13 Horror-Themed Flicks to Celebrate Chinese Ghost Month
The only thing more terrifying than being alone is finding out that you're not.
August 24, 2018
Do you believe in ghosts? According to Taoists and Buddhists from Chinese mythology, this year’s Ghost Month (鬼月) is set to return on August 11 until September 9. During this time, it is purported that the gates of hell will open, releasing a plethora of “hungry” spirits into the human world in search of food, money, entertainment and more ominously, souls—of course, it’s also a pretty good excuse to host some of the most legendary stalls at the Hungry Ghost Festival which takes place August 25th this year.
In celebration of Ghost Month, fellow intern, Laryssa Vachon and I have compiled a list of unsettling horror picks to rattle you to your core, whether you’re an avid believer or a hardcore skeptic. Think you’re up for the challenge? Then turn down the lights and break out the spine-chilling whispers and unearthly screams.
Sam Nar is a gamer and reader with a particular affinity for psychological thrillers when it comes to the horror genre, as well as a panache for dragging her kicking and screaming friends to scary-themed debuts. Her favourite works include Frictional’s Amnesia: The Dark Descent and M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts.
Laryssa Vachon is a unicorn-loving Disney fanatic with a secret dark obsession with scary movies and Halloween—where she gets almost too much enjoyment watching her friends squirm at the sight of gore on the big screen. She sucks at picking favourites, but a few memorable ones include the one where Ryan Reynolds takes his shirt off and Cabin in the Woods.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTENT MAY CONTAIN DISTURBING ELEMENTS THAT ARE NOT SUITABLE FOR SOME AUDIENCES. VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
Fear Level: DANGER
If you’re someone that doesn’t value sleep or sanity, this category is for you. Courageous souls seeking heart-dropping, gut-wrenching, and all-around horrifying thrills right this way.
1. Ju-On: The Grudge
Takashi Shimizu’s shocking film first premiered at the Screamfest Film Festival back in 2002. 16 years and tons of remakes later, the grim story of vengeance and infamous mother-son duo still reigns as one of the most terrifying and formidable choices for horror fans and for good reason: the crawling, groaning entities are downright sinister. Ju-On: The Grudge details a series of gruesome murders that plagued the Saeki household in Nerima, Tokyo. Shortly after, an unbreakable and persisting curse spurred by the spirits’ vindictive emotions massacres the latest home owners, the Tokunaga family, much to the horror of Rika Nishina, a social worker assigned to the family (talk about being at the wrong place at the wrong time). Rika soon realizes that the alarming history that shackles this home is the least of her worries and that fate deals a cruel hand. This film is a blood-curdling experience packed with inevitable screams and you’ll likely never sleep in true peace ever again. Trust me on this, Ju-On: The Grudge is not for the faint-hearted.—Sam Nar
“First you watch it, then you die.” Spoiler alert: Japan’s 1998 psychological horror, Ringu, is the reason I actively fear and avoid my parents’ television set to this day (yes, we still have a television set). It’s also the reason why my parents had to take me to a Buddhist temple to pray for about a month straight and buy me protective amulets which I wore well into my young adult years—I really wish I were exaggerating. While many remakes like F. Javier Gutiérrez’s 2017 Rings have done a great job making their way onto the screen over the years, Hideo Nakata’s disturbing Ringu, has championed efforts to create a more terrifying and iconic long-haired ghost with an equally demonic stare. Ringu tells the tale of a cursed videotape (seriously, Japan needs to stop with these deadly curses), which mysteriously kills anyone exactly seven days from which they view the tape. The film follows reporter Reiko Asakawa as she frantically races against time in search of ways to prevent her death after she watches and is notified of her impending death by an ominous phone call.—Sam Nar
3. The Conjuring
If your friends are easily frightened (weak), some of them may think it’s the “scariest movie ever” because of its ode to possessed dolls with names (WHY DOES IT HAVE A NAME?), terrifyingly old farm homes and ouija boards. But when it comes to horror films, which usually focus more on the fear factor than the dialogue, the storyline is actually pretty incredible. Starring a 1971 version of Patrick Wilson (for someone nice to look at) and Vera Farmiga (you know, the mom from Bates Motel who has the most disturbing relationship to ever exist with her son), our fave paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren hit the big screen. In the film, the Warrens come to the rescue of the Perron family, who keep experiencing unexplainable events in their home via a witch from the 1800s named Bathsheba who sacrificed her week-old child to the devil and killed herself after cursing all who would take her land. Cool, cool, cool. From what I remember, there was a dog that refused to go inside before the family moved in. They really should have listened to that dog.—Laryssa Vachon
I know you might think you’re tough, but I watched my grown man of a brother tear up during this one, so you can watch it first and then get back to me. I first saw this film seven years ago and am still haunted by it, and very disturbed that someone even thought of all these things in a storyline to begin with. The story follows two women who were tortured as children and befriended each other in an orphanage. Fifteen years into the future, we discover they are test subjects of a secret philosophical society seeking to understand the secrets of the afterlife through their creation of martyrs. The society inflicts unthinkable torturous acts on these subjects in hopes that those who accept the torture can surpass it and come so close to death that they see any possibility of a God or afterlife. But then there are those who can’t handle the torture and fall into madness—terrorized by their own hallucinations of ghoulish creatures. The only thing that may help you survive the brutal scenes is the distraction of reading the subtitles if you don’t speak French. If you do, then you’re probably screwed.—Laryssa Vachon
Fear Level: Did my heart just stop beating for a sec?
Are you a no-go for horror movies but still want to take part in the celebration? This category is for all the sensible viewers out there who want to be scared but not scarred for life.
5. The Sixth Sense
What kind of a psychopath voluntarily submits herself to a horror film, you might ask. You’re probably one of my poor friends still cursing me for dragging you to the premiere of Stephen King’s It last year…sorry. But luckily, for all you lightweight horror fans out there, M. Night Shyamalan’s classic supernatural horror film, The Sixth Sense is just scary enough to be digestible. The 1999 Academy award-winning movie stars Bruce Willis as Malcolm Crowe, a troubled child psychologist in Philadelphia estranged from his wife. Riddled with guilt from his past experience with a patient, he is determined to help nine-year-old Cole Sears (Haley Joel Osment), who possesses the ability to see dead people. Despite the film’s unconventional narratives and leisurely pace, The Sixth Sense brings a genuinely haunting twist and a true sense of terror when viewers realize that death comes for everyone, even the innocent (I’m not crying, you’re crying).—Sam Nar
6. Amityville Horror
Remember Ed and Lorraine Warren from The Conjuring? Well, they are actual real people who studied and wrote about the paranormal and whose stories inspired these terrifying jump-out-of-your-seat movies we love so much. I actually never saw the original Amityville Horror film (so sorry), but watching the remake as a child made it seem just as chilling to me. Like most movies in the horror genre, something bad happened in the 1970s. In this case, it was a man named Ronald DeFeo Jr. who murdered his entire family in his home because he claimed to hear voices telling him to do so. One year later, a married couple played by Ryan Reynolds (yes please) and Melissa George (who?) decide to move in to the home that is now haunted by one of the murdered children.
Married couple: Wow! This house is amazing. We got such a good deal on it.
Narrator: It was not a good deal.
It’s decently scary and I still refuse to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night if I wake up at 3:15 a.m (like a possessed Reynolds did every morning in the film). But if I could watch this as a 12-year-old, then I’m sure the rest of you will be fine.—Laryssa Vachon
7. Paranormal Activity
Keep in mind that all these “based on a true story” films are only loosely based around a couple true facts and that the story as a whole didn’t actually happen. At least, that’s what I tell myself to help me sleep better at night. When it first came out, Paranormal Activity had quite the scary reputation as its filmed in documentary/found-footage-style—meaning, from the perspective of the actors so we think they’re real people but we all know they are, in fact, actors. Yet that still doesn’t stop most people from feeling a little uneasy about everything. This poor woman has been haunted by an evil spirit since she was a child, and now her significant other is trying his very best to help it stop. But upon watching the strange occurrences throughout the night that they filmed while they were asleep, the couple become increasingly terrified—which in return actually makes the demon stronger as it feeds off of negative energy. Great.—Laryssa Vachon
8. Insidious Series
The Insidious series, directed by James Wan, would make the directors of Star Wars proud. The chronological order of the horror tetralogy mirrors the mess that is the famous sci-fi series: 3, 4, 1, and 2. It’s also the series that accidentally traumatized young children in Ohio who were expecting to see Disney-Pixar’s bright-and-light animation, Inside Out, but were shown this dark thriller instead (whoops!). But all jokes aside, this American-Canadian franchise is fully loaded with downright creepy scenes. The series, touting a strong horror pedigree, depicts paranormal activities observed by the Lambert family after they move into a new home (surprise, surprise). When their eldest son falls into an inexplicable coma, presumably due to a malevolent spirit, the family employs demonologist, Elise Reiner, who has also experienced similar hauntings of which will become the focus of the subsequent films. While dense with graphic content and jump scares galore, lightweight horror fans can breathe a sigh of relief because the films are only frightening if you’re about 13 years old. If you don’t believe me, check out this interview with the director himself.—Sam Nar
Fear Level: Yawn
If the slightest mention of ghosts makes you break down and cry…uh, maybe don’t celebrate Ghost Month? But if you don’t want to feel left out, have a go at one of these not-too-scary, jump-scare-free films.
I enjoyed this movie more than I should have. Be careful what you wish for is the tagline for Henry Selick’s 2009 film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s dark fantasy novella, Coraline. Selick, best known for his stop-motion works like The Nightmare Before Christmas, lends his expertise to create a surreal and compelling universe in which 11-year-old Coraline Jones receives a look-alike rag doll from her happy-go-lucky neighbour, Wybie and discovers the “Other World,” inhabited by button-eyed doppelgängers of her own life. Initially pleasant, Coraline’s journey through the secret door of her new home, Oregon’s Pink Palace, soon turns nightmarish when she finds out that all is not as it seems and she must fight against all odds to regain everything she knows. While people are quick to dismiss an animated film as part of the horror genre, I can assure you that Coraline is more than “just a cartoon”—the film exudes subtle undertones of a truly terrifying story that comes from the mantra, enough is never enough. Tadahiro Uesugi’s creepy artwork which echoes Tim Burton’s eerie-yet-tasteful vibes, also adds to the shuddersome storyline.—Sam Nar
10. Spirited Away
It’s not hard to see why Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 coming-of-age fantasy won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature and was deemed one of the most successful anime films of all time at one point in history. Aside from the visually stunning and detailed artwork, the film also produced an incredible repertoire of Joe Hisaishi’s music box-like melodies—many songs I still listen to today. Spirited Away follows 10-year-old Chihiro Ogino and her journey to find a cure in the spirit world of an abandoned amusement park after her parents consume food from an empty restaurant stall and are mysteriously transformed into pigs. While it isn’t a horror by modern definition, it is nonetheless, a ghost story. Trapped in the spirit world, Chihiro encounters an assortment of strange characters, some of whom seek to prevent her from returning to the human world; all the while, she slowly forgets details about her life back home. This timeless Studio Ghibli-Disney film brilliantly captures the sense of youth that vanishes as we grow up. Spirited Away is not only a testament to the power of visual storytelling, but also how the simplest of stories can transform an individual’s way of life.—Sam Nar
11. Ghostbusters (2016)
Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters! Paul Feig’s 2016 female-centric reboot of the 1984 classic swaps out the iconic parapsychologist Venkman-Stantz-Spengler trio played Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis with a team of four misfit women; physicists Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), eccentric engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and MTA staffer Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones). When strange apparitions begin to surface, these women arm themselves with proton packs and become the primary ghost-fighting business in New York City, aided by their hunky but incredibly stupid receptionist, Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth). While the majority of the film is first and foremost, a comedy jammed with obvious innuendos, fart jokes and puns that are so bad they’re laughable, you really can’t bust ghosts without a few creepy figures and hair-raising scenes. The film isn’t without its fair share of jump scares and sinister spectres—of course; it’s increasingly difficult for me to classify this film as a supernatural horror when the main villain is basically a knock-off marshmallow version of the Pillsbury dough boy.—Sam Nar
I love how Tim Burton always makes horror films relatable and fun while still managing to creep out his movie’s viewers. How does he do it? In this colourful classic with a packed cast (Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara), a couple discovers they did not survive a car crash and that they must remain in their home for 125 years before going to the afterlife. When they arrive back at their home, they find it has been taken over by a new family. In a refreshing turn of events, the home is now haunted by humans. And to get them out, the newly dead couple must scare them out of it—which they then turn to crude ghost Beetlejuice for help. Full of fantasy creatures and mild gore, Beetlejuice is sure to entertain all ages and only cause one or two strange dreams after watching.—Laryssa Vachon
13. Corpse Bride
Ah, yes, the classic tale of a scorned bride on the epic search for revenge. How could we leave this one out? Tim Burton basically owns the Halloween aesthetic so we might as well include one more of his beautifully structured ghost stories. In Corpse Bride, a murdered woman named Emily is awoken when a man named Victor flees to the forest to practice his wedding vows for Victoria and accidentally places the wedding ring on Emily’s skeleton finger instead of a branch. An honest mistake, really. I can see how he would be confused. Upon awakening in her tattered wedding gown, Emily takes Victor to the Land of the Dead so they can be together forever. Terrified (and wondering what in the world is going on), Victor convinces her to take him back to the Land of the Living so he can “introduce her to his parents” (a.k.a. find a way to get rid of her and get that ring to Victoria instead). Victor and Victoria? How…cute.
A story of love, betrayal, forgiveness and the mysterious connection between the living and the dead—this film will have you questioning how a blue cartoon ghost with worms in her eye sockets is the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen. But she really is.—Laryssa Vachon
Coco, The Eye, Shutter, White Noise, The Shining and the Sinister series.