October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article ranking the ten most memorable horror movies with ‘house’ in the title is part of our ongoing series, 31 Days of Horror Lists.
When it comes to horror movie titles, the three most commonly found nouns are blood, dead, and house. (Don’t bother double-checking that, I’m pretty sure it’s pretty accurate.) The first two make sense as blood and dead conjure images tailor-made for horror, but the use of house takes a different approach. The house, the home, is a place we should ideally see as a sanctuary. A place safe from threats and terrors of the outside wilds. And that’s the genius of it as the idea of horror forcing its way in — or worse, already living within the walls — is inherently terrifying.
Compiling a list of our ten favorite horror movies with “house” in the title saw us start with a list of over fifty films, and the process left more than a few gems on the cutting room floor including Dead Dudes in the House (1989), The Houses October Built (2014), and The Night House (2020). You’ll most likely be surprised by some of the films that didn’t make it, but you should also hopefully find it difficult to argue against the ones that did.
10. The House By the Cemetery (1981)
Lucio Fulci can always be counted on for unleashing hell in all manner of locations, from a Caribbean island to New York City, but some of his most memorable work unfolds in the comfort of a creepy, old house. A family moves into an old mansion only to discover its history is awash in blood, and they find too late that its present is heading in the same direction. Fulci immerses viewers in the dusty, creaky confines of the house to the point that we almost feel a draft and catch the scent of rotting flesh, but while the gore beats deliver the expected ickiness it’s the presence of young Bob — a toe-headed child given the most ear-aching dub in cinema history — that will have you clamoring for the sweet, sweet release of death. (Rob Hunter)
9. House on Haunted Hill (1959)
Eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) wants to do something really special for his fourth wife, Annabelle (Carol Ohmart). He decides to throw a party in which he invites five people to spend the night locked inside an allegedly haunted house with the promise of paying them $10,000 if they last all night. This type of party is very common amongst the eccentric millionaire crowd. Frederick and Loren don’t have the most stable of relationships, with each convinced the other is trying to kill them. Ah, those crazy wealthy elite! Throughout the night spooky shenanigans occur. But is the house truly haunted or is this all part of the married couple’s elaborate plans to one-up one another? Perhaps it’s a little from column A and a little from column B. William Castle‘s horror-comedy is an absolute treat, equipped with the director’s signature gimmicks and plenty of camp. Trap doors, vats of acid, slinky skeletons, and g-g-ghosts?! You bet! (Chris Coffel)
8. House (1985)
While I eventually made my way to harder horrors overflowing with violence, gore, and saucy visuals, my initial foray into the genre was often at the whim of a mom concerned with negative exposures. One that passed her test is this unfairly R-rated Steven Miner gem blending horror, comedy, heart, and cheese. Oh, and rubber, lots and lots of rubber. A man moves into his aunt’s house, the same one where his son disappeared years ago, and finds supernatural horrors waiting for him. Miner’s house of horrors is less interested in traditional scares than in splashing the screen with practical effects and creatures in service of a story about guilt and loss. It’s eminently cheesy at times, and ridiculously silly at others, but the laughs and monster antics still work alongside a game cast including William Katt, Richard Moll, and George Wendt. The 80s may be the decade of gory and explicit horror, but House is proof that the genre’s softer, sillier side is every bit as entertaining. (Rob Hunter)
7. House of Usher (1960)
Roger Corman put it all out there with House of Usher. Before this film, he’d knock out a couple of cheap black-and-whites for double-feature drive-in purposes. However, finally, he got American International to agree to take the budgets of those two cheapies and dump them into one glorious Cinemascope beauty. The titular House is an incredible feat of production design and set dressing. It still looks like it was made for Roger Corman dollars, but the producer/director made sure every cent was seen on screen and, in a few cases, on several other screens across several other movies. When you’re granted permission to burn down a family barn for your climax, you will use that footage for as many films as possible. House of Usher is a cobbled-together creation, but the magic and talent used to hold it together is the unseen wonder and reason we return to these films over and over again. (Brad Gullickson)
6. Housebound (2014)
I’ve talked before about the difficulty of crafting a great horror/comedy and how most films/filmmakers tend to land their movie on the side of comedy more often than not. Tone is tricky, and pairing scares and atmosphere with laughs is a skill that eludes more directors than not. Gerard Johnson is not one of those directors, and Housebound is the rare horror/comedy that manages to deliver some wonderfully creepy beats while also earning numerous laughs. Even better, the story moves around some within the genre with threats both supernatural and otherwise keeping both characters and viewers on their toes in entertaining ways. (Rob Hunter)
5. House of Wax (2005)
Remakes are often derided on announcement and on release simply for being a remake, but you don’t need me to tell you that there are tons of great ones out there. What you might need me to tell you is that Jaume Collet-Serra‘s House of Wax redo is absolutely one of them. The film is part of Dark Castle Entertainment’s stellar and severely missed horror barrage that set the tone for early 2000’s horror and included fun fright flicks like House on Haunted Hill (1999), Thirteen Ghosts (2001), and Ghost Ship (2002). House of Wax sees a group of visually appealing young people stop by a creepy wax museum for a short visit that turns into a permanent home for some of them when a maniacal wax aficionado starts offing them in delightfully gruesome ways. Turns out wax is hot! Paris Hilton, star of 2008’s comedy sensation The Hottie & the Nottie, is one of the unlucky ones, but ain’t a damn soul gonna be complaining. (Rob Hunter)
4. Hell House LLC (2015)
You’re telling me that building a haunted house attraction in a town named after the biblical Angel of the Abyss was a bad idea? Who on earth could have predicted this? Then again, building your cash-grab around an actual haunted house is just free production design, right? Surely all those superstitious rumblings about Satanic cult worship have nothing to do with the fact that fifteen guests and all but one staff member died on opening night after an “unknown malfunction,” right? Why are you screaming? Get back here! This faux-documentary sleeper hit from first-time director Stephen Cognetti is picture-proof that you don’t need tens of millions of dollars to make a genuinely creepy horror film. And really, if you’re going to invest in something, put all your cash into buying the scariest clown costumes you can find. Those puppies go a long way. (Meg Shields)
3. His House (2020)
While some of the other “house” films on this list have an air of comedy or camp to them, Remi Weekes’ film His House is dead serious. Telling a devastating story of asylum seekers finding housing in a rundown flat in a London suburb, the horror that unfolds for our protagonists, Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku), is two-fold. Not only do they have to face systemic racism, but their house is also haunted by the trauma they suffered while escaping war-torn South Sudan. The house in question, while initially decrepit, seems to progressively crumble throughout the film, a supernatural embodiment of Bol’s descent into guilt over the actions he felt forced to take in their quest for survival. Weekes uses a common haunting trope — it’s not the house that’s haunted, it’s the renters — and gives it fresh dynamics through a complex and tragic reason that their present has become tormented by their past. (Jacob Trussell)
2. The Legend of Hell House (1973)
One of the more mundane aspects of “haunted house” movies is the eventual arrival of religious or spiritual authorities to cleanse the house and save the day. Richard Matheson‘s brilliant novel Hell House, and the subsequent adaptation, avoid that step by instead focusing on the science behind the haunting. A group of experts enters the Belasco house intent on cracking the horror that left previous investigators dead — all but one who has now been convinced to return. Roddy McDowall is superb as the medium still recovering from his last visit decades prior, only agreeing to return for the promise of a big cash payout afterward. The rest of the cast does great work as well as characters bringing a mix of analytical and emotional approaches to understanding the house’s hauntings. It’s a legitimately frightening film unafraid to embrace the weakness, sexuality, and dangerous ambitions of the living and the dead. Just a brilliant film leading to an impeccable ending. (Rob Hunter)
1. House (1977)
Two films on this list are simply titled House, and in both cases, there’s a deceptive simplicity to the name highlighting movies that don’t need additional adjectives or superlatives to sell the mad terrors within. Steve Miner’s mid-80s romp certainly has its share of weirdness, but it – hell, almost no other movie – can approach the wildly imaginative highs of Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 masterpiece of psychedelic, gut-busting, thought-provoking terrors.
The initial premise sounds basic enough as six teenage girls head to an old house for a brief break only to discover “ghosts” of the past hungry for youths foolish enough to see themselves as living and thriving beyond the tight constraints of generations past. The girls are picked off one by one, but while most horror films would dispatch of them in gruesome and bloody ways, Obayashi instead unleashes an insanely creative litany of demises that see objects come to life including mattresses, a mirror, and even the gnashing, teeth-like keys of a piano. Oh, and a decapitated head floats through the air and bites one of the girl’s asses. There’s a handmade playfulness to the optical effects and visuals that adds a humorous Looney Tunes vibe to the carnage, but it all marries beautifully to the film’s themes and arguably bleak finale. It is horror movie perfection that lures you in with imagination, humor, personality, and death only to crush you with a gut punch. Heaven. (Rob Hunter)
Get out of the house, go have some fun, but when you come back be sure to read more 31 Days of Horror Lists before you go to bed.