly creepy and satisfying novel, The Haunting of Hill House. The remake is IMHO dreadful, and not in the good sense. A pretty good haunting flick is The Uninvited, a tasty Hollywood British confection. "Best ghost movie of all time" is hyperbole, but it's still full of chewy, scary goodness.

The Others was a welcome revival of the honorable traditions of spook movies. It has an old house, children who see things, fog, war dead, plumby accents, nannies, furniture with sheets over it, locked rooms and terribly odd noises. If that doesn't entertain you, you're hopeless. It's about atmosphere, not FX. The Innocents, the movie based on Henry James ghostly classic, The Turn of the Screw, is even better, and scared the bejesus outta me as a child. (Some say it's Deborah Kerr's best performance.) Share these movies with your children! They'll never forget the experience.

While it's not a ghost story, for genuine atmospheric creepiness, it's hard to beat Night of the Hunter, with Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters. Mitchum plays a very, very bad man. This is American Gothic on the high plains to a tee. Robert Mitchum's little sermon on love and hate creeps me out when I think of it to this day.