The Best 10 Haunting Stories from Iconic Ghost Movies

October: The spookiest month of the year leading up to the 31st. Before that frightful date falls, the weeks leading up to Halloween are often filled with haunted attractions, costume planning, and of course, horror film marathons. To many, a frightening movie is just that—a movie. The following ten, however, are unique in that the events surrounding the making of the films, as well as their back-story, are more terrifying than anything on screen.

10 Ghostbusters

The celebrated 1984 comedy classic Ghostbusters had some eerie happenings on set, one of which actually made it into the film. Specifically, the now-famous scene where Dan Aykroyd comes face-to-face with a ghost, causing his cigarette to fall from his mouth but miraculously stay put on his bottom lip, was supposedly spontaneous without special effects or adhesives.

Though one can reasonably argue that saliva played a major role. According to Aykroyd, there was no trick used to keep the cigarette in place, stating, “That was a total the-gods-are-with-you comedian moment. I had the [cigarette] there, and I did the look. And they got the shot. No glue, no tape, no glycerin.” Clearly, there must be some reasonable explanation. However, to this day, Aykroyd maintains his stance, assuring that no trickery or saliva was the culprit for a once-in-a-lifetime shot. Sounds fishy, but you be the judge.[1]

9 The Innkeepers

Ti West’s low-budget thriller The Innkeepers (2011) tells the tale of two young hotel clerks at the Yankee Pedlar Inn who set out to prove that their place of employment is indeed haunted. As luck would have it, the hotel that inspired the film was shot at the actual Yankee Pedlar Inn in Torrington, Connecticut, which is said to be a real haunted location. During filming, the cast and crew experienced baffling supernatural things.

Director West—a self-proclaimed skeptic—was petrified to witness doors slamming on their own, TVs turning on and off by themselves, and new lights continuously burning out inexplicably. Even more bizarre is that everyone on the set had very vivid dreams every single night. Actress Sara Paxton stated that she would constantly wake up in the middle of the night thinking someone was in her room with her. Following several days away from the set and a respite from the paranormal, West explained how the dreams came flooding back upon his return: “Being a skeptic, I tend to not believe it as much,” said the director. “The dreams came back the first day I walked in. The vibe was there.”[2]

8 Candyman

The 1992 Candyman film about the ghost of a lynched slave with a hook for a hand terrified audiences across the nation and abroad. There is one scene in particular that is truly haunting, given that it was taken from actual events five years prior to the film’s release. In the movie, two women investigating one of Candyman’s crime scenes discover that the murderous phantom entered the victim’s apartment through the medicine cabinet.

Such was the case for 52-year-old Ruthie Mae McCoy, who was brutally murdered in her apartment in 1987. The murderers were able to gain access to McCoy’s apartment by crawling through an opening behind the bathroom’s mirror, as seen in the movie. There are several other elements taken from McCoy’s killing, such as the fact that Candyman also takes place in Chicago public housing. In addition, one of the characters in the film bears a familiar name to the real-life victim: Anne-Marie McCoy.[3]

7 The Sixth Sense

1999’s box-office hit The Sixth Sense is arguably M. Night Shyamalan’s first and perhaps only masterpiece. With its Hitchcock vibe and a startling ending that flabbergasted audiences worldwide, the shooting of the celebrated film had quite an unnerving impact on one of its main stars. During production, Toni Collette—who plays the mother of Cole, a young boy haunted by unrelenting spirits—found herself slowly becoming an insomniac, which she had never experienced prior.

The nights she was afforded some sleep only intensified her discomfort, given the particular time she would awake. Collette stated to Slant Magazine in 2012, “I had a couple of weird things happening. In the hotel room I was staying at in Philadelphia, I started meditating a lot, and then I would wake up at night, roll over, and look at the clock, and it was always a repeated number—1:11, 3:33, 4:44. That started to really spook me.” Never conforming to superstitious beliefs, the unsettling experience occurred yet again years later while shooting Hitchcock, a 2012 biographical drama about the filming of Psycho in 1959.[4]

6 Paranormal Activity

Director Oren Peli’s micro-budgeted Paranormal Activity—which centers around a demonic invasion of a couple’s suburban home—was being shopped around to studios in early 2008 when it came into the hands of Steven Spielberg. Spielberg, a co-founder of DreamWorks, was debating whether or not he wanted his studio to be part of the supernatural thriller. Immediately following the film’s screening, while alone at his Pacific Palisades estate, the door to his bedroom inexplicably locked from the inside, forcing the legendary director to summon a locksmith.

The incident shook Spielberg to the core so much that he refused to have the DVD anywhere near his home. The following day he brought his copy of the film back to DreamWorks in a garbage bag. Despite the hair-raising experience, Spielberg shared enthusiasm for the film and ultimately acquired the rights. Paranormal Activity went on to become one of the most profitable films ever made based on return on investment.[5]

5 1408

Hailed as one of the best horror movies of 2007, 1408 follows a paranormal skeptic (John Cusack) whose investigation takes him to a grand New York hotel with an infamously haunted room—the titular 1408. In spite of the movie screaming Hollywood fantasy, audiences would be surprised to learn the film was inspired by world-renowned parapsychologist Christopher Chacon’s investigation of San Diego’s Hotel del Coronado.

The luxurious hotel was known as Hollywood’s elite playground, as well as the location of the tragic suicide of Kate Morgan in 1892. Checking in under a false name on Thanksgiving, Kate’s body would be found five days later on a flight of stairs. Since then, employees and guests have experienced paranormal activity in the room Kate occupied. From disembodied voices and footsteps to objects moving inexplicably, Chacon decided to position infrared cameras and magnetic meters in the infamous room where he and his team detected 37 abnormalities, including glasses flying off counters by themselves. Chacon’s reporting on his stay sent shivers down the spine of Stephen King so much that he was compelled to pen “1408,” which ultimately became a major box-office success.[6]

4 Session 9

2001’s psychological horror film Session 9 is unlike any other horror movie, given that it was filmed inside a real-life abandoned mental hospital in Massachusetts. The dark and eerie premises, once known as the Danvers State Hospital, opened in 1878 and soon became infamous for being “one of the most inhumane” asylums in America. To add to the unsettling ambiance, the majority of props in the film were already present inside the building.

Official production notes report that actor Dave Caruso saw “something pass my window” while filming inside the dilapidated building: “I didn’t want to tell anybody because people would start looking at me strangely,” said Caruso. Actor Peter Mullan reported strange happenings while filming on the roof. According to Mullan, a voice in his head told him to jump off “to see what would happen.” Mullan went on to state that the hospital brought out a morbid kind of “overactive curiosity.” Fortunately, the ruins of the asylum were demolished in 2007.[7]

3 The Conjuring

During the making of The Conjuring—based on Ed and Lorraine Warren’s 1971 investigation of a haunted Rhode Island farmhouse—the cast and crew found themselves experiencing their own paranormal frights. According to Warner Bros. production notes, people on set would be encircled by gusts of wind that had no effect on their surroundings, such as the leaves on a tree. Every time screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes called Lorraine to discuss the case, static interrupted their conversation, unlike any other calls that were made.

During early production, everyone had to evacuate their hotel after a fire mysteriously broke out. Director James Wan had sleepless nights when his dog would growl incessantly while tracking something across the room that wasn’t there. Perhaps the most jarred by the experience was actress Vera Farmiga who found five claw marks slashed across the screen of her laptop. “I don’t know how to explain it,” the actress said. “I do know I hadn’t dropped the computer, and my children hadn’t stepped on it. So I gingerly closed it, put it away, and then my brain just went berserk.” During the entirety of the shoot, Farmiga refused to read the script at home or at night and only in “fits and spurts, lest she be overwhelmed by fear.”[8]

2 Crimson Peak

In 2009, Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro was scouting filming locations in New Zealand for the Hobbit trilogy when he came upon the Waitomo Caves Hotel. The grand Victorian-style mansion built in 1908 was completely empty due to the off-season. Being a ghost aficionado, del Toro convinced the owners to open their doors, given its reputation for being haunted. Later that night, the director heard blood-curdling screams and whimpering coming from a vent leading to an empty room.

According to the director, “I heard a horrible murder being committed in the room. I was actually terrified. I didn’t sleep at all that night. What was strange was the next morning, I was not tired, but I was wired and scared. I never imagined having those fears. It was absolutely terrifying.” Interestingly enough, del Toro’s petrifying experience became the inspiration for his 2015 film Crimson Peak. “There is the moment where you hear a murder in the bathtub,” del Toro said. “It comes directly from that moment in New Zealand.”[9]

1 Poltergeist

The Poltergeist franchise (1982-1988) is perhaps best remembered for the bizarre real-life occurrences surrounding the actors than the trilogy itself. Over a six-year period, the franchise saw four deaths from the cast, most notably Heather O’Rourke, who died at the age of 12 from septic shock in 1988. Six years earlier, Dominique Dunne (who played O’Rourke’s older sister) was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. Julian Beck (Kane, the evil reverend) died of stomach cancer in 1985, followed by Will Sampson (Taylor, the Medicine Man) in 1987 from post-operative kidney failure.

Nearly two decades later, Lou Perryman (“Pugsley” in the 1982 original film) was brutally hacked to death with an ax in his own home. Known as the “Poltergeist Curse,” many believe the use of real skeletons in the first film was the cause of such horrific happenings. Could it be that the spirits of the deceased whose bones were used as props cast a curse on the franchise, or is it just an awful coincidence?[10]


Written by Adam R. Ramos

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