It’s October and everyone wants to see a horror movie.
Here, at Monsters and Matinees – where we watch horror movies all year round – we understand and are ready to help by suggesting movies that are a good introduction to classic horror.
Nosferatu (1922) is an easy place to start, especially since it returns to theaters and screening rooms every October, usually with musical accompaniment, making it an event to see in person.
And a century of horror follows. So choose your favorite to share with someone. Or try one of the following suggestions. They are listed by subject, and many have familiar titles or names that make it easier to pique someone’s interest.
The universal monsters
Do you see all the children? Creature from the Black Lagoon t shirts & Bride of Frankenstein bags? Capitalize on that interest and introduce them to one of the original Universal Monster movies: Dracula (1931 – and don’t forget the Spanish-language version that was created at the same time), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The wolf man (1941), Phantom of the opera (1943) and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).
Or start with the entertaining comedy tribute The young Frankenstein (1974) and explain how the basic story and sets from the 1931 film were used. Also consider Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein (1948), which provides a universal monster fix and laughs.
The spook (1963 – Not the lame 1999 remake) is the scariest movie on this list, especially if you believe in ghosts and spirits like me. Robert Wise (yes, he from Westside Story and sound of music) directed the tight adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel about a paranormal researcher who brings two female mediums to a 90-year-old haunted house called Hill House with disastrous outcomes. You won’t see a ghost in the traditional sense, but you will feeling the presence of malevolent spirits through spooky sounds and images of a living house. The static recording of a door will never be as frightening as it is here. The film is the stuff of nightmares and I mean that literally because one scene – pictured above – has affected my sleep habits since I first saw it. (Anyone who has seen the film knows this the Scene. )
At the other end of the spectrum are ghost stories The uninvited (1944), a film also set in a haunted house, but with a much more poetic and graceful approach. Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey are the siblings who buy an old seaside home that is already “occupied”. They meet a young lady who has a strong connection to the house and its inhabitants. It’s a beautiful film in many ways, but it’s also scary and good mystery stuff. The wonderfully atmospheric camera work is by Charles Lang. The uninvited is a curling up on the couch with a hot chocolate type movie.
This is my favorite horror genre. While we can downplay some horror movies because they “couldn’t actually happen,” the same cannot be said for big mistakes because they might be real — right? If you know someone who has a dislike or phobia of a certain creature, there’s a big bug movie for that. Many are evident from their title: The black scorpion (1957), The Deadly Praying Mantis (1957), Attack of the giant leeches (1959) and the greatest of them all tarantula (1955) directed by the equally great Jack Arnold.
I lay down my attachment Tarantula, Start with the movie that created this genre, the extraordinary She! (1954). James Arness, James Whitford and Edmund Gwenn are leading the charge against giant ants making their way from New Mexico to Los Angeles. The scene that gave the film its title is still relevant today.
If you thought that horror made women the victim, let me introduce you to Gloria Holden Dracula’s daughter (1936, Universal), Allison Hayes as Statuesque Terror in Attack of the 50-Ft. Woman (1958), Susan Cabot as the well-meaning researcher gone wrong in Roger Cormans The Wasp Woman (1959), Barbara Steele as Victim and Witch at Mario Bava Black Sunday (1960) and Hammer Films’ The Gorgon (1964) and her power to turn you to stone with a look.
Bride of Frankenstein should be a matter of course among the great ladies of horror.
If you can’t get anyone to watch an entire classic horror movie, try an anthology. These bite-sized horror plays typically had three separate stories and cast that featured several popular horror actors. You can treat an anthology film like a regular feature film and start at the beginning or select a segment if time or attention is limited.
Perhaps the most famous segment in a horror anthology is The ventriloquist doll by the very admired dead of the night (1945), in which an increasingly distraught Michael Redgrave fears his creepy doll has come to life. (Also in dead of the night is The spooky mirror which I find so effective that I’ve been known to avoid mirrors after seeing it.)
Other anthologies are those of Mario Bava Black Sabbath, narrated by the disembodied head of Boris Karloff. I recommend the creepy Waterdrop Segment showing us what it looks like to be scared to death.
Tales of Terror (1962) features Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Debra Paget, Richard Matheson and Roger Corman working together on stories by Edgar Allan Poe. Do you need to know anything else?
A good place to start for a classic movie novice is a familiar face like Vincent Price’s, especially in the easy-to-digest ones House on Haunted Hill. It’s one of the simpler classic horror movies, especially in October. It’s also quite entertaining with director William Castle’s mix of horror, cleverness, laughs (some unintentional) and sheer showmanship. An underappreciated facet of the film is the delicious and vicious on-screen verbal slugfest between Price and his wife, played by Carol Ohmart.
There are so many other Price horror movies: the tingeran underrated gem, also from Castle, about a creature inside us that grows when we get scared, the vampire tale The last man on earth (1964) and the campy revenge thriller The hideous Dr. phobes (1971).
Or opt for a Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing pairing in one of the three Dracula Movies they made together for Hammer Films starting with Dracula (1958, known as Terror of Dracula in the USA).
If this acting duo is appealing, Cushing and Lee have other creatures for Hammer in films such as The Curse of Frankenstein (1955), The Mummy (1959) and the Sherlock Holmes story Hound of the Baskervilles (1959). For something else I offer Horror Express (1972), where they are trapped on a train with a changing prehistoric creature. It has my favorite line from classic horror: “The brain has been drained; removes the memory like chalk from a blackboard.”
The black man
After all, we can’t introduce people to classic horror without John Carpenter’s influential 1978 Halloween. This film created a genre and changed the face of horror in the 40+ years since its creation. The boogeyman has never been portrayed in such a realistic and terrifying way. Just the name Michael Myers sends chills down my arms.
I hope you find something to share in this list of horror movies. If you have a favorite that isn’t mentioned, send it along. I’m always looking for a new classic horror movie to watch.
– Toni Ruberto for Classic Movie Hub
You can read all of Toni’s Monsters and Matinees articles here.
Toni Ruberto, born and raised in Buffalo, NY, is an editor and writer at The Buffalo News. She shares her love of classic movies on her blog, Watching Forever, and is a member of the Classic Movie Blog Association. Toni was the President of the former Buffalo chapter of TCM Backlot and now runs the Buffalo Classic Movie Buffs spin-off group. She’s proud to have spotlighted Buffalo and its glorious old movie palaces as the inaugural winner of the TCM in Your Hometown competition. You can find Toni on Twitter at @toniruberto.