These days, it’s a rare thing to encounter a quality scary movie that succeeds in delivering the goods. If you’re as hardened a horror fan as I am, the state of modern horror can be discouraging. Fortunately, we have seen a sort of mini-renaissance on the American market with recent high-quality productions through A24 and Blumhouse. Innovative, original horror like “Hereditary” (2018) and “Get Out” (2017) give us reason to hope. However, these gems are few and far between. Resourceful movie-lovers can always revive their spirits with the classics. Streaming old horror movies has never been easier with services like Shudder. There’s some seriously great stuff out there guaranteed to give you the chills. Here are some of the best creepy old movies that will probably be familiar to many cinephiles but may be new material for unsuspecting newcomers. Watch at your own risk!
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Robert Mitchum plays a sleazy ex-convict who swindles lonely women before murdering them. He finds his next victim in a woman played by Shelley Winters. Her children’s frantic flight from the hymn-singing madman is one of the most suspenseful and astonishingly beautifully sequences in movie history. The movie plays like a hypnotic fable with sinister, unclean overtones. It’s a terrifying classic. This was the only movie directed by renowned English actor, Charles Laughton.
The Innocents (1961)
Deborah Kerr stars as the new governess to two creepy children who live in a haunted mansion. Her intensely focused performance here is key to the film’s effectiveness as an unnerving, elegant, and hauntingly suggestive horror piece. Adapted from Henry James’ classic novella, “The Turn of the Screw,” this movie sets the gold standard for paranormal movies, fixing on the beauty of its imagery to heighten the terror experience. This is sophisticated horror. Jack Clayton (who also helmed the classic film, “The Great Gatsby,” with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow) directs.
Director Tod Browning (who also directed the classic Universal film, “Dracula”) provides sensationalistic shocks and thrills in this nightmarish drama set in the world of circus freaks. The movie is at its strongest when it exploits the imagery of physical deformity for the effect of horror. To achieve this, Browning cast real-life circus performers to fill the roles of the freaks. When it was test screened in 1932, a woman in the audience suffered a miscarriage and later claimed it was due to the shocking nature of the movie. It was banned in England for thirty years after its release. It was also banned in several jurisdictions in the United States, and because some of these laws were never repealed, it’s still technically illegal to exhibit this movie in certain areas.
The Devil-Doll (1936)
It’s no coincidence that another of Tod Browning’s films appears on this list. The man is an icon of horror movie history, and I imagine he had quite the twisted imagination to provide such nightmare fodder as this. Lionel Barrymore (the great-uncle of Drew Barrymore) plays an escaped convict who disguises himself in old lady drag to sell life-like little dolls to the people who framed him. The dolls, however, are actually miniaturized people who steal and kill. The ideas on display here are quite creepy – criminality, revenge, scheming transvestism, black magic, and murder. Some images are difficult to shake off.
Eyes Without a Face (1960)
A bone-chilling French classic that disconcerts audiences with its combination of mesmerizing, surrealistic beauty and macabre surgical horror. The movie plays like a poetic nightmare, a kind of grisly fairytale. After causing an accident that leaves his daughter horribly disfigured, a brilliant surgeon goes to extreme lengths to right his wrongs. He kidnaps young women and attempts to graft their faces onto his daughter’s ruined visage. This movie has influenced countless modern horror films – from Pedro Almodóvar’s “The Skin I Live In” (2011) to “Goodnight, Mommy” (2014).
Certainly, there are plenty of other movies that could have made this list – movies like “Les Diaboliques” (1955), about a sadistic schoolmaster whose wife finally tires of his abuses and plots to murder him, and that’s just the set-up to this terrifically sinister thriller that I encourage you to watch at home in the dark. Alone. There’s also Carl Theodore Dreyer’s landmark film, “Vampyr” (1932), that is arguably the greatest vampire movie ever made. Horror hounds should also check out the Japanese film, “Onibaba” (1964), directed by Kaneto Shindô, for its unflinching descent into prurient horror. Another good one to check out by the same director is the haunting “Kuroneko” (1968). You can’t go wrong with Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” (1965), which certainly lives up to its title, about a young woman who slowly loses her mind in her claustrophobic London flat. Horror connoisseurs get a cinematic treatment of Shirley Jackson’s classic novel, “The Haunting of Hill House” (1963), that is worthy of its source material in Robert Wise’s “The Haunting.” Hopefully, this nowhere near exhaustive list inspires you to seek out more classic chillers to tide you over until the next horror masterpiece is released.
Some of these classic films and plenty of others are available to stream on services like Shudder, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. Let us help you get the most of your HD streaming experience and help you find the best Internet deals for fast, low-cost service.