Eli Roth’s History of Horror: Ghost stories are unfinished business


Ghost stories are universal. Every culture has them. On the season finale of Eli Roth’s History of Horror, we delve into our fascination with life after death.

Ghost stories exist in every culture. They are entertaining and frightening at the same time.

Since the dawn of man, we have wanted to believe that there is life after death. From the Egyptians to the present day, the concept of preparing to move on from this earthly realm is readily apparent in our traditions surrounding dying.

But what if we didn’t transition? What if circumstances beyond our control forced us to stay attached to our loved ones after our demise?

This episode of Eli Roth’s History of Horror examines all of the different kind of cinematic hauntings starting with 1982’s Poltergeist.

Haunted Houses and People


Ghost – Poltergeist – Courtesy of © 1982 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved

This film is one of the premiere haunted house movies of the genre. Released in theaters in the early 80’s, this effort was a collaboration between the great minds of Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper. Spielberg had his finger on the pulse of the box office. His mega hits Jaws and Close Encounters made him a household name.

Tobe Hooper was a star in the horror genre. Putting the two directors together was like lightning in a bottle. The result was a film that pulled out all the stops to get the audiences to scream. There were false perspective FX along with practical FX that lent authenticity to the truly terrifying scenes.

The suburbs have now become a supernatural battleground when a California tract housing community gets taken over by irate ghosts because their eternal rest was disturbed. The developers only moved their headstones and not their graves.

It was also a subtle social commentary on the burgeoning yuppie lifestyle and how in the quest to have houses and material comforts we neglect our children by using television as a babysitter. This is how Carol Anne gets taken to “the other side.”


Ghost – Insidious – Courtesy of © 2011 – FilmDistrict

The natural successor to Poltergeist featuring another child in peril is Insidious. Dalton Lambert has crossed over to the Further. It is a dark realm where he is surrounded by the dead. In this world, he is paralyzed in a coma state.

While he is in limbo, there are ghosts fighting to inhabit his body. Paranormal activity starts escalating in his home terrifying and terrorizing his parents and siblings. After a significant period of time waging a spiritual war that is hopeless from the start, The Lamberts move to another residence.

However, this doesn’t solve their problems because the entities follow them to their new abode. The only way that they can win this particular fight is through love.

The Third Eye

The Shining

Ghost – The Shining – Courtesy of © 1980 – All rights reserved. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Inc.

Everyone knows this story by now. Jack, Wendy and Danny Torrance arrive at the grand Overlook Hotel to be its caretakers over the winter. A struggling alcoholic with the “shine” or the ability to see ghosts, Jack descends into madness.

His son on the other hand, is consistently bombarded with all of the spirits in the hotel day in and day out that he starts retreating into his other personality of Tony. Which is actually him. Despite the fact that Stephen King is not enamored with Kubrick’s adaptation of his work, The Shining is a masterpiece.

You see the horrific events unfold through the eyes of each character. When added to the brightly lit scenes shot with a wide angle lens this deliberate shattering of familiar genre tropes only succeeds in making the scares in the film resonate more with the audience.

The Sixth Sense

Ghost – The Sixth Sense – Courtesy of © 1999 – Buena Vista Pictures

1999’s most quotable movie, “I see dead people,” was a smash hit with an ending that no one expected. Cole Sear like Danny Torrance is gifted with the ability to speak with the dead. No matter what he does, he can’t shake this gift.

In this M. Night Shyamalan outing, the focus is on how do we resolve relationships? What happens when someone we love dies suddenly and there are unspoken feelings and words lingering in the air?

The Sixth Sense was chilling and emotional at the same time. Bruce Willis’ performance was the best that he had done in years. It is heartbreaking when you can no longer talk to a loved one and are left trying to pick up the pieces. Shyamalan did an excellent job balancing both realms of the living and dead in this effort.

Unfinished Business

The Changeling

Ghost – The Changeling – Courtesy of Chessman Park Productions

Not all spirits are malevolent, like people they might need help every so often from the living. George C. Scott happens to be the one tasked with assisting a little boy who was murdered. A grieving widower and father, he is coping with the loss of his wife and their young daughter.

Trying to repress his heartache, he moves into a dilapidated mansion to concentrate on his composing. However, he gets more than he bargained for because the house is haunted by Joseph. A physically challenged boy who was drowned to death in a tub.

Scott must put together the pieces of who murdered him so that he can obtain justice for the boy and peace for himself.

Crimson Peak

Ghost – Crimson Peak – Courtesy of © 2015 – Universal Pictures

Guillermo del Toro is an artist who paints pictures with every motion picture he directs. In this effort, Edith Cushing has married a man who killed her father. After moving into his house, all sorts of ghosts come out of the woodwork to warn her about her husband.

At first, she is terrified but then she understands that they are trying to save her life.

The Ring

Ghost – The Ring – Courtesy of Bender-Spink and Parkes-MacDonald Productions

Samara drowned in a well. As a little girl, her parents knew there was something that wasn’t quite right about her. Her mother smothered her and left her for dead.

A serial killer in life, now she is back from the grave to haunt the living and lead them to their deaths via a videotape. Based on a Japanese movie called Ringu, the box office success ushered in an Asian horror period in the U.S.

This is when The Grudge was made along with a Japanese styled approach to the 2005 remake of The Amityville Horror starring Ryan Reynolds. The Ring was the most successful out of those attempts.

The Verdict

It is hard to believe that History of Horror has come to a close. Hopefully, there will be a second season of this magnificent show. A real delight for not only horror fans but cinephiles as well, this series was an educational experience from the beginning.

Last night’s episode, Ghost Stories was extra creepy but also filled with great memories of some of my personal favorite genre films. As always, Roth and company deliver with the behind the scenes information and in-depth deep dives into the particular films they feature.

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Unfortunately, death is something that touches each and every one of us at some point in our lives. Believe it or not, movies can be a haven in a time of sadness and also a reminder that loved ones will live on in our memories.

What did you think of season 1 of History of Horror? Do you believe in ghosts? Let us know how you feel in the comments section below. We want to hear from you.