Is the movie Psycho horror or suspense? Is Frankenstein science fiction or horror? What about King Kong? The Birds? Jaws? Movies have the power to make us laugh and cry; they can keep us on the edge of our seats and frighten us. With Halloween coming up, the Rogers Public Library asks the question, what movies frighten you?
An amazing number of the Rogers Public Library staff said they didn’t like horror movies. Zombies, buckets of blood, and maniacs terrorizing teenagers didn’t appeal to them. Generally, the movies that our horror adverse employees said gave them a good scare were mainstream films such as The Exorcist, The Shining, and The Birds.
The two movies that frightened me when I was growing up were the Vincent Price version of The Fly from 1958 and a cheap science fiction film called Target Earth from 1954. As a child, I had a thing about spiders, so the ending of The Fly gave me nightmares and the idea of invaders from outer space with television sets for heads that shoot killer rays was particularly frightening. To some degree the history of horror films is similar to the history of science fiction. There are some early classic silent films that every film connoisseur must see and a “Golden Age” of horror that began in the 1930s and faded out in the 1940s. By the 1950s, horror films were a rarity and it was the “Golden Age” science fiction that was providing the movie going audiences with a majority of their cheap thrills.
In the 1960s there were two changes that fundamentally changed horror movie history. The first is the improvement of special effects quality. What writers and directors could imagine, special effects wizards could produce. The second major change was the collapse of the moral straight jacket of the Hayes Code which limited the content of a film’s moral, violent, and sexual nature. Psychological thrillers such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968) were pushing mainstream cinema into previously unexplored areas. Britain’s Hammer Productions was rebooting the traditional horror genre into bloodier, gorier, and more erotic cinema. The indie film Night of the Living Dead (1968) changed horror forever with its explicitly gory, flesh eating zombies. The Exorcist was a major film by a mainstream studio that simply could not have been made ten years earlier because of the tight restrictions of the Hayes Code. A second golden age of horror filmmaking was beginning.
Must See Horror Movies of the Silent and Golden Age
- The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) One of the greatest movies ever made, period.
- Nosferatu (1922) The first great vampire movie. Many of the iconic images from this movie are still copied today.
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) Lon Chaney’s best.
- The Phantom of the Opera (1925) The unmasking is one of the greatest movie scenes!
- Frankenstein (1931) Boris Karloff creates the role of a life time!
- Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde. (1931) Frederic March won an academy award for a horror movie role!
- Dracula (1931) Bela Lugosi defined the role of Dracula in this powerful performance.
- M (1931, Ger.) Fritz Lang murder mystery and one of his greatest films. I don’t know if it’s horror, but it’s chilling.
- The Island of Lost Souls (1932) Based on Jules Verne Island of Doctor Moreau.
- The Old Dark House (1932) Great fun with a stellar cast!
- The Mummy (1932) Boris Karloff plays the mummy in another iconic role!
- White Zombie (1932) So bad it’s good, and it’s the first Zombie movie!
- The Most Dangerous Game (1932) Fay Wray in a great, but mostly forgotten film.
- King Kong (1933). Still the best version and one of the 100 best movies ever made.
- The Invisible Man (1933) One of the “Universal Horror” classics.
- The Black Cat (1934) Campy fun with both Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.
- The Raven (1935) More schlocky camp with Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.
- The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) Often considered better than the original and one of the best movies ever made.
- The Wolf Man (1941) Gypsies and werewolves! Universal at its moody best!
- Cat People (1942) A different take on werewolves and very effective. It’s all atmosphere, mood and dialog.
- I Walked With A Zombie (1943) The best of the pre 60s zombie movies with lots of voodoo and mood.
- The Lodger (1944) Jack the Ripper!
- The Uninvited (1944) The first really good ghost movie/haunted house movie.
- The Body Snatcher (1945) Another great Robert Louis Stevenson novel turned into a horror film. Boris Karloff is the creepiest villain ever!
- Dead of Night (1945) If you loved Twilight Zone, you’ll love this!