When we think of ghost stories, we generally think of ethereal entities that haunt and terrify the main protagonists of the narrative. Our main hero/heroine is often trapped in a location they find difficult to leave; they’re usually alone and far away from help. The themes of these stories usually deal with isolation, guilt, and influences of the past. It’s all attractively gothic, and for decades we’ve been taught through the moralistic allegories that portend disaster or teach an important lesson to the reader/viewer.
What if you moved into a new house and started hearing strange noises in the attic? Instead of petrifying apparitions, however, it was just the former tenants in spectre form trying to get on with their afterlife? What if you noticed your room was a little tidier every time you left the house? Little fabric doilies left on your countertop to protect the condensation from that lovely ice cool lemonade drink you just made. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Not all ghosts are out for bloody revenge and want to scare the bejesus out of folk. Some phantoms are mischievous, some are looking for love, and others are plain flatulent. Below, we have a look at some of celluloid’s less terrifying ghosts, and some that just want to help a fella out.
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10. Slimer – Ghostbusters (1984)
In the script for Ghostbusters, Slimer is never actually called by any name, so is never given one. The creature’s original nickname was simply “The Onionhead Ghost”, which the film crew semi-officially dubbed him because of the horrible odour which he used to scare a couple in a scene cut from the original movie. The director, Ivan Reitman, also commented that Slimer was a Bluto type character from ‘Animal House,’ and Dan Ackroyd would later say in interviews that Slimer was the ghost version of John Belushi. Whatever his origins, the first captured apparition of the newly formed Ghostbusters team would eventually end up becoming a bizarre mascot in most of the expanded universe. Why is he at the bottom of the list? Well, he’s less friendly in the original film – sliming Peter Venkman in the Sedgewick Hotel. But let’s be honest here, he was only acting out of spite as he was being prevented from gorging himself on food from room service carts. Slimer isn’t really a bad ghost, he’s just misunderstood. And hungry. Why would you want Slimer as a pal? He’d know where all the best food in town was. You’d just have to make sure he didn’t consume everything before you got a bite. Despite the initial animosity at the beginning of the film, The Ghostbusters eventually took him in as a loyal ally in their fight against the paranormal. It’s a sure bet that Slimer will be reappearing in Jason Reitman’s 2021 Ghostbusters: Afterlife in some guise, but let’s just say now what we really want to see onscreen – Rick Moranis’ Louis Tully and Slimer joining forces to take on some ethereal big bad.
9. Katie – Ghost Ship (2002)
Love it or loathe it, Ghost Ship is a film about ghosts. On a ship. A salvage crew come across a vessel adrift in the Bering Sea. Because the ship is in international waters, it can be claimed by the salvagers and even better, when they board the Antonia Graza they discover nine wooden boxes, each containing gold bars. Unfortunately, there’s a whole host of malevolent spirits that want revenge for their deaths. Katie Harwood (played by a young Emily Browning) is portrayed as a timid, yet friendly little girl and was the youngest and only child passenger aboard the ill-fated Italian luxury ocean liner. She boarded the ship with the hope of being reunited with her parents in New York so that they could all presumably lead a new life together in the United States. Unfortunately for Katie she would later be murdered at the hands of the Graza’s crazed and unfaithful crew, in their attempt to claim a portion of the gold that had been pulled from another fated ocean liner, the Lorelei. Okay, so Katie is mainly used as an exposition dump, but that’s helpful in a horror movie, right? Right?
8. Casper – Casper the Friendly Ghost (1995)
C’mon, you didn’t expect this guy to be at number one, did you? You did? Nah, that would be too obvious. And let’s be honest…Casper is kind of a creeper. Just look at the way he fawns over Christina Ricci whilst she’s sleeping. The 1995 movie did a good job of dealing with the issue of death for children, treading the fine line of family sentimentality and camp silliness, and the atmosphere, although often times comical, had a really deep and emotional resonance to it. The primary focus was on paranormal therapist Dr. James Harvey (played by Bill Pullman) and his daughter Kat (Christina Ricci) as they entered a haunted mansion whilst dealing with the death of their wife/mother. Casper also mourned for his life and loneliness as a ghost. The dimpled spook is kind and understanding and is always there when you need to have a deep conversation on top of a lighthouse. Not so friendly are Casper’s uncles, Stretch (Joe Nipote), Fatso (Brad Garrett), and Stinkie (Joe Alaskey) – who are determined to drive all “fleshies” away. At times, this film was overly sweet and had that sickly sentimental touch, especially during the finale. But overall, this is a great fun film if you enjoy light-hearted supernatural silliness. Think of Casper as a kids version of Beetlejuice (unfortunately without the Harry Belafonte soundtrack!)
7. Frank – Ghost Town (2008)
Ghost Town is kind of a murder-free spin on Ghost, if Ghost was told from the perspective of a deadpan dentist named Bertram (played by comedian Ricky Gervais). Coming out of a near death experience (you’ll see a few of these on this list) Bertram seems to be able to see every single ghost in New York City. Frank (Greg Kinnear), is our main ghostie BFF, who needs Bertram’s help to steer his widow away from marrying the wrong guy. Why is Frank on the list? Just think about it – you’re a singleton at a bar and you’re trying to muster the courage to ask that pretty girl across the room out, who better to have your back than Greg Kinnear, dressed in a tuxedo? Get rid of those dating apps, all you need is wraith Greg Kinnear whispering all the right lines in your ear.
6. Dr. Malcolm Crowe – The Sixth Sense (1999)
If you weren’t aware that Bruce Willis’ character in M. Night Shyamalan’s was in fact a ghost, all I’ve got to say is…WHAT ROCK HAVE YOU BEEN HIDING UNDER FOR THE LAST 21 YEARS? A complete lack of awareness of his ghostly powers makes Bruce Willis a lame phantasm, in all honesty, so he doesn’t get up to much in the way of ghostly hijinks throughout the film. But he’s helping children, so that’s what puts him on the list. And helping kids is good, mmkay? The twist at the time was not only a huge kick in the gut for audiences, but also cemented the fact that the film was one of the best modern ghost stories of its era. Willis’ performance might be one of the strongest and most emotionally resonant of his career too. While the ending is memorable, it has the replayability factor for viewers to see all the moments where you can look at the screen, rolling your eyes and saying: ‘oh, that’s why he couldn’t go through the door.’
5. The Dead Men of Dunharrow – The Lord of the Rings: Return of The King (2003)
Have you ever been in a situation where the school bully gave you an atomic wedgie and demanded to meet him outside the school gates after last bell to get an ass whuppin? You arrive only to see him and his cronies there – it’s an unfair fight. So, what do you do? You round up your own friends and take the fight to them. It’s war. The scene with Aragorn recruiting the Dead Men of Dunharrow is similar in its concept. One ghost is great—a horde of ghosts is even better. Are they friendly spirits? Probably not, but sometimes an undead ally with an axe is better than a floaty ghoul that can only shoot ectoplasm out from its nose. In The Lord of the Rings, the Dead Men of Dunharrow are a swarm of spirits cursed to linger under a mountain as punishment for breaking their promise of military aid to Isildur, Aragorn’s ancestor. Only when they fight for Aragorn in the war against Sauron are they released to their eternal rest. It’s the hair-raising moment when Aragorn and co. shout their battle cry as the swarm of undead rush past them and vanquish everyone that stand in their path that makes this moment pop.
4. Sam Wheat – Ghost (1990)
The late, iconic Patrick Swayze stars in the dramatic love story as a man who is viciously attacked in the street and returns as a ghost to protect his wife, Demi Moore, from impending danger with the help of a reluctant psychic, played by Whoopi Goldberg. The film is a staple for many viewers about loss of a loved one, but is also a great film on its own merit, earning Goldberg a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Sam Wheat’s hero-arc is to accept his fate and find out who really killed him. He also learns special ghost power abilities and starts to interact with the real world. In a race against time against his deceitful friend, he’ll challenge himself in ways he never thought possible to save the one he loves. Sam’s the kind of guy that you could have a beer with and make sweet, sweet pottery late at night. Stop humming that tune. I know you’re doing it.
3. Adam and Barbara Maitland – Beetlejuice (1988)
Have you ever house-shared? With the kind of people that leave the fridge door open at night and leave coffee stains on every tabletop surface. Monsters. Then you know the kind of merry hell Adam and Barbara Maitland must go through when they find out a) Their precious home that they’ve spent most of their life decorating is being invaded by an undesirable family – b) that they died and they have to figure out the baffling rules of the afterlife. After calling in a specialist (we don’t say his name) and some fraught exchanges, Adam and Barbara finally agree to live with family in unison, and even help Lydia with her schoolwork so she can pass her exams. Adam and Barbara are the perfect house sharing couple, and what’s more they could levitate you to Harry Belafonte. Just. Imagine.
2. Judge, Stuart and Cyrus – The Frighteners (1996)
After a car accident in which his wife, Debra, was killed and he was injured, Frank Bannister develops psychic abilities allowing him to see, hear, and communicate with ghosts. From this he develops a totally unique con: He sends his ghostly partners to haunt houses, and then gets himself hired as a ghostbuster. Genuis. With a film jam packed full of talent (Jeffery Combs excels as the traumatised FBI Special Agent – horror icon Dee Wallace Stone is great, as well as John Astin and R. Lee Ermey. Even Jake Busey excels here) it’s these three spirits: Judge, Stuart and Cyrus that really help Frank throughout the movie. From keeping Frank afloat financially by acting as poltergeists whilst he ‘cleanses’ houses, to distracting gunfire away from Frank and helping him escape a museum later in the film, The Judge, Stuart and Cyrus always have his back. Yeah, they may argue and grumble from time to time, but I know I’d rather have those guys looking out for me if the reaper came calling. The Frighteners made it clear that some ghosts are good guys, too.
1. The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future (A Christmas Carol)
I know, right? What better way to make a ghost story even better? Add one of the best months of the year to it. One could argue that A Christmas Carol is the epitomal ghost story. It’s been remade and reimagined in so many different forms, but essentially it’s a story about three spirits using their gifts to encourage Ebenezer Scrooge to become a better man, before he ends up sharing the same lonely fate of former partner Jacob Marley. I’ve had ex-girlfriends that have tried to make me a better man and it hasn’t worked, so in a way it was the Inception move of its time. These spirits owe nothing to Scrooge too; they could just let him carry on with his Machiavellian ways, but no…they bring with them the greatest holiday aspect of all – the gift of giving. They may go about changing his mind in various forms (one could argue that the Ghost of Christmas Past was the friendliest version) but in their own ways they succeed in doing the thing my ex’s never could: make him a better version of himself. And that’s why A Christmas Carol is at the top of the list.