Weekend Watchlist | Ghost Stories

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Shruti Talekar | Senior Staff Illustrator

By The Pitt News Staff

For the first October edition of Weekend Watchlist, we’ve got streaming recommendations that strive to tell one thing — a good ghost story.

Spirited Away (HBO Max) // Sarah Stager, Contributing Editor

The ghosts in “Spirited Away” aren’t your typical American sheet-over-head-with-eye-holes or transparent-once-alive-person ghosts. No, no — they’re much more varied and fascinating, spirits of all shapes and sizes, drawn from Japanese legends. The movie’s main character is a little (human) girl named Chihiro who stumbles upon what appears to be an abandoned amusement park with her parents. Soon enough, however, all sorts of spooky mischief ensues, and Chihiro discovers that she has entered some sort of spirit world. Separated from her parents, she is forced by the malevolent Yubaba to work in the spirits’ whimsical bathhouse, scrubbing tubs and cleaning the most putrid of clients. Though every element of this movie is stunning, from the gorgeous animation to the astonishing worldbuilding to the playful yet practical plot, what really brings “Spirited Away” to the level of an instant classic is the soundtrack. Joe Hisaishi outdoes himself, with warm, sweeping scores that have the strange effect of inducing nostalgia, even if you have never seen the film before. Elegantly combining all of these elements into a heartwarming whole, “Spirited Away” is a film so beautiful that it can — and will — make you cry with joy.

The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix) // Beatrice McDermott, Staff Writer

Inspired by Shirley Jackson’s groundbreaking novel, “The Haunting of Hill House” is a must-watch show for fans of both horror and psychological dramas. The plot centers on the dysfunctional Crain family and their morbid connection to the notoriously haunted Hill House, brilliantly subverting the tropes of a typical ghost story in 10 unnerving episodes.

The story starts off in 1992, when a horrific accident takes the life of Olivia Crain and forces her family to flee Hill House, the historic mansion they were hired to renovate. Twenty-six years later, the five Crain siblings — Steven, Shirley, Theodora, Luke and Nell — are still reckoning with the disturbing circumstances behind their mother’s death, and in some cases, being literally haunted by their past. Steven, a best-selling author of the paranormal, refuses to believe in ghosts. Shirley opens a funeral home and Theo pursues a career in social services, but their successful professional lives are tarnished by repressed memories. Meanwhile, a supernatural bond called “the twin thing” exacerbates the struggles of Nell and Luke. After an unexpected death reunites the family, the siblings are forced to reexamine what happened on the night their mother died.

“The Haunting of Hill House” delivers its fair share of jump scares and spooky encounters, but the true heart of the show lives in its stupendous character development. This show proves that the scariest ghosts don’t have to live in a haunted house — they can also exist inside our minds. 

American Horror Story (Netflix) // Alexis Widenhouse, For The Pitt News

Although it may be old news to some, for those who have never had the chance to indulge in “American Horror Story” as a teen, this month of Halloween is the perfect time to do so! Set in contemporary times, season one, “Murder House,” follows the struggles experienced by the Harmon family through their shaky and confusing encounters with numerous ghosts living in their new house. Originally, the Harmons left their previous home in Boston after Vivian Harmon (Connie Britton) suffered a miscarriage, hoping a fresh move to Los Angeles would bring peace and relaxation. No spoilers — but peace never arrived for the Harmons. With strange obsessions about leather, secret getaways and demonic children, it’s clear that secrets are not held long within the walls of Murder House. Later, it’s discovered that all the ghosts died on the property, alluding to the mysterious and cryptic influence the house seems to hold on its residents. I mean, it is called Murder House for a reason. By the end of this season, you may find yourself thinking, “what on earth did I just watch?” But isn’t the confusion and horror you gain the real thrill of paranormal stories?

Survivor: Ghost Island (CBS All Access) // Megan Williams, Digital Manager

I know, I know — but hear me out. The 36th season of the much-loved CBS series, “Survivor: Ghost Island” is one of the best showings in recent years. In typical format, 20 castaways are divided evenly into two tribes. The tribes compete against each other in immunity challenges — all the while surviving on rice and beans at homemade campsites — and the losing team must go to tribal council and vote someone off. This season isn’t your standard Survivor fare, though, thanks to Ghost Island. This abandoned beach is “haunted” by mistakes made by past castaways — misplayed immunity idols, misunderstood clues and misused advantages. Those who are sent to Ghost Island, either by the winning tribe or by drawing rocks, compete in challenges to earn these past rewards. They can either correctly play idols, read clues, use advantages — or risk being voted out, and becoming a Survivor Ghost themselves. This season has one of the most exciting conclusions in all of Survivor history, and the contestants lean fully into the campy theme. For someone like me who hates jump scares and loves reality television, “Survivor: Ghost Island” is a perfect non-spooky ghost story.

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