Top 10 Classic Horror Films

Published: July 26, 2014

Sure you can rave about the gore fests which pass as modern horror films, and that's fine, and they have their place. However, revisiting the past, the roots of modern horror, if you will, is also an exercise in getting the crawlies up your spine, if you're willing to suspend your disbelief and enjoy some, by today's standards, terrible special effects.

With that introduction, we can get right into the meat, so to speak with my favorite classical monster.

  1. The Mummy, 1932

    Boris Karloff did an outstanding job as Imhotep, the tortured lover of the pharoah's queen. He was at the top of his game in this film which i can only imagine frightened audiences at the time with the raw depiction of a man being mummified, and subsequently entombed, alive.

    From the opening sequence where Imhotep's mummy is recovered from the tomb and comes to life and 'went for a little walk' to the finale, the director and players did a superb job of keeping up the eerie atmosphere.  The mummification scene and the scene where he shows his reincarnated lover their tragic past through the mists are very well put together and are very worthy of the time spent to have created them.

  2. Frankenstein, 1931

    Karloff, once again and a fine role that actually did him in as the type of actor he wanted to be. Wanting to be able to do active and action oriented roles, it was his bad luck when he took on the mask and 90 pounds of make-up of the Frankenstein monster, to have the role give him back problems so that he wasn't able to perform the active roles he so desired.

    Technically, the reason this movie makes this list is the use of the unheard of until that time, triple zoom in on the monsters face so that you got a REAL good look at him. It was reported that some people fainted in the theaters when that scene was shone. In addition to that, foreign audiences got to see the full scene of the monster throwing the little girl into the lake when he wanted something to float like the flowers were he and the girl were throwing. In the american version, for many years the scene ends with the monster just approachig the girl. Chilling, but also a bit sympathy inducing for the poor creation.

  3. Dracula, 1931

    While some scenes are overtly scary in themselves, such as where Dracula states "I never drink.... wine.", and "The children of the night, what music they make.", the best thing about this movie is the mood. it's maintained from start to finish as eerie and dark, from the scenes in the town where the frightened villagers NEED to get inside before the sun sets to the scenes in the castle, where Harker's enthusiasm for his job, is overshadowed by the overall seriousness of the occupants.

  4. The Pit And The Pendulum, 1961

    Part of the series of Poe tales brought to film, I'd say very competently, if not very lavishly by Roger Corman.

    Starting slightly slow, but building, the movie incorporates an Inquisition torture chamber, premature burial, and other bizarre goings on, built around a the death of a young woman, the sister of the protagonist.

    No spoilers, but the ending is, shall we say, memorable..... horribly memorable.

    One of the stand out features of the movie is that it's very character driven and each of the characters is given a fair amount of backgroud so you can evaluate them reasonably well, and it serves that much more to make you sympathetic for them, and that plays well for that ending I mentioned.

  5. Fall Of The House Of Usher, 1960

    Another of the Corman Poe series and this one is also well done for mood and character.

    From the opening where there is a title card with a verse from the work of Poe, to the ending, the mood of depression and madness is well maintained.

    From the overbearing patriarchical brother played by Vincent Price who, through bad genetics is suffering fro a disease that torturously heightens his senses, to the put upon Myrna Fahey, whose character is torn between loyalty to her brother and love for her suitor, played by Mark Damon. 

    You really want them to work out as a couple, but thanks to fate, some evil of the brother, and later madness of Myrna's character..... well it wouldn't be Poe if bluebirds sing.

  6. The Phantom Of The Opera, 1925

    Going WAY back now, to the beginning before someone thought it was a great idea to take a story about disfigurement, lonlieness, unrequited love, and forced isolation from society and figure they should just pop in a few songs to lighten the load.

    Lon Chaney leads as the phantom and plays his part wonderfully well withOUT songs or even words as this version is silent. The mood is wonderfully dark and the tense seconds before she gets the nerve to remove the mask is deliciously nerve tightening.

  7. The Invisible Man, 1933

    Claude Rains stars in this picture, one of the earliest to show that, yup, science can go a little wrong.

    While he proceeds to experiment with his invisibility potion, the potion starts to slowly work on his mind, and we see [ironically]  the man descend to madness.

    Great performance for Rains.

  8. The Wolf Man, 1941

    What's not to like? Gypsies, full moons, curses and some really good for the time, time lapse special effects of Lon Chaney Jr. changing into the beast.

    While perhaps a bit lackluster, it was competently played by all, and the mood was certainly right. And add into the mix the fine perfomance of Lon chaney Jr. as the poor soul who wanted to end his curse and just be fully human once again.

  9. The Black Cat, 1934

    The first time a pairing like Karloff and Lugosi had been seen, so this movie is notable for that famous duo alone.

    While not related to the Poe story of the same name, this movie did involve some seriously dark matter for audiences of the mid-30's, such as someone skinned alive and a game of chess played for the life of a woman.

    Beautifully done, and how can you fault the performances of the two leads?

  10. The Bride Of Frankenstein, 1935

    Resurrection, kidnapping and perhaps a bit of blackmail for the return of the wife of the good doctor Frankenstein when Dr. Pretorius wants a companion built for the original creature.

    This movie is a little talky at times but it moves along reasonably. but who couldn't be chilled by the monster's famous quote [and possibly an indictment against his own existance]:

    The Monster: Yes, I know... made me from dead... I *love* dead... hate living.

While the movies listed are all classics and a wonderful introduction to horror, I gave them in no particular order of my preference for them. I love each of them in their own right and for different reasons.

I hope this foray into the world of early horror was a fruitful one for you, perhaps in reminding you of a forgotten favorite, or perhaps getting you to watch a film or two that is part of the foundation of the horror films we enjoy today.