Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees. For some movie fans these are the ultimate names in film horror and with Halloween approaching movie fans may want to rewatch their favorite scary movies. But, how many times can you watch A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) or Friday the 13th (198o)? Can it still offer the same scares? This Halloween why not watch something different, something you’ve never seen before? For every Michael Myers or Jason, there is a Dracula or Frankenstein, classic horror movies that have helped establish the genre as we know it.
Whenever film critics name the greatest horror movies of all-time they usually list titles such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) or the silent vampire film Nosferatu (1922). Those movies are great and should be watched by any serious movie lover; however, those movies have become part of the mainstream culture. You have probably seen them as well. There are some influential classic horror films that are still under the radar that deserve to be seen. Those are the movies this small list will highlight and provide you with some interesting options this Halloween.
1. I Walked With A Zombie (1943). Long before audiences witnessed classic literary novels mixed with zombie stories, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016), there was this RKO horror adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, I Walked With A Zombie. Essentially a “B” movie, this Val Lewton / Jacques Tourneur collaboration fully illustrates what made the pair so distinguished from their contemporaries and why their three movies together were so influential.
Because of their small budget the team would drench their movies in atmosphere by casting their characters in shadows, keeping the violence off-screen (heightening our sense of terror) and experimental camera angles. Lewton and Tourneur taught us it is not always what we see that is scary but what we don’t see.
If you enjoy this movie, you’ll want to see The Cat People (1942) and The Leopard Man (1943)
2. The Cat & the Canary (1927). The haunted house sub-genre in horror movies is quite popular today with moviegoers, as evident with the release of movies such as The Conjuring (2013) and Paranormal Activity (2009) but one of the best early examples of the genre was given to us by the German expressionist filmmaker Paul Leni in this silent horror / comedy. By today’s standards many would say the movie may be an example of style over substance and the movie is largely a genre exercise but that is what makes it so much fun to watch. Here we are creating the now overdone cliches of the dark hallway and the scary figure at the end of it.
If you enjoy this movie, see The Old Dark House (1932) and this silent movie The Monster (1925).
3. The Bat Whispers (1930). Allegedly the movie that inspired Bob Kane to create Batman, this early sound picture, directed by Roland West, is a remake of West’s The Bat (1926), another example of an early haunted house movie. The Bat Whispers has remarkable cinematography for the time period with plenty of swooshing camera shots, giving the impression we are flying. A serial killer known as the Bat is on the loose, and frightens inhabitants of an old mansion, where a hidden treasure may be located.
It is also one of the few films made in the 1930s to be released in 65mm.
If The Bat Whispers impresses you, make sure to see The Bat as well.
4. Suspiria (1977). Outside of American Hollywood films, Italian cinema has gained an impressive reputation for its distinct brand of horror movies in the sub-genre known as giallo (yellow in English), which combines supernatural elements with murder mysteries. One filmmaker who has achieved crossover success with American audiences is Dario Argento and Suspiria may very well be his masterpiece. A European dance academy is the setting as an American student (Jessica Harper) learns some disturbing secrets. The movie gained acclaim for its color scheme, emphasizing the color red, and a memorable rock score from a band Argento claims to have discovered, The Goblins.
If Suspiria gets under your skin, other Argento movies of note include Deep Red (1975) and Tenebre (1982).
All films mentioned are available on DVD. Some of them can also be found streaming in full on youtube.com.