I'm always a little sheepish when I'm asked to give my top ten of anything - it's such a subjective thing, so I can only go with those characters that have struck a chord with me. And let's be honest, we're spoiled rotten with ghost stories in every medium. I know I'm going to miss something out, but here's some of my particular favourites.
10) Poltergeist. A film directed by Chainsaw Massacre's Tobe Hooper and produced by Spielberg, it's a great collaborative work with some incredible special effects for its time. In particular, though, it's the "lo-fi" effects that seized my imagination as a kid; toys coming to life, shadows playing across the window as branches tap-tap-tap against the panes. The poltergeist shows itself in many forms throughout the movie, most famously through the crackling static screen of the television set. A classic.
9) The Monkey's Paw, by W. W. Jacobs. OK, so strictly speaking it may not be a ghost, the 'thing' that comes knocking - perhaps it's a zombie? Don't care, it creeps the bejeezus out of me either way. Only bettered by the League of Gentlemen's Curse of the Monkey's Knackers...
8) The Child, The Devil's Backbone. Guillermo Del Toro has great fun making monstrous blockbusters such as Hellboy and Pacific Rim, but his more personal films are the ones that particularly excite me, such as Pan's Labyrinth, and Backbone. Set in an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War, it's a tremendous setting for a tale that is equal parts sociological and supernatural. The use of special visual effects is as genius as the story itself. Wonderful.
7) The Covenant Spirits, from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Don't know about you, but if I see it in the telly planner, it has to be watched. You can lump JAWS in there too, and Empire Strikes Back. Raiders is head and shoulders above the other films in the Indiana Jones franchise, a stonking swashbuckler of a movie. When the Ark is opened and the spirits emerge, first beautiful then monstrous, Indy and Marion weren't the only ones shutting their eyes! Face-melty-tastic!
6) Jacob Marley, from A Christmas Carol. I remember reading this aged ten in primary school, thinking it was going to be a jolly, festive tale. OK, so eventually it is, but it takes a while getting there. And remember, this was before the guiding gentleness that was the Muppets to steer me through choppy, chilling waters. When Scrooge's old partner in business puts in an appearance, I was entranced. I recall spending weeks copying Arthur Rackham's classic bookplates into my sketchbook. No wonder I wanted to be a writer and illustrator when I grew up.
5) The Woman In Black. Susan Hill's wonderful novel has been dramatized on stage and screen, and tweaked accordingly on each occasion. It doesn't seem to matter what the producers do with it, inevitably the end result is the same. Audiences soil themselves. OK, perhaps that statement's slightly semi-autobiographical. I took great pleasure watching the Hammer/ Radcliffe film recently with my son, 14, who had never sat down and enjoyed an old fashioned spooky film before. My glee was unhealthily massive, in part because of the lavish production values, direction and cinematography on the screen, accompanied by my eldest leaping and squirming like a worm on a hotplate.
4) The Ghost of the Suit, Heart Shaped Box. I love Joe Hill's writing, and respect him immensely for not "pulling a Sheen" and trading upon his dad's name (Joe's father is horror supremo Stephen King). This is a classic ghost story given a thoroughly modern setting, with an unstoppable, never faltering phantasm who wants our anti-hero dead. It's incredible. When the subject of ghost stories pops up in conversation with friends, I immediately point them toward the nearest bookshop. Not for children, this is very definitely an adult tale.
3) The Librarian, from Ghostbusters. I was a 12 year old when GB came out, and managed to get into the first screening at my local Odeon cinema in Warrington. It was madness. My best mate broke his arm in the crush to get in, not that he discovered this until he got home. I think adrenalin kept him going, such was the excitement. When Peter, Ray and Egon first encounter the ghost of the old librarian beneath the New York Central Library, and she lurched out of the screen to the audience . . . sod 3D! That made hundreds of kids scream in unison, proper audience participation. Never experienced anything like it since on the big screen. Terrific film - another one that if it comes on the telly, you have to watch it. Fact.
2) The Haunting. This film by Robert Wise was my father's introduction to the classic ghost story for me. It was a good call. The genius of the film is that we never see the entity that is haunting the house. Everything is implied and suggested through ingenious cinematography and direction. Distorted camera lenses, crash zooms, eerie sound effects. It was remade recently in god-awful fashion as one would imagine, relying heavily upon CGI special effects and completely missing the point of what made the original so endearing, and so chilling.
1) Harry, by Rosemary Timperley. I have a wonderful English teacher to thank for introducing me to Harry (ain't that always the way?). The late, great Jeanette Crizzle handed me Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories when I visited the school she taught at, Bedford Prep. It was only the one short story in there she wanted me to read, a thoroughly creepy little tale featuring a pair of childless professionals who adopt a little girl. I really CANNOT say any more than that, for fear of spoiling the ending. Only seek it out. Read it. Timperley is a masterful writer in many mediums, but her short stories are something else. Dahl says it's one of the best ghost stories ever written. It's hard to disagree. The last line gives me goosebumps to this day. . .
"And that name. Harry. Such an ordinary name!
Thank you so much for a wonderful post, Curtis! I’ve hardly seen or read any of these so I better get cracking!
Be sure to check out Haunt: Dead Wrong – it’s brilliant; review to come tomorrow – and the first book, Dead Scared, if you haven’t already. Make sure to pop over to Bookbabblers tomorrow for the next stop on the tour.