Back to Spookyland's Main Alcove...

Classic 'Must See' Horror Films

Glorious Black and White Films With Real Atmosphere - Manditory Experiences

For a collection of more general 'must see' horror films, check out THIS collection of opinions from friends of Spookyland.

  • Dead of Night
  • 1945, British

    A British 'anthology' film, featuring several increasingly spooky stories related by guests in a spooky old mansion, one of which ('Golfing Story') is based on a story by H. G. Wells. Other segments ('Chrismas Party' and 'The Haunted Mirror') feel like traditional ghost stories, and the segment 'The Hearse Driver' is a smooth adaptation of Lord Dufferin's Tale. All along, it is a very good film, but it becomes a great film in the last segment, 'The Ventriloquist's Dummy.'

    Hugo, a nasty ventrilloquist dummy is featured in a creepy story of rivalry and growing madness. The segment rocks into an intensely nightmarish climax that must have left audiences overwhelmed in the 1940s.

    Why This Film is Important:

    Dead of Night represents the best thriller of the 1940s, favoring psychological horrors while Universal Studios was concentrating on make-up driven films. It is a convergence of great writing, directing and performances, and the anthology format keeps it from bogging down like many of its contemporary films. The success of this anthology-style film likely influenced British horror studios Hammer and Amicus, who each made anthology horror films very popular in in the 1960s and 1970s.

  • La Belle et La Bete (Beauty and The Beast)
  • 1945, French

    Jean Cocteau's excursion from poetry into film is a visual classic. Although the story is familar and predictable, innovative visuals and expert cinematography bring a dreamlike quality to most of this film. Although this is more fantasy than horror, this film singlehandedly makes up for the whole French Jerry Lewis thing.

    Why This Film is Important:

    Visuals beyond compare, this is more art than film at times. Today, prints of this film seem to have a washed out quality, which enhances the feeling that something rare or forgotten is being seen - although this is probably accidental. The staging is poetic, and which keeps it from feeling like a film for children. Indeed, some aspects of Cocteau's own orientation seem to color some of the supporting characters. Visually, this film is repeatedly inventive and inspired, creating dreamlike effects that were unheard of in other films of the 1940s. The film becomes a canvas for his high art concepts, which are skillfully executed. The influence of his strong visual vocabulary can be seen to this day in the texture-rich films of Terry Gilliam.

  • House on Haunted Hill
  • 1958, American
    One of William Castle's cheesy films, this was originally released with spooky skeletons flying through the theater. Vincent Price brings his stylish menace to an interesting story with great gothic atmosphere. The 'shooshing' old lady is one of the greatest moments in all of horror history.

    Worthy of script-mining, this was remade in 1999 with some skill, including Geoffrey Rush's sweet homage to Vincent Price.

    Why This Film is Important:

    Two words: Vincent. Price.

    While most William Castle films remain noteworty but campy, this film seems to stand above his other works. Constructed as a thriller-mystery, it combines effective plot and innovative setting with solid casting, and an especially resonant performance by Vincent Price. Although slow by today's standards, this film remains more watchable than most of the era.

  • Night of the Hunter
  • 1955, American
    Robert Mitchum at his menacing best in this film noir childhood thriller. Overall, a better movie than the more popular Cape Fear, with an unusual appearance by silent film star Lillian Gish. Banned in Finland (?), this film frequently finds its way to 'best horror' and 'best films ever' lists. Interestingly, this is the only film that Charles Laughton ever directed.

    LOVE and HATE say it all. Take care to avoid the limp 1991 made for TV remake with Richard Chamberlain.

    Why This Film is Important:

    Firstly, this film is not strictly a horror film - it is a noire drama, unfolding in brisk fashion as a discretely insane preacher unravels the lives of everyone he comes in contact with. Mitchum is at his frightening 'are you drunk or crazy or both?' best, ultimately going after a pair of children with a maniacle hunger. Laughton controls the action and the tension skillfully, and uses a few unconventional techniques (like the cutaway viewing of the scene at the basement stairs) that are far from the mainstream. As the plot moves to the children's river escape, there is almost a fairytale feeling, both in setting and characterization - this seems to make Mitchum's insanity even more acute. Good casting and performances round this out as an enduring thriller, often overlooked.