Top ten horror movies – black and white

Hi everyone! Welcome back to the blog. Today I have Jim Cort talking about his favourite black and white horror movies.

Here’s Jim!

A while back we were treated to a list of 10 best horror movies. The movies were all excellent choices, but none of them was in black and white.

I frequently use movies in my writing classes to illustrate some point of dialogue or characterization. My students always make fun of me because I never showed a movie more recent than 1960. I plead guilty: I love old movies, and for my money, black and white is where scary lives.

Here’s my list:

1. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) This is a story told by a madman, and everything about it is off kilter, skewed, unwholesome. Nothing seems real; nothing looks real, but people die just the same. At the heart of it all is the Doctor and Cesare, the murderous somnambulist. Or are they? “Du musst Caligari werden!”

2. The Phantom of the Opera (1925) This movie is all atmosphere and the towering performance of Lon Chaney as the Phantom. Like the best horror films, this movie likes to mess with your head. When the Phantom is not on screen, you still know he is there. There is no moment in the history of film more shocking than the unmasking scene.

3. The Mummy (1932) The power of this movie lies in the love story. The performance of Boris Karloff–tender, pitiable, aloof, mysterious, menacing, is enthralling. Everyone else is in his shadow, but worth special mention is Zita Johann, an exotic and ethereal presence as Karloff’s love interest.

Picture 1932 Halperin Productions - from the public domain movie White Zombie

Picture 1932 Halperin Productions – from the public domain movie White Zombie

4. White Zombie (1932) The zombies here are “real” zombies, not the brain-eating stumblebums we have today. It brings home the real horror of the zombie. When Our Hero and Heroine encounter a mob of these jolly fellows at their work on a country road in the dark of night, their coachman whips up the horses and the coach bolts forward and away down the road. Our Hero berates the coachman for such a dangerous stunt, “We could have been killed”. The coachman replies, “Worse that that, M’sieu, we might have been caught.” This was Bela Lugosi’s favorite of his movies, and he is brilliant in it.

5. I Walked with a Zombie (1943) Once again, we have “real” zombies, chilling, menacing, even when they do nothing. One of the superb collaborations between Val Lewton and Jacques Touneur—this one a reworking of, of all things, Jane Eyre. Their philosophy was “Less is More”. What scares you in this movie, and in all the movies I’m mentioning, is what might happen.

6. The Uninvited (1944) One of the few ghost movies of the 1940’s where the ghosts are real, and maybe the only one in which they are malevolent. I’ve seen this movie a dozen times, and when the ghost finally does appear, I still get a chill down my spine.

7. Them! (1954) The best of the big bug movies, thankfully free of the there-are-things-man-should-not-meddle-in sermonizing. The story is told like a mystery, which adds considerably to its impact. And when the big bugs do show up, they look pretty good. Not CGI-quality, but pretty good. We need to remind ourselves that in monster movies, the monster is the least important element.

8. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) a fine example of 1950’s paranoia. The movie becomes more and more claustrophobic as we realize that anyone could be one of Them. It is so well done, and the actors so skilled, that we gloss over some fundamental questions about how the snatching actually works. The important thing is that it does work, and it could happen to you.

9. Night of the Demon (Curse of the Demon) (1957) Based on a classic story by M.R. James, this is another tour de force by director Jacques Touneur. The movie is about black magic and an unbeliever who is forced to believe. The movie tells us in no uncertain terms black magic is real; the devil is real, and he can get at you if he wants. What could be scarier than that?

10. The Haunting (1963) An unforgettable take on the classic haunted house story in which the house itself is the evil presence. Graced with an impeccable cast, the relationships, the atmosphere, the suspense, the feeling of brooding menace combine to make this film an unsettling experience. All of these elements, by the way, are completely absent from the execrable 1999 remake.

There’s my list. Like I said, black and white is where scary lives.

Jim Cort has been writing since just after the earth’s crust cooled. His novel The Lonely Impulse is available from Smashwords:

Cindy here again.

Great list, Jim. I haven’t seen those zombie movies. I will have to check them out. I love the 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That movie was super scary.

Until next time…