Streaming Spotlight: cinematic spectres

Seven great ghost-themed films for you to enjoy this Halloween

by Jennie Kermode

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s Halloween this weekend, the season for all things spooky, so we’re shining our spotlight into the shadows to find you some of the best ghost stories on film that are currently available to stream.

Carnival Of Souls
Carnival Of Souls

Carnival Of Souls - BFI Player, Amazon, Google Play, W4Free

One of those seminal pieces of cinema which no-one with a serious interest in the medium can afford to go without, Carnival Of Souls feels familiar today in part because of the vast amount of other work that has drawn from it. Originally released in 1962, it stars Candace Hilligoss as a young woman whose life begins to go askew after she’s involved in a car crash (shown in a visceral pre-credits sequence unlike anything filmed before). As she tries to build a new life as a church organist in a small Utah town, fending off the advances of the local men, she starts to see people who look dead. Viewers share her disorientation by way of skewed camera angles and a soundtrack which breaks all the established rules. Nothing is quite right here, and as the film spirals down towards its awful conclusion it becomes ever more visually inventive.

A Ghost Waits
A Ghost Waits

A Ghost Waits - Amazon, Apple TV, Arrow, Google Play

A modest little film made on a small budget, Adam Stovall’s sweet supernatural romance proved an audience favourite at every festival where it screened. It’s the story of Jack (MacLeod Andrews), a withdrawn, depressive man who makes his living by deep cleaning houses prior to sale. Asked to deal with one particular house which keeps coming back on the market, he discovers the reasons why: a ghost (Natalie Walker) who is deeply dedicated to doing her job, defending her assigned territory. She’s an older woman by a couple of centuries and he struggles even when it comes to connecting with the living, but somehow the two of them click. Comedy and tragedy blend in what follows, and depend in large part on the viewer’s perspective, but the gentle pace and beautifully balanced performances make every moment a delight.

La Llorona
La Llorona

La Llorona - Shudder, Apple TV

Anne-Katrin Titze writes: Jayro Bustamante deftly and imaginatively places his La Llorona (co-written with Lisandro Sanchez and Guatemala’s Oscar submission that was shortlisted) at the intersection of history and legend. The ancient tale of the weeping woman who has haunted Latin American childhoods for centuries, here gains footing in recent Guatemalan history. General Enrique (Julio Diaz), now an old man, is among those on trial for the genocide of thousands. In 1982/83 one third of the Mayan population in Guatemala were exterminated, 38% were children under 12. Enrique’s wife Carmen (Margarita Kenéfic), daughter Natalia (Sabrina De La Hoz), granddaughter Sara (Ayla-Elea Hurtado), and Valeriana (María Telón), the only servant who remains loyal in the house, have to open their eyes to the family legacy. From the start it is clear that this is a place of divides - of gender and class and don’t you dare to question it. Is the villa haunted? Do Valeriana’s prayers to the ancestors work? Why is the ‘master of the house’ wandering the corridors at night while the water is running?

Ring
Ring

Ring - Shudder, Apple TV

When it comes to scary ghosts, nobody does it quite like Japan, and the queen of them all is Sadako. When it was released in 1998, Hideo Nakata’s Ring (aka Ringu) rapidly became a legend. Its story centres on a cursed VHS tape passed from one person to another and, ironically, that was how a lot of people in Western countries first encountered it. Today the idea of people feeling compelled to engage with a dangerous meme feels almost prescient. We watch as journalist Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima) watches the tape, gets the phone call that has preceded death for everyone else believed to be its victim, and spends what may be the final week of her life desperately trying to unravel the mystery behind it – until the stakes are raised still higher. Simply realised in fuzzy black and white, the drowned girl on the tape has become an icon of terror.

The Devil’s Backbone
The Devil’s Backbone

The Devil’s Backbone - Virgin TV Go

An early work by Guillermo Del Toro, which he nevertheless brooded on for 15 years before bringing it to the screen, this journey through a haunted orphanage foreshadows his later ghostly reckonings in Crimson Peak and Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. It follows young Carlos (Fernando Tielve), a new arrival who abruptly finds himself haunted by a ghost who has dire warnings about the future. In order to try and prevent them from coming true, Carlos must delve into the past, but in doing so he will also find himself questioning the nature of death itself. Del Toro makes the most of a marvellously creepy location and roots his terrors in the very real horrors of history, which any boy growing up in this era, just after the Spanish Civil War, must inevitably face. Alberto Iglesias’ score provides the finishing touch.

Lace Crater
Lace Crater

Lace Crater - Amazon

Wandering around in lonely places, hidden from the world behind their heavy robes, ghosts don’t get much opportunity for social contact. Neither do some humans. Ruth (Lindsay Bur5dge) is in the awkward position of being the single one in a group of friends who easily pair off. On a weekend trip to the Hamptons, she volunteers to sleep alone in the coach house. It’s there that she meets Michael (Peter Vack) and, too polite to react with fear or loathing, ends up having a friendly conversation, and then sleeping with him. This is no Gothic romance, however, as over the following weeks, Ruth’s body begins to fall apart. A potent meditation on chronic illness, awareness of mortality and the social exclusion that often accompanies it, this unselfconsciously arty work is as intriguing as it is unsettling.

Ghostbusters
Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters - Netflix, Starz, Apple TV

If you have ghosts and you’re smart enough not to watch their video tapes or sleep with them, and you’re disinclined to fall in love, who ya gonna call? Ivan Reitman’s 1984 classic reminds us that we don’t need to let the dead push us around. With a top comic cast at the peak of their powers and Sigourney Weaver proving herself every bit a match for them, it’s an unmissable treat whether you’re looking for an action-packed story about apocalyptic events in New York or an ode to the challenges of starting a small business. If you’re a fan, you should also check out documentary Cleanin' Up The Town: Remembering Ghostbusters – currently available on DVD – for some fascinating insights into how this unlikely independent film came together, not to mention some great bonus scenes.

Ghost Burger

It’s never a good idea to try busting ghosts without the proper equipment, but if you do so, this cute (and very gory) plasticine-animated short contains an important lesson about proper disposal of its remains.

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