Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Ghosts are haunting Hollywood

Gary Cooper and a ghost in the 1962 film Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation
Gary Cooper and a ghost in the 1962 film Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation
Photo: 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images
Wiki WormholeWe explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 5,664,405-week series, Wiki Wormhole.

This week’s entry: List of ghost films 

What it’s about: As long as there have been movies, there have been movies about g-g-g-ghosts! From comedy to romance to horror (but let’s face it, mostly horror), seemingly every situation can be improved by a visit from the great beyond.


Biggest controversy: While the page is titled “list of ghost films,” it also includes television, broken down into live-action, animation, reality shows, and puppets. The last category only has one entry, The Ghost Of Faffner Hall, a largely forgotten 1989 series Jim Henson produced for Britain’s ITV. The titular ghost was the founder of a music conservatory in life, and in death has to stop her music-hating great-great-grandnephew from destroying the hall, with the help of musical guests ranging from Youssou N’Dour to Dizzy Gillespie to Thomas Dolby.

The list of cartoons includes no less than six Casper series (the oldest of which is called The New Casper Cartoon Show), Gravity Falls, an apparently real French/British Disney Channel show called Dude, That’s My Ghost!, and lost classic The Funky Phantom. The latter was a Hanna-Barbera series that lasted 13 episodes (always a sign of quality); it looks like it’s Scooby-Doo with a little Speed Buggy thrown in. Three teenagers and their dog who travel the country in a dune buggy inadvertently release the ghosts of Revolutionary War soldier John “Mudsy” Muddlemore and his cat Boo. Daws Butler—a versatile Hanna-Barbera regular who voiced Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, Huckleberry Hound, Scooby-Dum, and Elroy Jetson—simply re-used his Snagglepuss voice unaltered for Mudsy. Monkees drummer Micky Dolenz played one of the teens. (Dolenz actually had a long career as a voice actor, with recurring roles on Captain Caveman, The Tick, SpyDogs, and Partridge Family 2200 A.D., which is a real show we swear we didn’t make up.) Hanna-Barbera regular Casey Kasem also shows up in a few guest spots. Despite the show’s premise establishing that ghosts are real, the villain was invariably an old man in a rubber mask, Scooby-Doo-style.

Strangest fact: Two of the earliest films ever made were Georges Méliès’ ghost movies, both called The Haunted Castle, released in 1896 and 1897. In the first, a man enters a haunted castle, and various spirits appear, including the devil. In the second… the exact same thing happens. (Keep that in mind the next time someone complains that Spider-Man gets rebooted too quickly). The first was a then-groundbreaking three minutes long; the second was the first Méliès film to be hand-colored.

Thing we were happiest to learn: The Philippines has kept a series of ghost story movies going for 30 years. The Shake, Rattle & Roll series is a horror anthology series, usually with three vignettes per film, at least one of which is a ghost story. The 1984 original was entered in the Metro Manila Film Festival, and Herbert Bautista won Best Actor for playing a lovesick teenager who finds out his paramour is actually a manananggal (a vampire-like creature of Filipino lore). One of the other vignettes can only be described as Murder Fridge: The Fridge That Murders People, as a refrigerator once owned by a serial killer that stashed body parts in the freezer comes to life and continues its former owner’s work.

Six years later, Shake, Rattle & Roll II hit theaters, and the series managed five entries between 1990 and 1997. After an eight year hiatus, there was another installment every year save one from 2005-2014. So far, 2014’s Shake, Rattle & Roll XV—in which a half-woman-half-snake attacks mall-goers, a maid’s food turns her employers into monsters, and a woman gives birth to a monster on an airplane while it’s being hijacked—is the last entry, but the next scary story could be lurking around the corner.

Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Whoever made this list skimped on the Hamlet. Perhaps the most widely read ghost story of all time, the Bard’s tragedy has been adapted to film more than 50 times. There are more “loose” adaptations, which include the likes The Lion King, Strange Brew, and Ophelia, the Daisy Ridley-starring movie that tells Hamlet from Ophelia’s perspective.

A Christmas Carol (another story in contention for the most-adapted ghost story, with 50 film and TV versions ranging from 1901’s silent Scrooge, Or, Marley’s Ghost to 2013’s Kelly Clarkson’s Cautionary Christmas Music Tale) also gets its own drop-down, but the 1938, 1984, 1999, and 2009 films get their own entries, as do The Muppet Christmas Carol, the 1935, 1951, and 1970 Scrooges, and 1988 Bill Murray vehicle Scrooged.

Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: Alongside the drop-down menus for various Christmas Carol and Hamlet iterations is a remarkably in-depth list of film genres. Everything from Bromantic Comedy to Mo Lei Tau (Hong Kong slapstick) to Nunsploitation to Yugoslav Black Wave gets mentioned, not to mention a list of formats, including 3D, stop-motion, making-of, and mockbuster.


Further down the Wormhole: On that same list of genres, science fiction is broken into numerous categories, among them stories dealing with a parallel universe. One way to clearly depict that a universe is different from our own is to tinker with the familiar world map, and numerous stories that have done so have resulted in a list of fictional U.S. states. We’ll pack our bags for Moosylvania next week.

Host of the podcast Why Is This Not a Movie? His sixth book, The Planets Are Very, Very, Very Far Away is due in fall 2021. He tells people he lives in New York, but he really lives in New Jersey.