List Film

Top 5 modern ghost stories

As Insidious: Chapter 2 hits cinemas, we consider our favourite supernatural chillers

Top 5 modern ghost stories


Ring (1998)

Arguably the film that started off the current vogue for ghost stories, the Japanese Ringu was also responsible for the wave of J-horror that followed (which included Dark Water, The Grudge and a slew of sequels and American remakes). The story of a vengeful spirit who kills viewers of a cursed video tape, it moved horror out of the decrepit haunted mansions of old and into the modern day, creating a much more effective way of scaring today's tech-savvy cinema-goers (although when you think about it, VHS was pretty much defunct by that time anyway).

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

You could debate the inclusion of this one on a ghost story list rather than a more witch-y list, but the fact is, the Blair Witch was the ghost of Elly Kedward, a woman accused of witchcraft. Her spirit wreaks vengeance on any who trespass through the Maryland woods, including hapless filmmakers Josh (Joshua Leonard), Heather (Heather Donahue) and Mike (Michael C Williams), whose footage forms the content of the movie. The rest is movie-making history, with a budget rumoured to be as low as $20000 reaping rewards close to the quarter-of-a-billion mark.

Paranormal Activity (2007)

Oren Peli's low-budget found footage shocker revived a genre that had grown stale since it was last goosed up by the Blair Witch boys. Typically for the horror genre, the film was Peli's debut (his follow-up, extraterrestrial thriller Area 51, is due out in November), but his sure-footed, no frills depiction of a suburban home terrorised by unseen spectres was strong enough to give birth to no less than three sequels (with another two in production at the time of writing).

Insidious (2010)

Having made their mark with Saw (and kickstarted the 'torture porn' subgenre while they were at it), writing/directing team Leigh Whannell and James Wan turned their attention to the ghost story, with one key quirk: the subject of their haunting was not a house but a young boy (Ty Simpkins), whose parents (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) will try anything to rid their son of his demons. With Insidious: Chapter 2 about to hit cinemas, it seems Wan and Whannell are content with their contribution to the ghost story canon – the former is going on to helm the next Fast & Furious instalment, while the latter is involved with Elijah Wood-starring viral horror comedy Cooties.

Mama (2013)

So startled was Guillermo del Toro by Andrés Muschietti's 2008 short film Mama, he leapt on board to exec produce the feature-length adaptation. Again, the plot is driven by modern events: a banker (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), driven to suicide in the wake of the 2008 financial crash, takes his daughters into the woods to share his fate, only to be dispatched by a protective spirit subsequently referred to by the girls as Mama. The feature film may lose its footing towards the end, but Muschietti's effects work – not to mention the subverting of Mama's benign intentions for evil – are freakily terrifying.

Paranormal Activity

  • 3 stars
  • 2007
  • US
  • 86 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Oren Peli
  • Written by: Oren Peli
  • Cast: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

Raw, truly lo-fi and also very clever, this 'Blair Witch'-style homemade horror is a compelling introduction to director Peli. A suburban couple set up a camcorder to record the things going bump in the night in their own home, and the fear factor is cranked up as the horror penetrates the domestic sphere; but crucially…


  • 4 stars
  • 2010
  • US
  • 103 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: James Wan
  • Written by: Leigh Whannell
  • Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye, Andrew Astor, Leigh Whannell

Writer director team Leigh Whanell and Wan (who launched Saw on the world) return with a creepy ghost story as a young family (Wilson and Byrne) learn: 'It's not the house that is haunted. It's your son.' An obvious homage to Poltergeist that delivers a solid dose of horror before exploding into a wild ride of demons…

Ring (Ringu)

  • 1998
  • Japan
  • 96 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Hideo Nakata
  • Cast: Nanako Matsushima, Miki Nakatani, Yûko Takeuchi

The creepy haunted VHS tape that started the craze for Asian horror (and their remakes).


  • 3 stars
  • 2013
  • Spain/Canada
  • 100 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Andrés Muschietti
  • Cast: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier
  • UK release: 22 February 2013

Picked up under Guillermo del Toro’s production wing following an utterly terrifying short film but, as is often the case with adapted shorts, it struggles to extend beyond its original conceit. Two sisters who, under grisly circumstances, have been left to fend for themselves in the woods. After three years they are…

Insidious: Chapter 2

  • 2 stars
  • 2013
  • US
  • 106 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: James Wan
  • Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins
  • UK release: 13 September 2013

The haunted Lambert family seeks to uncover the mysterious childhood secret that has left them dangerously connected to the spirit world.


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