… from the Vaults of the Classics
These days a film that qualifies as “scary” is really just a conglomeration of CGI, ridiculous oozing make-up and simply put – excess of every possible sort. Granted there have been a few here and there that have made many an audience leap out of their skins, but there are many old-school horror/thriller films that did the same thing with mere camera techniques, angles, lighting and ambiance. Not to mention that the stories themselves are worth watching as opposed to modern plots, which consist of blood spurting scene after blood spurting scene. So for your viewing pleasure here is a compilation of The Top Ten Best Classic Horror/Thriller films from before1950…
#10 The Mummy (1932): Not necessarily a sleepless night inducing scary film but it is a tradition in the collection of thriller/horror films. Karloff is at his best here without uttering a sentence. Lighting is everything, especially when the camera looks into the mummy’s soulless eyes, filled with pools of horrible vengeance in which to drown. This version is superior to the remake because you can smell the rotting flesh in its ancient wrap as the creature shuffles along.
#9 Wolfman (1941): An old gypsy woman looks into your hand and recoils in fear. She utters the following chiller:
“Even a man who is pure in heart
and says his prayers by night
may become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright.”
How can you beat this?
#8 The Son of Frankenstein (1939): Horror/Thriller – Sounds silly, I know. I too did not believe this was worth watching merely by its title. Yet this movie has ambiance and atmosphere for days and is completed by its amazing cast, which includes Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff. The original Frankenstein (1931) followed the style of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and while its sequel The Bride of Frankenstein deviated from this style, Son of returns to it with large looming sets that create the great ominous shadows.
#7 Freaks (1932): Thriller – What you see (or in this case read) is what you get. Todd Browning’s film about a sideshow midget, Hans, who falls in love with a beautiful trapeze artist, Cleopatra, is quite disturbing. Even though it has a moralistic ending along the lines of “what goes around comes around,” it is revealed through the freakification of the trapeze artist. This film was quite controversial in its time as director, Browning, used real sideshow performers, but this is the element that makes the film a little more horrifying, it is grounded in real life.
#6 Island of Lost Souls (1932): Horror/Thriller – This is one of the many takes on the H.G. Wells novel “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” Unlike the others this one is actually worth watching, obviously, or it would not be on this list! Don’t watch the movie if you are hoping the film is a physical manifestation of the book, but do watch it for the wonderful element of fear that is provided by suggestion. That may sound lame, but the off screen screams of pain as the vivisection takes place is more effective than the now typical guts and blood.
#5 Black Cat (1934): Thriller – Bela Lugosi. Enough said – no really if this name is unknown to you, just walk away right now, rent, no better yet buy the black and white Dracula with Lugosi and watch flawless acting which is revealed in the subtleties of his performance. As for “Black Cat” … how can you beat Boris Karloff? He is the menacing leader of a satanic cult versus vengeance-minded Lugosi? Also, this all takes place in an old WWI fortress, which has been turned into a futuristic home.
#4 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920): Thriller – This film is an essential of German expressionist cinema, one that is very well known among film enthusiasts and truly a perfect Halloween treat as its opening line appears on the screen “There are spirits everywhere.” Talk about classic, this movie experiments with set, film angles and plot (for the time at least), producing an amazing film that ends with a rather unexpected twist. The elongated and jagged set highlights the eerie atmosphere and plays beautifully (I mean horrifyingly) alongside the dramatic lighting. Both elements, in addition to it being a silent film, play on your nerves and mind, making the viewer feel as if they are no longer in a traditionally quaint German village … or in reality at all.
#3 The Innocents (1961): Thriller – Did you see The Others with Nicole Kidman? Well this is where that movie got its idea, and as much as I enjoyed Kidman’s movie … “The Innocents,” with the always-lovely Debrah Kerr, is undeniably more chilling. Is this all the vision of a woman going mad? Or are the two children she has become governess of possessed by the spirits of two late staff members of the country home? Perfect scenes that incorporate shock and the slow unraveling of a mystery give this movie the necessary toe-curling, gnawing in the pit of your stomach you crave. Maybe it’s the haunting voice of the little girl singing that begins and frequents the film that does this, yes it is overused now, but then it was groundbreaking.
#2 Phantom of the Opera (1925): Lon Chaney is the definitive Opera house Stalker in this story which is now quite familiar, romanticized, and not as scary as it once was. But one look at this face tells you that this creature is not romantic, in fact, it’s . . . ghastly. How’d you like to feel his fetid breath on your neck as he loops a noose for you in a dank, shadowy vault? Pleasant dreams!
P.s. IMDB reveals to you all of the amazing things Chaney did to portray the Phantom, but I highly recommend you wait until AFTER you see the movie
And finally the #1 Horror Film!!!!!
#1 Nosferatu (1922): Horror – Want scary vampires? Here you go. You really cannot get much better than a silent black and white where you truly cannot hear the evil coming. No sucking breath of the monster around the corner, no footsteps … it’s all camera angles and never knowing where anything is. Sickeningly fanged teeth and eyes tell the tale of their satanic existence and are essential to the fear that this film elicits, not to mention the aptly named lead, Max Schreck. I still can’t look at pictures from the film without sufficiently creeping myself out.
Written by Alexandra