James Wan’s ghost-infested horror movie Insidious: Chapter 2 is in theaters now, and once again the unfortunate Lambert family have to contend with a host of spirits that have some pretty ill intentions. Dying seems to be uniquely bad for people’s moral constitution, as there is a long and proud history in ghost stories of people who were probably quite nice in life becoming twisted and malevolent after their death.
Because we love a good movie monster, and ghosts are among the creepiest of all monsters ever to worm their way into movies, Screen Rant is taking a look at the faces and forms of the movie ghosts that turned people’s stomachs and sent them scurrying under the theater seats to try and get away. Take a deep breath, grab your nearest exorcist and join us as we take a look at the 10 Nastiest Ghosts of Horror Movies.
(Beetlejuice isn’t actually on the list, but we couldn’t resist including a picture of his lovely moldy mug.)
Sadako (Ringu) Arguably a precursor to internet ghouls such as Slenderman, who can “infect” a person’s life as soon as they watch a video about him, Sadako hijacks the cutting-edge technology of a VHS tape in order to pick her next victim. It’s commonly believed that tapes went out of fashion once they were succeeded by DVDs, but perhaps everyone just became too scared of using videos in case they got the dreaded “Seven days…” phone call.
In addition to its vicious and malevolent face-twisting killer, Ringu also features a great sting in the end of the tale (spoilers ahoy). After tricking the audience into thinking that Sadako is really a poor, misunderstood ghost girl who just needs a bit of motherly affection, she keeps right on trucking after her unfinished business is supposedly puts to rest and climbs out of the TV and into the real world in one of the most iconic and terrifying moments of modern ghost horror. You’d better just hope that she’s headed for YOUR screen next.
Taking up two spots on the list, and with good reason, is Jack Clayton’s 1961 horror film The Innocents and its two resident spooks, Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. Unlike the other nasty ghosts we’ve mentioned, these dead lovers don’t seem to have particularly gruesome or disfigured appearances, and the specifics of the exact evil that they’re inflicting are largely left up to interpretation.
Though they’re spotted only briefly in The Innocents, lurking outside windows and across lakes, these two villains left an indelible mark on horror cinema and despite they’re ostensibly normal appearance have a lot of unpleasantness lurking just under the surface.
The two turns of the screw in this film are actually Miles and Flora, the children left in the charge of governess Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), who become the focus of Quint and Jessel’s attention and – worse still – start to become complicit in their own corruption.
Though he later become a more comic character in the long-running Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, Freddy Krueger would probably take away a lot of awards for downright unpleasantness. As with the ghosts of The Innocents, Freddy is particularly awful because of the way he targets children (both in life and in death) and teenagers, and his apparent total lack of any sympathetic qualities. You could argue that he’s entitled to a little revenge after being brutally lynched, but that only happened because of his love for butchering kids – so it’s really a chicken-egg situation.
Freddy is also one of the most iconic and recognizable of horror movie killers, and after the way he has insinuated himself into the popular consciousness it’s easy to become desensitized to trademarks like his hideous burned face and razor glove – but when this particular ghost first arrived on the eighties horror scene, he caused quite a stir and ended up in a lot of people’s bad dreams… which is the last place you want Freddy Krueger to be.
There are few things more embarrassing for kids than a zealously overprotective parent, and when that parent insists upon brutally murdering anyone she sees as a threat there are red faces all around. Andrés Muschietti’s Mama was produced by Guillermo Del Toro on the strength of a short film of the same name, and there is something truly and viscerally scary about the long limbs and twisted face of the angry spirit watching over young Victoria and Lilly.
Mama falls apart a little towards the end, when the audience gets to see too much of Mama’s largely CGI presence, but the first three-quarters of the movie are an intense and merciless onslaught of creepy imagery and shock moments. The story of Mama’s life and death ultimately turns out to be quite sad, but that doesn’t do much to detract from her crazy and violent character in the afterlife.
This probably isn’t the James Wan movie that people expected to find on this list, especially since his filmography includes gems like his recent haunted house movie The Conjuring, which comes with a couple of very nasty ghosts of its own. Dead Silence isn’t a particularly good movie – screenwriter Leigh Whannell (who would later go on to write and star in Insidious) has penned a very interesting and wryly self-deprecatory article about it called “Dud Silence” – but the film certainly has its share of scares.
Dead Silence is worth watching if for no other reason than to see the roots of The Conjuring and Insidious – in particular Wan’s habit of not shying away from showing his ghosts up close and in horrible detail. Even this simple picture of Dead Silence‘s ghost antagonist – Mary Shaw, a dead ventriloquist who lives on in the spirit of her old puppets – is probably more than enough to disturb the faint of heart.
Mean old ladies? Not fun. Mean dead old ladies who like to murder people and turn their corpses into marionettes? That’s just nasty.
Currently the best-known version of this tale is the recent film that starred Daniel Radcliffe as grieving lawyer Arthur Kipps, and which featured a decent blend of shocks and creepiness fleshed out by a handful of CGI and some excellent sound design.
Perhaps the most frightening film version of The Woman in Black, however, is the 1989 TV movie, which seems to be just like any other period drama up until the point where it isn’t, and is all the more frightening for it. Whereas the 2012 film had a number of jump scares and spooky reveals, the 1989 version had a scattering of unnerving encounters… and then it had that scene.
For the full experience, however, it’s worth seeing the stage version of The Woman in Black that is still running in the London West End after 25 years. Be warned, though: freed from the constraints of being on a screen, Jennet Humfrye can quite literally creep up on you.
With his fur-trimmed coat, intimidating height and gore-soaked hook, Candyman casts a pretty scary silhouette, but what really brought this urban legend to life was the utterly chilling tones of actor Tony Todd delivering poetic sermons that, no matter how near or far the character is in relation to the camera, always sound like he’s whispering directly in your ear.
Based on a short story by Clive Barker, Candyman draws on ancient folkloric rituals that involve speaking a ghost’s name (most popularly, “Bloody Mary”) in a mirror multiple times in order to summon them. This simple premise had many spooked teens who stayed up late to watch the movie standing in front of their mirrors and whispering “Candyman“… four times.
You could say it one more time, but why take the risk?
Some find him frightening while others find him funny, but there’s no denying that the Hessian Horseman of Sleepy Hollow is a truly nasty character, robbed of his free will and compelled to kill with an unnerving single-mindedness. He may be too solid to walk through walls, but a locked door doesn’t pose much of a challenge for this undead butcher, and even the barrier of holy ground can’t foil him for too long.
Played by Christopher Walken when he has a face and by stuntman Ian Van Temperley when he doesn’t, the Headless Horsemen of Tim Burton’s 1999 film climbs out of hell through the roots of a bleeding tree, cuts the heads off sweet little boys and expresses affection by biting people’s faces with his razor-sharp teeth. Who says romance is dead?
Poor Kayako. Like Sadako, she’s an example of the classic Onryō (vengeful ghost) archetype, but there’s never any indication in Ju-On: The Grudge that she was particularly unpleasant in life. Upon being brutally murdered and doomed to haunt the house where she died – and any unfortunate soul who enters it – Kayako became the stuff of nightmares for countless horror fans.
It’s hard to say what it is about this particular ghost that gets under people’s skin and stays there, but Kayako is definitely the most hair-raisingly frightening of the ghosts in Ju-On: The Grudge. Maybe it’s that weird, awful croaking sound that she makes. Maybe it’s her hair. Maybe it’s her stare. Maybe it’s the unorthodox way she uses stairs. Maybe it’s the fact that she’s hiding under your duvet right now.
The time has come to put this list to rest, throw salt over its bones and then burn them Supernatural-style to make sure it can’t come back. If you’ve watched a cursed videotape, just make a copy and pass it on to someone else. If you find two feral children in the woods, just leave them there. Stop after the fourth “Candyman,” be careful not to scream and, whatever you do, don’t fall asleep.
Let us know in the comments whether or not your favorite nasty ghost showed up on our list. For those readers who have already been to see Insidious Chapter 2, tell us if you think any of James Wan’s new ghosts are creepy enough to leave their marks on future top 10 lists, and check out the Screen Rant review to see if it lived up to our expectations.