Monday, October 22, 2012


One of the all-time great horror movies (regardless of color), James Whale's tale of laboratory experiments gone wrong is one of the greatest tales of terror in horror history. From Mary Shelley's novel comes the definitive adaptation that follows the book closely and manages to bring its own flavor of spine-tingling chills.  It's rare to have a monster be so loved by an audience, but Dr. Frankenstein's creation has the audience feeling so sympathetic towards him that it's hard to call him a villain.  He's a misunderstood figure, unable to help himself from wreaking havoc in the village and towards his creator. I'm not sure you can be a real fan of horror if you haven't seen this film. So if you haven't, rectify that immediately.

2) NOSFERATU (1922)
Unable to secure the rights to Bram Stoker's Dracula, director F. W. Murnau went ahead with this film regardless, changing the names of the main characters in the novel. Many of the novel's elements remain basically the same, with Count "Orlock' laying waste to the town and creeping around in the shadows. Speaking of shadows, Count Orlock has the BEST shadow in horror, hands down. 

 Sci-Fi always looks great in black and white.  This film is one of the best examples of monochrome, pitting man against aliens when a flying saucer lands in Washington D.C. and an alien disembarks, claiming to come in peace and good will. But when things go awry and the "alien" is wounded by one of America's soldiers, his robot comes to the rescue with his laser-ray weapon.  It's hard to pick just one sci-fi flick to grace this list, but this one is an important part of film history and to me, one of the better sci-fi films of that era.

4) PSYCHO (1960)
By 1960, Hitchcock could have certainly used color - as he had in Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958), but budget constraints made him choose to shoot in black in white - which turned out to be an inspired decision.  A critical and box-office success, Psycho introduced us to Norman Bates, a repressed mama's boy with a penchant for dressing up like Mother and visiting the shower. Everything about Psycho is excellent, from Hitch's idea to off the main star in the first twenty minutes to Norman's nervous discussion with Arbogast to the psychiatrist's definitive speech at the end. It's just great filmmaking. What else would you expect from Hitchcock?

One of the great "horror comedies", James Whale brought us the Femm family - a motley crew of weirdos who welcome a group of travelers into their eccentric homestead during a nasty thunderstorm. Naturally, chaos ensues. Boris Karloff stars.

Phantom has been done and re-done to death, but I quite prefer this silent version starring Lon Chaney. The Paris Opera House is the background to a story of music, murder, and of course - unrequited love. The "de-masking" scene is legendary.

7) DEAD OF NIGHT (1945)
One of the first (and best) horror anthologies, Dead of Night links several stories together by having a group of guests at a party exchange chilling stories. It works a lot like The Twilight Zone, with a twist ending tying everything together.  The best vignette by far is the tale of a ventriloquist dummy who may or may not be alive...

Another thriller by Hitchcock, Strangers on a Train is first and foremost a morality play - what would you do in this situation, it suggests.  Two men meet on a train (natch) and joke about pulling a "criss-cross". They both have people in their lives they would like to get rid of - wouldn't it be perfect if they could exchange murders? One man kill the other's problem and vice-versa.  The problem occurs when one of the men is all too serious.

This film is one of my favorites, and cannot be beat for pure atmospheric chills. Mary survives a deadly car crash in which her three friends were killed. But for some reason, Mary's life takes a turn towards the bizarre.  She is pursued by a ghoulish man as she tries to make a new life as a church organist. The haunting musical score is unbeatable and sets a mood of both melancholy and dread.  Not to be missed.

What can I say about Romero's classic that hasn't already been said by me and millions of others?  NOTLD is the film from which all other zombie films are judged. And none of those films have come close to generating the raw fear and revulsion of this gem. Barbra and Ben fight for their lives among the reanimated dead. Simple plot, wildly effective.

11) THE INNOCENTS (1961)
Based on the Henry James story, The Turn of the Screw, this tale of a governess who takes a job in a country estate can't be beat for ghostly goodness.  When she notices the children seem to be obsessed with the memory of the former governess (who committed suicide after her lover died), she begins to wonder if the spirits of the dead couple have possessed the children.  The Innocents is a truly scary film, with creepy imagery and a haunting story you won't soon forget. Highly recommended.

12) THE HAUNTING (1963)
Forget the '99 remake!  This is the original spookfest. Based on Shirley Jackson's consummate story of a haunted house, this film tops any connoisseur's list of ghostly tales. Paranormal Activity has nothing on The Haunting, as the film tells the tale of a group of people charged with trying to discover whether or not the Hill House is indeed, haunted.  Loud bumps in the night and supernatural events drive one of the guests crazy and lead the others to try and discover the truth about Hill House before it is too late for all of them.
13) BLACK SUNDAY (1960)
Italians, as you know, can make excellent horror movies. Black Sunday is no exception - telling the tale of a witch and her lover who are gruesomely executed and then come back from the dead to claim the lives of those who wrongfully murdered them. A true gothic horror experience starring the gorgeous and vivacious Barbara Steele, Black Sunday is a sexy yet macabre film that once you've seen, you'll realize what all the fuss is about.
Mario Bava rules.

14) FREAKS (1932) 
Tod Browning's venture into the lives of carnival sideshow performers was ahead of its time and one of the most shocking early horror films around. The cast of "freaks" were actual carnival performers, and the film really was a graphic yet genuine look at their lives. Instead of the freaks being the villains, the "normal" people that abused and mistreated them were the antagonists. The story tells of a trapeze artist who lures a sideshow midget into her clutches when she learns he has a large inheritance. The other freaks discover the ruse and take it upon themselves to right the wrong.

15) DRACULA (1931)
Béla Lugosi made a star out of himself in the role of Count Dracula. He was just too good at it though, stereotyping himself for the rest of his career.  This version of the story is essential in horror history as Lugosi swaggers his way through lines like "Listen to them, children of the night..what music they make..." and "I never" Universal hit the nail on the head with this one, causing a sensation that continues to this day and made this Dracula the classic adaptation to which all other vampire films (good or bad) are compared to.

16) SPIDER BABY (1964)
Bizarre yet crazy-good, Spider Baby is probably a film that not everyone reading this blog has seen.  But if you like eccentric, inbred families that are both corrupt and immoral, then this movie is just for you!  With both Lon Chaney Jr, and Sid Haig in the cast, you know it's going to be weird. Sexual deviancy, murder, and mayhem are the name of the game here, and when people start visiting the wacko's mansion, all hell breaks loose. The family is both perverted and vicious, which as you know, is not a good combination.

Universal monsters are so much fun! I have a special place in my heart for the Gill Man - he was one of my first real monster films that I saw. An expedition to the Amazon has a group of geologists discovering a gilled creature stalking the Black Lagoon. When members of the team are mysteriously murdered, the search for the creature begins. However, the creature has his eyes set on a female geologist, and will do whatever he has to to have her.  Great stuff!

Whale struck film gold again with this sequel to 1931's Frankenstein. Here, the monster gains a partner - if only she was as thrilled to see him as he was her.  One of the best sequels in horror, hands down, Bride continues the tale of the monster by starting right where Frankenstein left off. The monster, not killed after all, is disheartened to find out that even though a mate was created for him, she doesn't like him anymore than any of the villagers. A film abounding with depth of feeling, I seriously believe it is better than its predecessor.

Vincent Price stars as an eccentric millionaire who throws a party for his wife, inviting five guests - but neglects to let them in on the history of the house. It's haunted, and hungry for more souls.  Spirits abound in this classic William Castle flick - as do twists and turns. This movie  was colorized in 2005, but I don't recommend it - this should be seen in its original black and white. It's got some hilarious special effects that date it pretty badly, but it more than makes up for shoddy effects with the entertaining turn by Price.

The psychological thriller was alive and well in 1955 with this tale of deceit and murder. A cruel man who cheats on his wife has another thing coming when the wife and the mistress come up with a plan to off the nasty bastard. They tranquilize him, drown him in a bathtub, and dump him in a pool to make it look like an accident.  What they weren't counting on is the body disappearing. All is not what it seems in this excellent French film.

Another French offering, Eyes Without a Face is a disturbingly good film about a man whose daughter has been horribly disfigured in an accident and the lengths he will go to to give his daughter a new face. It raises so many questions of morality and ethics - and is  It is said that this film influenced John Carpenter to go with a blank, emotionless mask for his own wildly famous film - Halloween.

22) THE UNINVITED (1944)
A man and his sister discover an abandoned seaside mansion while on vacation in England and impulsively decide to buy it when they find out the price is right. What they fail to realize is that the house was so cheap because it is haunted. Eventually though, they uncover the truth and try to make nice. This film was scheduled for release on DVD in September but as of this writing is still unavailable, which is a shame - it is a wonderful example of atmospheric locations combined with a spooky story. A true classic.


Budd said...

I have not seen many of these. Nosforatu though, there is no longer an excuse. It is available on Pub d Hub on the roku. will have to watch it.

I reviewed cabin in the woods today, stop by and let me know what you thought.

Christine Hadden said...

I'd highly recommend you check out Nosferatu (and as many of the others you can as well). Nosferatu though, is silent - I think I may have mentioned that, not sure... And of all the rest, I'd really have to advise a viewing of Carnival of Souls. Sooo eerie.

I will check out your review when I have a spare moment..I'm so darn busy with these lists I'm missing all the good stuff on all the other blogs! Not sure I can do this again next year!

Thanks for reading and for leaving comments regularly :)

Doug Brunell said...

Great list! I don't think I have a complaint about a single one of them. Some of these I'll even be covering on my 100 Favorite Films feature on my movie blog (which just got its Ad Sense account yanked - ha). Good job!

Michele (TheGirlWhoLovesHorror) said...

Some of my favorite movies up there - Spider Baby, House on Haunted Hill, Strangers on a Train. And the rest are movies that I really need to see! Adding them to my list now.

Doing all the reviews for the classic monster movies lately, I'm completely loving the black and white. Color is for wimps!