I have always loved ghost stories. I love the atmosphere, the suspense, the cold sense of dread that can't help but creep up your spine. Hollywood has made a lot of movies about ghosts, but it's rare that you find one that hits all the right notes.

1944's THE UNINVITED with Ray Milland is still the best, although now, of course, the effects are pretty creaky. In the more modern era, THE SIXTH SENSE and THE OTHERS stand out. Then, of course, there is RINGU (and its American remake THE RING) which gave audiences a different kind of ghost and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY that was able to wring real fear out of almost nothing.

And now comes MAMA.

MAMA is creepy and scary but it's enjoyable, PG-13 scary. There's nothing gross or overly violent, bloody or gory about it. The audience screams, but then laughs at itself for doing so.

The story concerns two young girls who disappear but then are discovered five years later living in a cabin, in an almost feral state. The authorities and the uncle, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who kept searching all those years to find them have no idea how they could have managed to survive.

As it turns out, they were looked after by the ghostly MAMA who, somewhat inconveniently,follows them to their new home.

El Camino High School graduate Jessica Chastain plays the bass-guitar playing girlfriend of the uncle, who finds herself drawn into a situation she doesn't want; mainly, taking care of a couple of little kids. Particularly, these kids. There's something not quite right about them and the more she knows, the more she might not want to know.

Now you could be asking yourself, what is a twice Academy Award nominated actress and Broadway star doing in a horror movie? Well, she's not slumming, that's for sure. In fact, the quality of the acting in here is one of the things that makes it all work.

Sure, you might ask why, after the creepy cabin is discovered, the only time anyone ever goes back to it is at night. Andyes, it's a little convenient our heroine and her boyfriend almost literally bump into each other when she's trying to find him late at night, driving down a lonely road in the middle of nowhere.

You might also nitpick about some of the computerized ghost effects, but that's only because there are a few moments when they might linger just a little too long. For the most part, they're quite convincing.

It's also very interesting to discover that the idea for this movie started as a two-and-a-half minute short, just a scene, really, by director Andres Muschietti and his sister Barbara that really impressed producer/director Guillermo del Toro and is the reason the movie got made.

The short, along with an introduction by del Toro, can be seen at

by Jonathan Mumm