We’re midway into October, and if you haven’t spent the month watching as many horror movies as possible, I’m not sure what you’ve been doing. Working? Stop it. With Halloween on the horizon, it’s the ideal month to enjoy creepy horror classics.
Today’s horror genre has something going for it: they’re horrifyingly bad. I mean so bad that they actually become funny. An intruder appearing in the mirror as a character looks away while brushing their teeth just doesn’t have the same effect as it once did. Deformed children wearing ragged clothes creeping out of the ground just doesn’t cut it, too. Let face it – today’s horror genre isn’t what it once was.
Say what you will about watching movies that predate your birth, but the bottom line is that these black-and-white movies, including the horror genre, had what it took to keep your attention for the duration of the flick. And you know what? There’s something freaky about watching a black-and-white horror flick in the month of October.
That being said, I understand why some folks limit their horror search to post-2000 movies. The thing is the true seldom-seen gems are scattered from the 40s through the 90s. Don’t go searching just yet, though, for I’ve compiled a list of the 13 scariest movies you’ve probably never heard of but need to watch. No particular order here.
13. Carnival of Souls (1952)
A young organist gets in a traumatic car accident and finds herself attracted to an abandoned carnival.
Had to kick it off with one of my all-time favorites. The film is eerie in its entirety, while also including some of the most haunting images ever on screen. A great deal of horror doesn’t age well. Carnival of Souls not only remains scary cinema, it’s actually spookier because of its age. As hackneyed as the saying is, they simply don’t make them like this anymore. No jump scares or gore. Just an intense, unsettling buildup to sheer climactic terror.
12. Black Christmas (1974)
A sorority house is terrorized by a stranger who makes lewd phone calls.
I can tell you in confidence this is one of the best horror flicks ever. Unfortunately, few seem to be aware of it. Make it the first one you check out. I’d mark this the best slasher of all-time, next to Halloween of course. Black Christmas has it all: A top-tier maniac killer, a sorority house of potential victims, hysterical lines, and some gruesome kills. I promise you’ll love it for the killer’s crank calls alone. You gotta love a creep groaning vulgar noises over the phone.
11. In The Mouth of Madness (1994)
An insurance investigator discovers the power of a horror writer’s books is more than inspirational.
Criminally overlooked work of horror perfection. This is one of the first films that comes to mind when I think “pure horror.” It’s everything you could ask for in a scary movie and more (creepy children, masks, and strange old people included.) A fun, freaky, and very unpredictable ride. Be prepared because the old dude on the bike will kill your sex drive for a week.
10. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)
A woman recently released from an institution moves into a supposedly haunted farmhouse where she fears she may be losing her sanity again.
Another one that’s simply chilling from start to finish and outright frightening at times. The lake scene is what nightmares are made of. Sure, it progresses a bit slowly, but the last 30 minutes are well worth it. The slow progression is done rightfully, reminiscent of the Rosemary’s Baby buildup, as it serves to cause unease before the true shock arrives. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death has both a fantastic title and a phenomenal finish. Safe to say it lives up to the daunting designation. I can’t recommend this delight enough.
9. The Sentinel (1977)
A model moves into a Brooklyn Heights apartment where eerie occurrences lead to a twisted turn of events.
I never see or hear this movie mentioned. It’s not extraordinary but it packs some hair-raising punches. I would actually go so far as to say it’s a classic in its own right. In the realm of The Exorcist, Carrie, and Rosemary’s Baby but not quite on their level. The Sentinel‘s more a movie of standout moments than an overall standout. Regardless, I highly recommend incorporating it into your Halloween viewing. You get to see a lady in leotard play with herself, so if that’s your bag go look it up this instant.
8. Night of the Hunter (1955)
A religious nutcase marries a widowed woman whose children are reluctant to tell him where their real father hid the $10,000 he stole.
Incredible, and not just for horror. There isn’t much to mention aside from it being an edge-of-your-seat, needling thriller that will speak for itself. Night of the Hunter may very likely end up being one of your favorite movies. Robert Mitchum plays a manipulative human monster with the best of them.
7. The Woman in Black (1989)
An old widow dies in the seaside town of Crythin and a solicitor is sent by his firm to settle the estate. He ignores townspeople’s reluctance to go near the lifeless home and goes there himself, where he discovers its terrible history.
Please ignore the half-assed remake with Harry Potter. This film is the real deal. The original is a perfect horror film and I don’t want it ruined. I can’t say if you’ll prefer the remake, but start with the one from ’89. As an adult, not many movies bother me, but I literally had to turn on some game shows to lighten the atmosphere after I viewed this for the first time.
6. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
A former child star torments her crippled sister in a deteriorating Hollywood mansion.
You can’t go wrong with an older film in which the core of fright is a crazy, real human being. Jane is just that. There are no overt scares, but it’s chilling every step of the way. Another prime example of a film that’s grown eerier with age. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is a one of a kind thriller, and a breath of fresh air from gory, overproduced modern nonsense.
5. Dead of Night (1945)
According to IMDB, an architect “senses doom as his half-remembered recurring dream turns into reality.” The guests at the country house encourage him to stay as they take turns telling supernatural tales.
Horror anthologies are hit or miss; mostly miss. Countless ones have been plopped out over the years, though there really are some pearls if you do a little searching. Creepshow is a fantastic one. Dead of Night is the mother of them all. Each tale causes a feeling of unease, vividly mirroring a dark side of the souls within all of us. A collection of terror as fine as this is best viewed on a very late evening. You can’t have a discussion about the best horror movies ever without mentioning Dead of Night.
4. Sisters (1973)
A journalist witnesses a brutal murder in a neighboring apartment, but police don’t believe the crime took place. She seeks out the truth with the help of a private detective.
Scary right out of the gate, and sinister throughout. The thrilling conundrum keeps you severely on edge, especially in the first hour. As Sisters moves forward, it gets odd, even for my taste, but it kind of makes you love it more. If you’re into the bizarre, there’s a good chance you’ll like this one.
3. Magic (1978)
Anthony Hopkins plays a ventriloquist who is at the mercy of his very own dummy. Doesn’t sound like a complex plot, yet it does a good job in freaking viewers out.
What more could you ask for? Magic, brilliantly written, includes an impressive performance by one of Hollywood’s greatest actors. Not to mention the dummy’s performance, who did a good job of freaking me out. Though Magic‘s plot is nerve wracking, it’s thriller that will you will remember for a long time.
2. Tourist Trap (1979)
A car breakdown leaves teens stranded near a madman’s mannequin-filled wax museum.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, 70s horror is my favorite. Tourist Trap is a terrifying and original product of the decade – in my opinion one of the most underrated scary movies of all time. From a strictly horror standpoint this bad boy’s about as good as it gets. Why you ask? A madman, masks, mannequins, and taxidermy. All the makings of a fun, fearsome watch. Definitely make this one of your first picks off the list as well.
1. The Brood (1979)
A man investigates the techniques a psychologist is using on his institutionalized wife while under the attack of mutated children.
This squad of grotesque little tyrants might be cinema’s most terrifying children. Picture unattended T.J. Maxx kids, only angrier and deformed. The Brood is my favorite Cronenberg film, namely because it scares without being overly gross. It’s still fairly sci-fi, and undeniably disturbing, but it’s more good horror than anything. There really isn’t a dull moment, and the end…well, just wait for it.