Ghost stories have been a part of human society for thousands of years. Every society has their own versions of spooky tales that are concerned with the return of the dead to claim their revenge, to reconnect with relatives, or to try and return to the land of the living.
One important distinction to keep in mind for this list is that there is a notable difference between a demon and a ghost. A demon is a being that has never been human, whereas a ghost is a human soul that is trapped between the living and the dead. Consequently, this list will only focus on ghosts and not demons. With that in mind, here are the ten scariest ghosts in horror movie history.
10 Bride in Black – Insidious (2010)
The reveal in Insidious that Patrick Wilson’s character had been followed by this creepy ghost throughout his early years was terrifying. There is something primeval and unsettling that triggers this fear. The Black Bride is always in the background, always watching and always getting closer. Further, we can see a malicious grin on the face of the ghost that unsettled all viewers.
Naturally, we learn more about the Black Bride and we see how the character has an unsettling and abusive past that only adds to the fear factor.
9 Librarian – Ghostbusters (1984)
While Ghostbusters was a comedy, it was not without genuine scares. One of the more genuine scares in the movie is one of the earlier scenes, in which a librarian ghost screams into the camera. There is no doubt that this scene traumatized children around the world and helped to build a fear of ghosts and the supernatural into children.
This ghost not only introduced many children to horror movies, but also helped introduce children to the idea of sleeping with the light on.
8 Little Boy – The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
The 2001 Gothic horror masterpiece by Guillermo Del Toro features one of the most terrifying child ghosts of all time. Set during the final years of the Spanish Civil War, the movie perfectly captures the period in which it is set and manages to craft a haunting story with strong political overtones.
The design of the ghost child is incredibly disturbing and terrifying. The rotting, pale flesh coupled with the haunting, black, and unblinking stare really leaves an impression on the viewer.
7 Sadako/Samara – Ringu (1998)/The Ring (2002)
The Ring is one of the most horrifying movies ever released. Both the original Japanese movie and the American remake are incredibly scary and this is due to the unique premise on which the film is based. The idea that a curse can spread via a videotape and invoke the wrath of a spirit is scary. However, it is how the spirit kills you that is so horrifying. Samara crawls through your TV and murders you in such a way that your face becomes twisted.
Additionally, there is something horrifying about the unknown. Samara’s face is covered through most of the movie and we barely see her face. This only ramps up the fear factor of the character.
6 Natre – Shutter (2004)
Shutter is a Thai horror movie that focusses on a vengeful spirit that is typically only seen in photographs. The film was incredibly popular and became one of the most successful Thai movies of all time, managing to spawn both English language and Hindi remakes.
What makes Shutter so scary is its focus on subtle scares. There are very few jump scares in the movie rather, directors Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom, focused on creating an atmosphere of impending doom. In addition to the imagery of the ghost in photographs, the film also has a very memorable ending that is almost parable-like in its execution.
5 Woman in the Bath – The Shining (1980)
The scariest ghost in The Shining is, arguably, the woman in the bath. This character lures the unsuspecting Jack Torrens into an embrace, appearing as a young and attractive woman. However, Jack’s attraction suddenly became limp as the beautiful woman transformed into a rotten and decrepit crone. While the inclusion of the character in The Shining is terrifying enough, the spooky phantom appears in the cinematic sequel, Doctor Sleep.
What is so terrifying about the character is how she does not jump at the screen. This ghost doesn’t need to trigger a jeep jump scare to terrify you, she just stares at you. This leaves a far more disturbing effect on the audience.
4 Kayako – Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)/The Grudge (2004)
The second entry from both Japanese and American cinema on this list. The Grudge is another movie that has managed to terrify audiences worldwide. The Grudge is a horror movie that is founded on a story of domestic abuse. A crime of passion gives way to one of the most iconic spirits in J-Horror.
Due to her horrific death, Kayako crawls around in an unnatural manner. It is this discomfiting method of movement, coupled with her ghostly appearance that disturbs any viewer.
3 Little Girl – The Sixth Sense (1999)
This one may be unfair as the ghost is not intentionally scary, however, the ghost of this poisoned girl is undoubtedly terrifying. Perhaps the ghost of the little girl could’ve considered that her sudden, sickly appearance may be considered unnerving.
While the ghost was revealed to be no threat to the protagonist, there is no denying that she was one of the scariest ghosts in The Sixth Sense. We all jumped out of our seats when she appeared behind Cole in the tent.
2 Tomás – The Orphanage (2007)
Another entry in this list is a misunderstood ghost. The character of Tomás was always a eerie one. The Grady Twins of The Shining have shown that ghosts of children are on a different level of creepy. There is something unnerving about a child ghost and this also holds here as well. However, what separates the Grady twins from the ghost of Tomás is the mask. Tomás’ mask helps to make the ghost even more unnerving and scary.
While Tomás was revealed to be a not so menacing presence in the movie, he was incredibly unsettling nonetheless and easily deserves a place on this list.
1 The Woman In Black (2012)
The Woman in Black is an underrated horror movie. The movie draws on the subtle elements of Gothic horror to create an immersive, atmospheric, and suspenseful world. The setting of the house in such an isolated area creates a trapped feeling in the audience, eliciting uneasy feelings from the beginning. However, not only is there a feeling of isolationism but there is also a vengeful ghost thrown into the mix.
What is so disturbing about the ghost in The Woman in Black is how she looms in the background. Her character lingers in the peripheral, which leaves the viewer checking over their shoulder long after the movie has ended.