It’s time to gear up for a spooky summer. The Conjuring 2 slinks into theatres on June 10th, followed by Ghostbusters on July 15th and, while they both address the idea of people trying to rid the living of the dead, these films could not be more different. As a pair, they demonstrate beautifully the vast range of tone and creativity contained within the ghost story genre – a category of film that holds universal appeal, and encompasses everything from horror to comedy; thriller to family drama.
The concept of the ghost story has, historically, been used as a narrative device for a number of different types of plot. Sometimes, they are morality tales, and sometimes the ghost is a portent of doom. Often, the presence of a ghost is a catalyst for change in a character or in the story, and its actions propel the plot forward. There can be gore – such as the bleeding walls of The Amityville Horror – and there can be laughs – such as the witty banter of Blithe Spirit.
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Some succeed on the establishment of an atmosphere of foreboding – such as the The Others – while some build to an unsettling, yet legendary plot twist – such as The Sixth Sense. In all cases, however, the tale hinges upon one, simple idea: that we function according to our belief in a tangible reality, and when that is called into question, we are set uncomfortably adrift.
The ghost story presents a version of reality of which we are unsure. It is uncharted territory. We do not know the rules, and so anything can happen. This is a great arena for storytelling, opening up endless possibilities, but it also means that even the most hardened sceptic can be unsettled if the right buttons are pushed. So, as we settle in for these brand new ghostly adventures, let’s take a look back at six of the best ghost stories in film.