by Scott Neumyer, Tue., Jan. 24, 2012 11:00 AM PST
Someone must have designated February 3, 2012 as Ghosts in the Theater Day as it marks the theatrical release of Ti West's spooky The Innkeepers as well as the Hammer Film Productions release of the Daniel Radcliffe-starring The Woman in Black. It's the latter film, however, that got us thinking about some of the very best ghost movies adapted from books. Based on the Susan Hill novel of the same name, The Woman in Black has been adapted before, but this latest version might just prove to be the best version yet. If you're gearing up to find out on February 3, why not get yourself in the right mood by checking out a few of the ghostly adaptations on our list below. This isn't a complete list, by any means, but it's a great starting point for anyone interested in the ghost movie subgenre. Happy Hauntings!
Robert Wise's 1963 classic The Haunting is, arguably, the very best ghost movie ever adapted from a novel. Based on Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, the film stars Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, and Russ Tamblyn and is a study in the subtle, slow-burn of a psychological horror film. Remade in 1999 by Jan de Bont and starring Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones, the stories are essentially the same, but don't let that fool you into thinking the remake is even remotely as solid as Wise's original. Where de Bont's version utilized shoddy CGI effects, a sub-par screenplay, and overused horror clichés, the 1963 version of The Haunting is thrilling and scary based on the fact that you actually care about its characters and the house's chills are understated and creepy. It's a sinister little flick that's become the Granddaddy of ghostly adaptations.
Based on the novel of the same name by Robert Marasco, 1976's Burnt Offerings is an oft-underrated little creepfest about a haunted house that gets rejuvenated with every injury or death that takes place inside of it. It was the first of many classic films to be filmed in the famed Dunsmuir House (others include Phantasm and A View to a Kill), and really takes advantage of the location by making the house itself the real star of the film. Directed by Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows and Trilogy of Terror), Burnt Offerings boasts an all-star cast that includes Burgess Meredith, Karen Black, Oliver Reed, Lee Montgomery, and Bette Davis. It's another slow burn of a horror film, but one that's well worth the wait.
The Amityville Horror
The Amityville Horror was a huge box office success back in 1979, but critics panned the film and have long since questioned the legitimacy of the "true" story that the novel of the same name by Jay Anson and the film are both based on. Whether the story of the Lutz family is true or not, however, barely matters. The film gets a bad rap for being hokey and over the top. While there are certainly moments of bombast throughout – mostly from James Brolin and Margot Kidder's performances – the film actually works pretty well overall. It's creepy, suspenseful, and has a sense of paranormal anxiety that actually does a great job of chilling the bones. It's the kind of film that has just enough things wrong with it that a remake could really do it some justice. Unfortunately, the 2005 remake directed by Andrew Douglas and starring Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George fails to improve upon any of the original's missteps. While it's a serviceable film, the 2005 version deals in overcomplicated backstory and hinges on too many ghost clichés. The film's, nonetheless, have made tons of money, spawned a bunch of sequels, and remain some of the most financially successful ghostly adaptations of all time.
Based on the novel of the same name by Peter Straub, 1981's Ghost Story is the last film to feature Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and the legendary Fred Astaire. The film takes place in a small New England town and tells a pretty familiar, simple tale about four old men who form a club to tell each other spooky ghost stories. You've seen this film before, but Ghost Story tells it with such style and atmosphere that you're nearly choking on the thick fog of a dark, scary night. The cast is spectacular and Irvin's direction is solid in what has become a staple of the ghost movie subgenre.
What can I possibly say about Stanley Kubrick's 1980 masterpiece of horror and isolation? Not much, honestly. If you're reading FEARnet.com, the chances that you haven't seen The Shining are slim and none. Adapted by Kubrick and Diane Johnson and based on the novel by Stephen King, The Shining is an absolute classic not only of the horror genre but all of cinema. Starring Jack Nicholson in a career-making performance as writer Jack Torrance who takes a job as the off-season caretaker of the enormous, isolated, and completely spooky Overlook Hotel, the film features some of the most famous scenes in horror history. The twins. Redrum. The elevator scene. "Here's Johnny!" The list goes on and on. If you haven't seen The Shining yet… seriously… what are you waiting for? Go! Go!
Alejandro Amenábar's The Others may be loosely inspired by The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, but it sure has a personality all its own. Starring Nicole Kidman and Christopher Eccleston, the film is extremely slow-paced, but it's a worthwhile investment of time. A solid story that Amenábar gives plenty of time and space to unravel naturally (even if the "twist" turns out to be a bit heavy-handed), The Others is even more of an achievement in its spooky, dreamlike atmosphere. The cast is pitch-perfect and believable as "normal" people in this very "abnormal" situation. It may not be a great ghost movie, but it has aged pretty well since its release in 2001.
The Legend of Hell House
Richard Matheson adapted his own novel Hell House for the 1973 film The Legend of Hell House. Directed by John Hough – who would go on to direct three of the creepiest Disney films of all time in Escape to Witch Mountain, Return from Witch Mountain, and The Watcher in the Woods – the film stars Roddy McDowall, Pamela Franklin, Clive Revill, and Gayle Hunnicutt. The Legend of Hell House is a pretty fantastic haunted house flick that takes place at the Belasco House (the "Mount Everest of haunted houses") where the original owner, millionaire (and murderer) Emeric Belasco, supposedly murdered numerous people who now haunt the estate. The film is filled with possessions, erotic visions, séances, and one super creepy chapel. The Legend of Hell House easily stands as a staple of the subgenre.
The Woman in Black
If you think the upcoming Hammer Film Productions version of The Woman in Black is the first film to be adapted from the Susan Hill novel of the same name, you'd be wrong. The Woman in Black actually became a stage play first in 1987, before being adapted Nigel Kneale as a television drama in 1989 for the ITV Network. Directed by Herbert Wise, the highly underrated ghost story was a huge success and was even nominated for four BAFTA awards. It's full of spooky, fog-filled marshlands and is a genuinely haunting film. Which brings us to the upcoming 2012 version written by Jane Goldman, directed by James Watkins, and starring Janet McTeer, Ciaran Hinds, and Harry Potter himself Daniel Radcliffe. While we have yet to see how well the Hammer version holds up, advance buzz is good and it'll certainly be fun to see Radcliffe break out of his usual mold with something truly scary.