Today’s horror movies will make you jump. They’ll startle and even disgust you. But this Halloween, if you’re tired of watching movies that are more “horrific” than genuinely frightening, you might take a look at some of Hollywood’s classic scare-fests. Though old movies might lack the jarring edits and industrial sound effects of more modern fare, their hair-raising stories and inventive (often low-budget) techniques literally wrote the book on how to shock an audience. It’s also no surprise that classic horror movies packed theaters for decades as perfect date movies.
Below are five films for a frightening Halloween. This list is not for people content with watching Saw VI or whatever other faux-horror sequel Hollywood is trying to pawn off this year. However, if you want to watch spine-tingling, atmospheric tales of terror that will leave you looking over your shoulder and turning on all the lights in your apartment, check out some of these films. All of them can be found on Netflix, but if you don’t have a subscription, check the Orem Library, which has one of the best movie collections in Utah County.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920): The oldest and only silent film on this list, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari tells the story of the eponymous doctor and his sleepwalking servant Cesare. The film unfolds a tale of murder, insanity and prophecy, with a particularly strange surprise ending. This film also exerts a strong influence on later horror movies, and is notable for its expressionistic and disconcerting sets.
The Invisible Man (1933): Adapted from H. G. Wells’ novella of the same name, this film follows Dr. Jack Griffin’s (Claude Rains) descent into insanity and violence. After experimenting with the fictional drug monocane, Griffin has become invisible, and unfortunately his invisibility wreaks havoc on his psyche as well. Of course, this story would go on to be remade again and again, but surprisingly none of the sequels ever managed to be as compelling as the original. The film also includes some impressive, un-cheesy special effects.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956): Another movie that has been remade a number of times, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is about aliens that come to earth and, well, snatch bodies. Though technically more sci-fi than horror, this film nonetheless feels like a noir-ish zombie movie and Cold War critique. Originally, the filmmakers wanted to end the film after one of the most desperate and unnerving scenes, but the studio execs felt such an ending would simply be too terrifying. Still, this film will leave you wondering if the people around you are your friends or zombie pod-aliens bent on world domination.
The House on Haunted Hill (1959): No horror movie countdown would be complete without Vincent Price, and The House on Haunted Hill displays in grand style everything that Price was most famous for. The film tells the story of Fredrick Loren (Price), who invites five people to stay in his supposedly haunted house for one night. If they last the night, they win $10,000. If they don’t, they die. Not surprisingly, a whole series of ghastly things happen, but the ending may not be what you expect.
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961): The second Vincent Price film on this list and the only one shot in color, The Pit and the Pendulum is a classic low budget B movie. The film is based on an Edgar Allen Poe story of the same name and tells the story of Francis Barnard’s (John Kerr) visit to his brother-in-law’s castle in 16th century Spain. Barnard is there to investigate his sister’s mysterious death and, as the story progresses, intrigue and subterfuge ensue, eventually leading to one character’s complete insanity and a number of deaths. As is the case with all the films on this list, this one went on to influence generations of filmmakers.
Jim Dalrymple is a popular culture correspondent for Rhombus. He will probably not be watching Saw VI this weekend.
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