— “The Haunting” (1963)
Forget the buckets of blood. Fright fans who want to avoid the gore and still get thrills and chills can enjoy the pure fear factor of “The Haunting.” Based on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel, “The Haunting of Hill House,” which follows an ill-fated paranormal investigation into a property that seen more than its fair share of tragic endings, this film relies on the audiences’ imagination to provide the best scares. Sure, there’s plenty of the unseen demon-in-the-dark action one expects from a haunted house story, but it’s the slow-building sinister vibe and anxious “oh-no-what’s-next?” feeling that’ll keep viewers up at night.
Alfred Hitchcock’s fright flick blueprint, “Psycho” plays every bit as scary now as it did nearly 50 years ago. Perhaps the enduring quality is due to Hitchcock’s patented marriage of mystery and suspense as horror, or maybe it’s down to Anthony Perkins’ all-too-believable portrayal of mother-loving motel manager-cum-killer Norman Bates. Either way, the result’s still chilling and worth all the hype heaped on through the decades. A word to the wise: avoid all the sequels and that unfortunate 1998 scene-for-scene remake. Some aren’t as gore-phobic friendly as the original and none are nearly as good.
“The Others” (2001)
Offering a twist on the typical haunted house take is “The Others.” The story, which revolves around a protective matriarch’s (Nicole Kidman) efforts to shield her seemingly sickly children from the dangers of light and everything that’s scary about the darkness, keeps viewers on the edge of their seats with a constant sense of dread. It’s all about what can’t be seen in those darkened rooms and behind the locked doors; those actions from the other side that make the audience jump and drive the main character increasingly mad as the a mystery unfolds.
“The Changeling” (1980)
Keeping with the eerie estate theme, “The Changeling” boosts the horror by having the haunting come at the hands of a child. John Russell, as played by an uncharacteristically restrained George C. Scott, moves into a spooky old mansion after the deaths of his wife and child and finds he’s not alone. Instead, he shares his new digs with Joseph, otherwise known as the creepiest ghost-child on film. Who needs blood and guts to creep them out when Joseph’s unoccupied, pint-sized wheelchair can do the job? Just beware of the bathtub scene. There’s no gore, but if “Psycho” put you off showers, this one will likely rule out the remaining hygiene option.
“Rosemary’s Baby” (1968)
If you’re pregnant, or ever planning to be, just skip this one. The idea of getting violated by pure evil is scary enough, but “Rosemary’s Baby” ups the ante by having poor, unfortunate Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) become the incubator of pure evil. Yes, thanks to the local coven of doom, the film’s heroine suffers through a troubling pregnancy knowing that something’s wrong, but unaware that’s she’s due to give birth to the spawn of Satan. It’s frightening tale of innocence lost, or rather stolen, with a lesson about trust thrown in (as in don’t, ever).