Before Jigsaw and Pennywise, there was Dracula and the Wolf Man. The horror genre dates back to a time before talkies, when directors relied on set design, story, and really efficient fog machines to get the goosebumps rising. Herewith, nothing after 1985, and everything you want in a scary movie.
There are no words. Literally. This Italian gem from 1911 is a silent film filled with imagery that will make you scream. Loosely based on the Dante literary staple The Divine Comedy, it’s a 68-minute tour of the circle of hell. Bonus: there’s a decapitated man waving around his own decapitated noggin. It’s shocking for its time. (And free to watch on Youtube!) Watch Now
Rickety rides, funhouses that aren’t fun, black magic: the carnival can be a terrifying place. In this less-is-more horror delight, a woman seemingly drowns, then stumbles out of the river, moves to Utah, and can’t shake a phantom who wants her to dance in the carnival of souls. Watch Now
David Lynch could sneeze and we wouldn’t sleep for a week. The director has built his career on surrealist fare that creeps into your head and sets up shop (i.e., you can’t unsee this stuff). His first film? This monochromatic tale about a big-haired guy whose paranoia grows with every passing minute. Watch Now
Robert Wise’s haunted-house chiller based on Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House locks two women in a mansion and watches as they both lose their minds to fear. Now, its rating says G, but don’t let that convince you to watch in the dark. The film’s sound and effects will make you want to leave the lights on. Watch Now
A Spielberg classic you may have missed, this made-for-TV movie was the director’s gateway horror thriller for Jaws. An elementary plot with a master behind the wheel, Duel is every motorist’s nightmare: a faceless trucker in a tractor-trailer terrorizes a business man in the desert. The end game? Death for one or the other. Watch Now
Animals, kids, clowns: they’re a horror director’s essentials. Here, Richard Donner uses a pint-size spawn of the devil to elicit his screams. Everyone’s favorite father figure, Gregory Peck, takes the lead as an American ambassador trying to figure out if his son is the Antichrist. Watch Now
It’s German. It’s silent. But Robert Wiene’s monochromatic chiller still delivers the screams. Arguably the first horror movie ever in the can, it’s a highly-stylized nightmare about murder, madness, and somnambulism. You’ll recognize its influences all over Tim Burton’s resume. Watch Now
Another German Expressionist horror staple, Nosferatu is the first surviving film to introduce a vampire to the big screen. Though its legacy is shrouded in a copyright horror story of its own (for ripping off Bram Stoker’s Dracula), Nosferatu is the one to thank for the “I vant to suck your blood” camp we crave. Watch Now
Before Christopher Lee donned the infamous collared cape, Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi sank his fangs into the role of the “epitome of evil” in Tod Browning’s haunter. Not only did this Dracula establish the aesthetics of the villain, but he and Browning helped catapult the supernatural genre onto American soil. Watch Now
The tale of the godless Dr. Frankenstein and his Monster who goes on a rogue killing spree dates back to 1831, a century before director James Whale adapted Mary Shelley’s fright fest for the screen. But its influence remains alive and continues to breed many a contemporary redux. Watch Now
Bushy yak hairs, a fog machine, and a perfected moon howl, and the wooliest of the Universal Monsters was born. The film that launched a thousand lupine transformations had a release date that fell just two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and despite critical finger-wagging, it achieved blockbuster status. Watch Now
Touted as the greatest thriller Hitchcock didn’t direct, Les Diaboliques is French suspense with a famous final twist. More “who’s doing that?” than whodunit, the plot follows two scorned women after they drown the sadist who wronged them in the bathtub—then go mad thinking he’s still alive. Watch Now
Released during the Cold War, Don Siegle’s essential paranoia classic—about a town whose community is slowly and unassumingly replaced by aliens—is a reflection of its times. The film’s subtext is often regarded as a metaphor for McCarthyism or groupthink, and today, it boasts pod-people remakes aplenty. Watch Now
Maestro Hitchcock perfected the power of suggestion with his infamous shower scene starring Janet Leigh. Though graphic in nature, we never actually see blade penetrating flesh, and yet it’s impossible to shower without worrying a rube with mommy issues is on the other side of the curtain. Watch Now
The horror buff’s horror film, Jack Clayton’s ghost story goes beyond tropes to turn co-writer Truman Capote’s script into an esteemed film that, when watched today, shatters the low-grade reputation plaguing the genre. And it doesn’t do it with violence—just a nanny who might or might not be mad. Buy the DVD
The doctor is in, but he’s gone a little mad in Georges Franju’s Cronie-esque noir. A bizarre trip through guilt, science, and body horror that, for its time, was groundbreaking, the story is about a father reconstructing his daughter’s burned face with grafted skin from women he’s lured into his home. Pedro Almodovar directed an inspired retelling in 2011. Watch Now
Roman Polanski’s brooding slow-burner about a Manhattanite who gives birth to Satan’s spawn is no-joke occult viewing. Eerie in all manner of the word, it breaks tropes by not keeping its audience in the dark. Instead, we know the devil is in the details, and there’s not a thing we can do to stop him. Watch Now
No matter how you prefer your nightwalker—staggering, high energy, foaming at the mouth—the late George Romero is the genius who broke ground in the subgenre by morphing the voodoo urban legend into the flesh-eating mob we know and love today. The result: arguably the best zombie thriller OAT. Watch Now
Yep, this is that movie, with the did-they-or-didn’t-they love scene between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. However, that’s about as graphic as things get. Nicolas Roeg doesn’t exploit cheap tricks or special effects to send chills down the spine. Rather, he delivers a narrative of grief, clairvoyance, and murder. Watch Now
Forty-plus years later, William Friedkin’s attack on the senses is still king of the demon subgenre, if not the genre as a whole. Based on the “true”-story possession of a kid named Ronald Hunkeler, Friedkin’s tale of a little girl, her demon, and the filth she spews sets the mold few can live up to. Watch Now
It’s definitely not the most wonderful time of year for the sorority girls being being terrorized over the phone. This Canadian classic made way for modern-day slasher flicks like Scream, and sure, it has a third-act twist you’ll see coming thanks to subsequent lookalikes, but that doesn’t make it any less horrifying. Watch Now
Tobe Hooper’s Southern-fried fete of swine, cannibals, and high-octane power tools is an exercise in endurance. Though it lugs around a hard-core slasher reputation, it actually serves up very little gore, instead leaning on an immersive atmosphere to jangle the nerves. Even today, it’s incredibly effectual. Watch Now
Don’t wear white while watching Brian De Palma’s blood-soaked horror fest adapted from the Stephen King tale. It’s essentially about a bullied, telekinetic teen who finally snaps, and when it comes to the genre, mainstream culture, and our very own psyche, this one hasn’t just left a mark—it’s left a permanent stain. Watch Now
Dario Argento’s magnum opus is a symphony of witches, prog rock, and primary colors oozing with giallo influences. It follows an American who joins a German ballet company harboring a coven of witches, and though it’s perfect as is, we can’t help but be curious about Luca Guadagnino’s remake.
Stream free with an Amazon Prime membership on amazon.com. WATCH
Billed as experimental comedy horror, Nobuhiko Obayashi’s gonzo surrealism with a massive body count is midnight madness at its best. From the disembodied floating heads to the fluffy white witch cat, there really are no words to describe it. Just see it for yourself.
Stream on amazon.com, $4 to rent, $20 to buy. WATCH
Originally titled The Babysitter Murders, writer, director, and composer John Carpenter took a shoestring budget, a William Shatner mask, and a whole lotta creativity to deliver a massively successful slasher flick that would eventually become the pinnacle of teen screams.
Stream on amazon.com, $4 to rent, $10 to buy. WATCH
Ridley Scott’s jarring trip about a crew of cosmonauts battling a creepy life form in deep space didn’t invent the interstellar horror, but it did set the bar for all who traveled in its footsteps. Not to mention it innovated special effects (chest scene, anyone?) and defied convention, all with a woman (Sigourney Weaver) in the driver’s seat.
Stream on amazon.com, $4 to rent, $10 to buy. WATCH
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