News Column

From "The X-Files" to "The Exorcist"

October 30, 2013


Oct. 30--Are ghosts real? Do demons exist? Is there actually an afterlife?

As Fox Mulder and Dana Scully might say on the television show "The X-Files," the truth is out there.

Humankind's search for proof of the paranormal has inspired scores of TV shows and movies. Some seek to debunk rumors about exorcisms, demonic possession, haunted houses and mischievous spirits, while others simply inflame them.

Here are 13 scary titles about our collective obsession with the otherworldly.

"Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!" (1969-1978)

Hop in the Mystery Machine for the animated adventures of teenagers Fred, Daphne, Velma and Shaggy and their dog Scooby-Doo.

Together, the gang investigates ghosts, monsters, zombies, and other supernatural creatures. Of course, the ghoul in question usually turns out to be an old man in a mask screeching "... and I would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for you meddling kids!"

This popular CBS series spawned multiple TV shows, video games and direct-to-video movies, and two feature films.

"The Exorcist" (1973)

The granddaddy of all exorcism films, "The Exorcist" features some of cinema's most memorable scenes of demonic possession -- from projectile-vomit pea soup to the infamous "spider-walk."

When her 12-year-old daughter Regan (Linda Blair) starts exhibiting strange behavior, concerned mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn) consults with neurosurgeons and psychiatrists before finally turning to the Catholic Church for help.

It's up to two priests -- a troubled young priest (Jason Miller) who has lost his faith in God, and a seasoned archaeologist/ exorcist (Max Von Sydow) -- to drive out the demon possessing Regan.

"Poltergeist" (1982)

Talk about a wrong move.

After settling in a new housing development, the Freeling family experiences all sorts of spooky phenomena, from moving furniture to a possessed tree.

When their young daughter Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) disappears into a portal, her parents (Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams) call in a group of parapsychologists, then a medium, to save her.

This classic horror flick inspired two not-so-great sequels -- 1986's "Poltergeist II: The Other Side" and 1988's "Poltergeist III" -- and rumors of a curse. (Four cast members died in the six years between the releases of the first and third films in the series.)

"Ghostbusters" (1984)

Who says ghost stories have to be scary? Or, at least, only scary?

One of the seminal comedies of the 1980s, "Ghostbusters" has parapsychologists Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis putting their theories about the supernatural to the test by strapping on particle accelerators and catching the many spirits haunting New York City.

Everything goes swimmingly (and sometimes slimingly) until an overzealous environmental protection agent shuts their storage chamber down and unleashes every spook they've captured, triggering a near-apocalypse with Murray's girlfriend (Sigourney Weaver) and her neighbor (Rick Moranis) at the center. It's a hilarious movie with a number of effective frights, and Ray Parker Jr.'s theme song is so catchy it's, well, scary.

The 1989 sequel sees the Ghostbusters battling evil slime and the spirit of an ancient warlord trying to possess Weaver's young son.

"The X-Files" (1993-2002)

Over the nine-season run of Fox's "The X-Files," FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), who believed nearly everything, and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), who questioned nearly everything, investigated all manner of weirdness, from psychic serial killers and ghostly possessions to urban legends and alien invasions -- all on the taxpayer's dime.

Who could forget the garbage monster protecting a too-perfect suburban housing project? Or the alien who just wanted to play baseball? Or Mulder's body swap with an Area 51 agent? Or the "COPS"-style pursuit of a werewolf under a full moon?

"The Frighteners" (1996)

Before bringing J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" to the big screen, New Zealand native Peter Jackson was best known for gory horror comedies ("Dead Alive") and period dramas ("Heavenly Creatures").

His first Hollywood film stars Michael J. Fox as a professional ghostbuster who uses his psychic abilities to stage hauntings in the homes of likely marks. His profitable business takes a turn when he becomes the primary suspect in a string of unexplained deaths.

Imaginative special effects set this exuberant, uneven thriller apart from its peers.

"The Sixth Sense" (1999)

Long before director M. Night Shyamalan set movie monsters on proxy critics in "Lady in the Water" and whitewashed the cast of "The Last Airbender," he made one of the best ghost stories in modern cinema.

Starring Bruce Willis as a child psychologist trying to help Haley Joel Osment conquer his terror of the ghosts he sees everywhere, the film is atmospheric and affecting, slowly building toward a resolution for Osment and a revelation for Willis -- one we won't spoil here, in case someone reading somehow doesn't know it already.

"Ghost Hunters" (2004 to present)

In this phenomenally successful Syfy reality series, paranormal investigators Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson visit places that are purported to be haunted in search of audio, video and thermal evidence of the paranormal.

The show's popularity inspired three spinoffs, "Ghost Hunters International," "Ghost Hunters Academy" and the brief-lived "UFO Hunters." as well as several other reality shows. "Haunted Collector," anyone?

"Hellboy" (2004)

Director Guillermo del Toro puts a supernatural spin on the classic superhero story in this engaging action-comedy.

A wisecracking, cigar-chomping demon with a killer right hook, Hellboy (Ron Perlman, perfectly cast) works for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. In other words, he's a monster who hunts other monsters.

Together with his fellow field agents, which include a telepathic fish-man and a woman with pyrokinetic powers, Hellboy must battle the resurrected Russian mystic Rasputin and other fiendish foes.

The 2008 sequel, "Hellboy II: The Golden Army," pits the team against a genocidal elf prince.

"Supernatural" (2005 to present)

This sexy, scary drama on The CW follows two brothers -- Dean and Sam Winchester (Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki) -- who decides to follow in their father's footsteps by hunting down ghosts, demons and other supernatural baddies.

They travel across the country in a black 1967 Chevrolet Impala, often ending up on the wrong side of the law as they battle the forces of evil. No wonder the show has developed a fan following almost as fervent as the one belonging to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

"Paranormal Activity" (2007)

Part of a modern crop of "found footage" films, this suspenseful supernatural thriller centers on a young couple that moves into a new house in San Diego.

Katie Featherston claims that an evil presence has haunted her since childhood. And after several nights of loud noises and strange happenings, her boyfriend Micah also becomes convinced that something sinister has followed them to the house.

He rigs up a series of video cameras in the hopes of recording any activity that occurs while they sleep.

Although the original "Paranormal Activity" is a taut, effective film, viewers should avoid the other three films in the series.

"1408" (2007)

Author Mike Enslin (John Cusack) doesn't believe in an afterlife. In fact, he makes his living debunking paranormal events.

So when this cynical scribe hears about a New York City hotel with a haunted room, he insists on spending the night -- despite the protests of the hotel manager (Samuel L. Jackson), who insists that 56 people have perished there while attempting the same feat.

As soon as Mike shuts the door, of course, he finally finds the proof he needs. Now, if only he can survive until sunrise ...

"The Conjuring" (2013)

Ever wonder where our modern obsession with the paranormal began?

You can trace the current craze back to 1952, when real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren founded the New England Society for Psychic Research. Their findings inspired a number of books and movies, including "The Amityville Horror" and "The Haunting in Connecticut."

In "The Conjuring," the husband-and-wife team (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) help out a family that moves into a dilapidated Rhode Island farmhouse, only to experience a series of disturbing events.


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