It’s Halloween and all my life, as far as I can remember, in our house we watched old horror classic films the whole month of October. It became such a habit as a kid that I still do it today. I’ve seen many, and picking ten was very hard for me. It took a good while to decide on the ten below. I am sure you will wonder, why didn’t she pick this one, or that one? Your pick may have been one I had on the list, but it didn’t cut the mustard for me. I first thought to maybe just pick one per decade, but that did not work. So you will see that at times I picked up 3 a decade. I purposely chose a few little known of, or obscure films. In the end a lot of the classic horror movies are good, but some do stand out from the rest. I don’t like gratuitous gore so you will not find any like that on this list.
Nosferatu 1921- A silent German Expressionist horror film, directed by F. W. Murnau, and starring Max Schreck as the vampire Count Orlok. The film, shot in 1921 and released in 1922, was an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with names and other details changed because the studio could not obtain the rights to the novel (for instance, “vampire” became “Nosferatu” and “Count Dracula” became “Count Orlok”). Stoker’s heirs sued over the adaptation, and a court ruling ordered that all copies of the film be destroyed. However, one print of Nosferatu survived, and the film came to be regarded as an influential masterpiece of cinema.I am grateful for the one surviving copy of this film! This is the scariest vampire movie I’ve ever seen. The movie is moody, dark, and being a German Expressionist film makes it all the more terrifying. And although the movie is silent, and all sounds are left to your imagination, it still stands out as a horror masterpiece! I don’t think any modern vampire movie matches this one. You can watch it for free here!
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-1920 Silent movie directed by John S. Robertson, and it stars, John Barrymore, Martha Mansfield as Millicent Carew, Sir George’s daughter, Nita Naldi as Miss Gina, the Italian artist. The story of split personality Dr. Jekyll, a kind and good man who believes that everyone has two sides, one good and one evil. Using a potion, his personalities are split, creating havoc. We all know the good ol’ story of our good side, and evil side, and have seen a couple of renditions of the classic story, but this one, in my book is the best rendition. Like “Nosferatu,” the movie is dark, moody, and Barrymore as the sinister Mr. Hyde is spine tingling! Watch it for free here!
Freaks 1932-This unusual film was directed by Tod Browning and stars, Wallace Ford, & Leila Hyams and many others. It’s a movie that would not be done today; in fact, the movie was banned in the US for many years. It is a terrifying film about characters in a circus, like pinheads, dwarfs, midgets, human worm, and a bird girl. There are all kinds of human oddities that will send chills up and down your spine. It’s a must see! BUY VIDEO HERE!
Vampyr 1932- This atmospheric film was directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer and it stars Julian West, Maurice Schutz, & Jan Hieronimko. Nicolas de Gunzburg plays Allan Gray, a young man who studies the occult, ends up in a dark, and isolated village, which has a woman who is afflicted by a vampire, and is possessed by demons. Unknown to Allan there are others in the village that assist the dark side in tormenting this woman. Allan sets out to help her, but in the process he becomes the Vampyr’s new victim.
This was Dreyer’s first “Talkie” and it was a challenge for him, one problem being that it had to be recorded in three languages. He handled that challenge by having very little dialogue in the film, much of the story is told with silent film-style title cards. The film was shot entirely on location, and to give it the atmospheric feel, Dreyer opted for a “washed out, fuzzy appearing photographic technique.” In fact, the film makes you feel like you are in one of Allan’s dreams throughout. Dreyer succeeded with this technique if that is what he wanted the viewer to feel. It’s all a strange feeling watching this film in many ways. It’s eerie. Watch it for free here!
The Devil-Doll 1936 – Another film directed by Tod Browning and stars Lionel Barrymore, and Maureen O’Sullivan. Watch this film if only for the special effects. The special effects were way ahead of its day, and it must’ve impressed audiences back then as they do today. Paul Lavond (Barrymore), plays a man who was wrongly convicted 17 years ago. He escapes Devil’s Island with a scientist who is working on a formula to reduce people to one-sixth their normal size. Even back then they thought the world was overpopulated and this dude thought that making people small would save us all…whatever. The scientist dies but Lavond partners with the scientist’s wife, Malita (Rafaela Ottiano.) Soon Lavond uses this formula to avenge those who put him in prison or anyone who crosses him. However, when he finds his daughter, who was an infant when he was jailed, things change, but not for the better, if Malita has her way.
I wouldn’t say this is a “horror” film, but it’s a scary one, one of those films you just have to see on a cold Friday night with lots, and lots of popcorn, and with all the lights out. There are some funny scenes in the film especially when Barrymore dresses like a woman; Tootsie has nothing on Barrymore! The dialogue between Malita and Lavond rival Constanza’s parents in “Seinfeld.” Too, too funny. Well worth the watch. BUY VIDEO HERE!
Cat People- 1942 This classic was directed by Jacques Tourneur and it stars, Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway, and Jane Randolph. The film produced by Val Lewton and we all know about the “Lewton Bus.” Lewton is known for inventing this technique in horror film. The term derives from the scene in which Irena is following Alice. We expected Irena to turn into a panther and attack. But instead the camera focuses on Alice’s terrified face, and the silence is shattered by what sounds like a hissing panther, but is just a bus pulling up. It’s a hold-your-breath moment to only be let down, but relieved at the same time. Lewton was a genius with this technique. He terrified us with shadows and sounds, and it still works!
Cat People tells the story of a young Serbian woman, Irena (Simone Simon) who believes herself to be a descendant of a race of people who turn into cats. She later marries and suspects her husband is falling for another woman and that’s when the catty side of her is aroused. Humm was Lewton trying to say something about women? BUY VIDEO HERE!
Dementia, Also known as “Daughter of Horror,” 1955 Directed by John Parker and stars, Adrienne Barrett, Bruno VeSota, Ben Roseman, Richard Barron. This is an obscure, dark and strange movie. The film is psychological horror, surrealism, expressionism, and film noir rolled up in one. Yes, a one hour film with all of that.
Dementia is the disturbing and nightmarish tale of a woman’s night out in the seedy part of town. All the usual suspects in our nightmares, crime, death, and fear play a role in this strange film. The viewer is not sure what is real, hallucination, or a dream, something I’m sure Parker wanted us to feel. I saw the narrated version, but there is one version which is not narrated and many say it’s the better of the two. You’ll be tempted to stop watching it soon after starting it, but give it a chance. I promise you, you will have a mix of emotions after viewing it. Watch it for free here!
Eyes Without a Face- 1960 Foreign film Directed by Georges Franju and it stars, Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, & Edith Scob. This movie has been hailed as the most “elegant of gore movies.” The movie based on a novel written by Jean Redon is both a beautiful, but disturbing story. This French-Italian horror film tells a tale of doctor (Pierre Brasseur) who has a beautiful daughter (Edith Scob) that has had a horrible auto accident. Her face is monstrously disfigured. The doctor keeps her hidden away in his mansion, away from the world in a secluded area. He is just happy to have her alive–but appearances are everything. He must make her beautiful again. Louise (Alida Valli), the doctor’s devoted assistant helps him with his scheme.
The assistant is to lure young, and beautiful women to the mansion so that the doctor can strip their skin then use it to reconstruct his daughter’s face. Sounds pretty spooky huh? Well it is. A must see! BUY DVD HERE!
The Sadist 1963- (also known as Profile of Terror and Sweet Baby Charlie) is a 1963 black-and-white exploitation film written and directed by James Landis, and stars Arch Hall, Jr. and Marilyn Manning. What makes this film so terrifying is that it is loosely based on a real life killer, Charles Starkweather, upon which the films “Badlands” and “Natural Born Killers” were also based. It was shot by famed cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond over a period of 2 weeks for $33,000 with a cast of five, one of which doubled as the production’s production manager.
The film tells a tale of three high school teachers on their way to a ball game. On their way to the game the car breaks down. They are forced to pull off to a gas station/junk yard off the side of the road. What they find there instead is a blood thirsty young couple on the hunt for new victims. A laughing Charlie Tibb (Arch Hall Jr.) and his twisted girlfriend (Marilyn Manning) creep out of the graveyard of abandoned cars and immediately the teachers sense trouble.
This film is 95 minutes of absolute terror! I bumped into this obscure film one day, and I can’t stop talking about it. It’s an edge-of-your-seat kinda film. The plot is simple but very strong and will keep you glued to the tube. Arch Hall, Jr. as the maniac is so believable you forget he is acting. Just think Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates and you’ll get the picture. Marilyn Manning is just as good as the cruel, sociopathic teeny-bopper girlfriend, and I found her the more disturbing of the two.
One of the best things about this film is how it was shot. The camera lingers on the sheer terror of the victims to only switch to a playful and giggling couple sipping on their Cokes. There is fear, heat and agony and the camera shows it. There are glimpses of hope that only get shot down with such force, you almost hope not to see that glimpse of hope again. It is one of the most tense movies I’ve ever seen. A must see! See it here for free!
The Changeling (1980) Canadian horror film directed by Peter Medak and starring George C. Scott and Trish Van Devere (Scott’s real-life wife) and another Hollywood classic era star, Melvyn Douglas. The story is based upon events that writer Russell Hunter said he experienced while he was living in the Henry Treat Rogers Mansion of Denver, Colorado.
This little gem was recommended to me by one of my Twitter followers, Gary Sweeney (@gsweeney120) Owner of The Midnight Palace. I highly recommend any film aficionado follow Gary and pop on by his website filled with movie info, reviews, and interviews, one of which is with none other than Robert Osborne himself! Click here to listen to this very informative interview.
I am going to let Gary tell you all about this little known gem. What I will say is that when he first told me about this one, I was a little hesitant, because you tell me 80′s and I immediately think “slasher” film. :P I have this silly notion that all things horror in the 80’s is all slasher stuff, so I rarely go there. I am so glad Gary told about this one. Although it was done in the 80’s, it was very much done the “old school” way only in color I watched it and let me just say, I spent most of the time watching it under the covers. It’s a chilling ghost story with many good scares, and as I said, done the “old school” movie making way, like using loud chords of music, shadows, or unexpected cries and sounds to scare us. I was a little doubtful that George C. Scott, one which I’ve always seen as a “Patton” type could pull this off. Well he did, for once the hero of a ghost story isn’t a girly-girl type wimp, instead we see a strong man who is unafraid, really unafraid, and is willing to fight to the bitter end to find the truth. Don’t know that any other actor but Scott could have pulled that off. I really appreciated seeing both Scott and Melvyn Douglas both from Hollywood’s golden age in this film done in the punk rock era. Funny when you think about that. :D Once I saw their names, I decided to give it a chance and I am so glad I did. Read Gary’s review here.
By-the-way this film is up on youtube and you can see for free here!
There you have it folks, my picks. I sure hope you give any one of these on the list a chance if you have not seen them. Don’t going dying on me before you do! Happy Halloween!