Back when I was a kid in the 1960’s, I was terrified by the old Hammer and Universal Studios monsters. But like witnessing a horrendous accident on the highway, I couldn’t take my eyes off Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Vincent Price, Lon Chaney Jr., and so many others.
There is something about the atmosphere of the old black and whites. Turn out the lights, sit somewhere comfortable, and have an old favorite blanket and a bowl of popcorn and you are in a different world…a different time.
Suddenly you are in a dark room with a movie that makes you fill in a lot of the blanks in your own mind. You imagine the gruesomeness of the torture chamber, the cold boney grasp of skeletal fingers on your shoulder or neck. I have always believed that when we fill in the blanks ourselves, we create a horror felt that no color film with all the gore in the world can rival. It’s a more primal, deeper, fear that sets in. The same fear that one feels at night when you walk away from the safety of the bright burning campfire to walk back to your tent alone several feet away in the dark. Every rustle in the bushes, every small animal noise, every streak of lightening across the sky can be hiding the very thing that will make us scream and run for dear life.
The old classics have a richness and charm all their own. Look at the settings of the rooms, the costumes, the backgrounds and landscapes (ok, some of them are obviously painted, but you get the idea). There was a gallantry to the heroes, even with the villains, as so beautifully portrayed by Vincent Price time after time. The women were beautiful albeit pretty naïve. The drawing rooms were luxurious, the peasantry revolting. Not all the films on my list are black and white, but most them are.
So here is my list of the best (and let’s face it, sometimes schlocky) classic horror movies. I’ve deliberately left off the real classics (i.e. “Dracula” with Bela Lugosi, “Frankenstein” and “The Mummy” with Boris Karloff, “The Wolfman” with Lon Chaney, Jr.) because they are in a true league of their own.
Without further ado:
- The Mephisto Waltz – 1971 – Alan Alda, Jacqueline Bisset
- House of Wax – 1953 – Vincent Price, Carolyn Jones
- Horror of Dracula – 1958 – Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling
- Nosferatu – 1922 – Max Schreck
- Dracula Has Risen From His Grave – 1968 – Christopher Lee, Rupert Davis, Veronica Carlson
- The Birds – 1963 – Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedron, Suzanne Pleshette
- Psycho – 1960 – Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh
- Brides of Dracula – 1960 – Peter Cushing, Yvonne Monlaur, Martita Hunt, David Peel
- The Flesh and the Fiends – 1960 – Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence
- The Haunting – 1963 – Julie Harris, Claire Bloom
- The Masque of the Red Death – 1964 – Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher
- 13 Ghosts – 1960 – Charles Herbert, Martin Milner
- The Wicker Man – 1973 – Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento
- Blood on Satan’s Claw (aka Satan’s Skin) – 1971 – Peter Wymark, Linda Hayden
- The Phantom of the Opera – 1925 – Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin
- Dracula A.D. 1972 – 1972 – Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Stephanie Beacham, Christopher Neame
- The Satanic Rites of Dracula – 1973 – Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Joanna Lumley, Freddie Jones
- The Mummy’s Hand – 1940 – Dick Foran, Wallace Ford, George Zucco
- Fall of the House of Usher – 1960 – Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey
- Phantasm – 1979 – Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Angus Scrimm
- Diary of a Madman – 1963 – Vincent Price, Nancy Kovak
- The Woman in Black – 1989 – Adrian Rawlins, Bernard Hepton, David Daker, Pauline Moran
- The Hellfire Club – 1961 – Peter Cushing, Keith Michell, Adrienne Corri
- The Blood Beast Terror – 1968 – Peter Cushing, Robert Flemyng, Wanda Ventham
And now, for my all-time favorite:
#1. House on Haunted Hill – 1960 –
Directed and Produced by William Castle, Music by Von Dexter.
Cast: Vincent Price as Frederick Loren, Carol Ohmert as Annabelle Loren, Alan Marshall as Dr. David Trent, Richard Long as Lance Schroeder, Elisha Cook Jr. as Watson Pritchard, Julie Mitchum as Ruth Bridges, Leona Anderson as Mrs. Slides, Howard Hoffman as Jonas, Carol Craig as Norma Manning
Imagine you have just received an invitation to a Halloween Party…a Haunted House Halloween Party. You do not know the host, but you know that he is a Billionaire. You read the invitation again…$10,000.00 will be all yours if you stay the entire night at the mansion, not leaving it until the morning of the following day. Hmmmmmm, not bad. Sounds intriguing and besides, you need the money. So, you RSVP and say Yes.
The day of the party arrives and you are picked up in a coal black hearse. Nice touch. The house is a bizarre looking combination of a modern version of Art Deco mausoleum. Bars are on all the windows. Freaking bars!!! Upon entry to the spacious main hall you meet a few other party guests, all not knowing the host, all wondering why they have been chosen to attend the party and what the catch is.
Sound like fun?
Vincent Price begins the film by talking about the little party that is going to be held at their haunted estate. It sounds innocent enough as his voice purrs on about the festivities, but you know deep inside, he isn’t to be trusted, despite his debonair demeanor and cultured, soothing tone.
The music begins for the title and it is a treat all in itself. It couldn’t be better suited for this movie.
The movie has tons of atmosphere and plenty of creepy surprises, with none of the blatant gore and sexual tension of the remake (which in my opinion was over the top, despite my affection for Geoffrey Rush as an actor).
Throw in a creepy, witch-y looking old woman (who looks like she’s gliding on roller skates), a ceiling that is dripping blood (“It’s too late. They’ve marked you!”) and the must have late night thunderstorm and you’ve got a real Halloween Treat.
Will YOU make it until morning?