Most people run screaming when they see a ghost. Not us. In fact, we’d watch a movie with it.
Read on for a list of haunted movie theaters across the country that do more than just screen scary movies and serve up tubs of buttery popcorn—they ask you to take your seat, silence your cell phone, and pay no attention to the floating figure in the corner.
In 1898, a fire consumed most of Park City, including its ornate Opera House. In its place, the town built the Dewey Theatre, an art house that remained the city’s cultural saving grace—until record snowfall caused its roof to collapse. Inspired by the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, the town began new construction on the building, consulted an Egyptologist, and dubbed the place the Egyptian Theatre in 1926. Today its postcard-worthy marquee is stamped on any and all things Sundance Film Festival.
That said, you might be sharing your seat with the restless spirits of the past at this famed movie house. Reports of freaky unexplained mysteries go down nightly. Hair-raising activity includes loud footsteps when no one’s around, doors flying open, disembodied screams—and a man-ghost with a bad attitude; he’s been known to actually shove people to the ground.
Though silent in name, this little theater clamors with things that’ll make you shout bloody murder. Back in 1942, a man named John Hampton opened the place as Old Time Movies, a playhouse dedicated to silent films, which he preserved himself. Ironically, it was his love of film that killed him: Hampton got cancer from the toxins used to preserve his films and died in 1990. The story only gets darker: The theater’s next proprietor, Lawrence Austin, was the target of a murder plot set in motion by his coworker, and was shot to death by a hitman in the theater lobby in 1997.
Today, we know the place as the Cinefamily, a single-screen movie house dedicated to weird and wonderful films. And though we can really get into its Friday Night Frights series, we’re buying a ticket to glimpse the theater’s original owners in all of their ghostly glory. Word has it Hampton haunts the upstairs, while Austin calls the lobby his post-mortem stomping grounds.
This iconic movie house is surrounded by concrete hand- and footprints of Hollywood’s finest and guarded by a couple of giant dog sculptures straight out of . It hosted the Academy Awards from 1944 to 1946—but its “real” claim to fame lies in lore.
Ever heard of Victor Killian? He was a surly, one-eyed thespian who made a decent living as a character actor in the 30s and 40s. That is, until the movie studios blacklisted him in the 1950s. Killian soon fell on rough times, and died from being beaten to death by robbers. It’s said that he still roams the forecourt of the Chinese Theatre looking for the man or men responsible. Tread lightly upon entering—you don’t want to get ghost-slapped.
Located on North Main Street in downtown Decatur, this theater opened in 1916 and mesmerized audiences with its vaudeville and Houdini acts. A labyrinth composed of a sprawling stage and mezzanine, spooky balconies, and even spookier sub-cellars, the Lincoln is now a palace filled with history, lore, and, of course, ghost stories. Some believe the ghosts lurking in its dark corners belong to those who were killed from a fire that devastated the hotel that once stood in the Lincoln’s place. Others tell tales of one particular apparition known only as “Red.”
A stagehand during the Lincoln’s early days, Red was walking on a catwalk grid about 75 feet above ground. He slipped and snagged a hook that ripped off his arm on the way down, before landing in a heap of bloody mass. At least, that’s the grislier tale. The true story is that Red just took a nap one day and never woke up. Either way, his eternal spirit reportedly still calls the Lincoln home. If you’re smart, you’ll snag a ticket to an upcoming screening and share a hot dog with him. Oh, and good luck if you have to pee—the bathrooms are in the basement, which is full of things that go bump in the night.
Another historic motion picture house in Decatur, the Avon opened in 1916 only to find itself riding a roller coaster of abandonment: ups and downs of opening, closing, then reopening. Luckily, in 1999, someone used the Avon to fill a niche, and now it’s thriving as Decatur’s best independent theater, bringing art-house films to indie-starved audiences.
Though many came and went to the Avon, some never left. Namely, Gus Constan, who owned the theater during the 1960s. Staffers today report random nooks and crannies that are ice-cold one second then warm the next, periodic laughter, and after-hours applause. Patrons have been bumped or pushed by nothing. But, hey, when your concession stand serves bacon and cinnamon toast popcorn, it’s no wonder the dead won’t leave.
The Tampa opened in 1926 as a romantic old-world Mediterranean courtyard replete with flowers and gargoyles, a Wurlitzer organ, and the night sky as its roof. Host to live performances and films, the glorious space almost saw its demise in the 1970s. Luckily, the city saved it, and events like Napoleon Winamite and late-night showings of continue to this day.
Speaking of phantoms, it’s hard to imagine anything spooky could haunt such a whimsical theater. But there is. In 1965, the theater employed a man named Foster “Fink” Finkley. Going on 30 years as the theater’s projectionist, one night he just dropped dead. Theatergoers today report spotting the deceased cinephile in the east entrance of his beloved projection booth.
A grand palace that opened back in 1928, the Landmark Theater originally treated its audiences to silent films and talkies. Today its box office sells tickets to stage performances and concerts, though come September, the theater will host theatrical screenings for the Syracuse International Film Festival.
If you attend, keep an eye out for the spectral presence of Claire. She’s the pale figure who haunts the upper mezzanine. According to legend, she flung herself to her death for one of two reasons: 1) She was bypassed for the role of her dreams, or 2) she watched her husband get electrocuted to death on stage and couldn’t handle the sorrow.
If you’re a fan of the SXSW tech, music, and film festival, then you’ve probably passed this apparition hotspot that serves as one of the fest’s premier venues. Opening its doors in 1915 as a vaudeville house, the Paramount went through bouts of renovation in the 1930s to show films.
Today, it’s one of Austin’s hottest art destinations, having partnered with the neighboring Stage Theatre, but the real show here happens when the lights go out. There are two ghosts we’d like you to meet: The Lady in White, whose forlorn face is usually spotted during pre-performance hours, and The Man with the Cigar, who paces the floor of the opera box as clouds of cigar smoke billow about. Patrons, however, should still stick with the no smoking rule.
Now that the Harvard Exit Theater in Seattle has officially closed its doors, leaving its friendly ghost, Peter, and the rest of his ghostly pals to roam the place uninterrupted, head north to neighboring Edmonds and the Edmonds Theater for your paranormal fix.
Like every other cinema palace on this list, this one was also built and opened in the early 1900s, went through renovations, and has its fair share of historical importance. Perhaps most notable are its rumored hauntings. When the lights dim, keep an eye out for the shadowy figure, surrounded by a glowing aura, who makes his way up and down the aisles.
Photos (in order): missmass / Flickr; Serio L.A. / Flickr; Mathieu Thouvenin / Flickr; duluozcats / Flickr; straightedge217 / Flickr; straightedge217 / Flickr; Matthew Paulson / Flickr; John Hoey / Flickr; Tommy Klumker / Flickr; SounderBruce / Flickr