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Horror Films are unsettling films designed to frighten and panic, cause dread and alarm, and to invoke our hidden worst fears, often in a terrifying, shocking finale, while captivating and entertaining us at the same time in a cathartic experience. Horror films effectively center on the dark side of life, the forbidden, and strange and alarming events. They deal with our most primal nature and its fears: our nightmares, our vulnerability, our alienation, our revulsion, our terror of the unknown, our fear of death and dismemberment, loss of identity, or fear of sexuality.

The genre goes back as far as the onset of films themselves, over a 100 years ago. From our earliest days, we use our vivid imaginations to see ghosts in shadowy shapes, to be emotionally connected to the unknown and to fear things that are improbable. Watching a horror film gives an opening into that scary world, into an outlet for the essence of fear itself, without actually being in danger. Weird as it sounds, for some people there is a very real thrill and fun factor in being scared or watching disturbing, horrific images.

We are not fans of modern horror movies however we love classic horror. Most of these are showing on TCM this month and you can find out when they are scheduled to air here. Just like our taste in all classic movies is eclectic, the same can be said for our favorite classic horror movies picks.


Poster for the movie "Dracula"

© 1931 Universal Pictures − All right reserved.

Dracula (1931)

The atmospheric, commercially-successful film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel played upon fears of sexuality, blood, and the nebulous period between life and death. The heavily-accented voice and acting of Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi in his most famous portrayal as the 500-year-old vampire was elegant, suave, exotic and stylish – and frightening to early audiences – while the undead villain hypnotically charmed his victims with a predatory gaze.

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Poster for the movie "Frankenstein"

© 1931 Universal Pictures − All right reserved.

Frankenstein (1931)

James Whale’s adaptation from Mary Shelley’s novel about Dr. Henry Frankenstein with a virtually unknown actor – Boris Karloff. With a boxy forehead and neck electrodes (and other features created from Whale’s sketches by make-up artist Jack Pierce), Karloff’s poignant portrayal of the pathetic Monster’s plight gave a personality to the outcast, uncomprehending character with a lumbering and lurching gait.

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Poster for the movie "The Invisible Man"

© 1933 Universal Pictures − All right reserved.

The Invisible Man (1933)

James Whale’s second hit and Universal’s critically-acclaimed film version of H. G. Wells’ novel. An obsessed mad scientist Jack Griffin (Claude Rains in his film debut) created a chemical formula compound that made him irreversibly invisible (with spectacular special effects), without any counter-agent. At first, the effects were comedic, but the serum slowly turned him into an insane megalomaniac lusting for power, and he wreaked havoc on a British country village.

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Poster for the movie "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"

© 1939 RKO Radio Pictures − All right reserved.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)

Probably the best film adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic tale of a tragic love story set in 15th century medieval Paris. Filmed earlier as the silent film The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) with Lon Chaney, and later in 1956 with Anthony Quinn and Gina Lollobrigida. It was also a TV movie in 1982 with Anthony Hopkins and Lesley-Anne Down, and a Disney animation in 1996. A hideously-deformed, grotesque, outcast hunchback Quasimodo (Charles Laughton) lived as the bell-ringer in the towers of Notre Dame’s Cathedral. The hunchback was scorned by an angry mob one day, but was shown pity and kindness by a beautiful Gypsy dancer girl, Esmeralda (Maureen O’Hara in her screen debut). He developed a tragic fondness for the girl, and rescued her from being hanged in the public square for being a witch by a sadistic bishop. Quasimodo took her back into the bell tower and claimed sanctuary.

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Poster for the movie "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"

© 1941 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) − All right reserved.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)

Most people like the Fredric March 1932 version better but we prefer the Spencer Tracy version. Dr. Jekyll believes good and evil exist in everyone and creates a potion that allows his evil side, Mr. Hyde, to come to the fore. He faces horrible consequences when he lets his dark side run amok.

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Poster for the movie "Cat People"

© 1942 RKO Radio Pictures − All right reserved.

Cat People (1942)

Val Lewton’s first psychological horror film, directed by Tourneur in his feature-film debut, was the suspenseful horror classic possibly the first horror film to never show its monster. [A secondary reason for keeping the horror undefined was due to the lack of budget for special effects.] Its heroine Irena (Simone Simon), suffering from an ancient Balkan curse and sado-sexual yearnings, threatens to turn into a panther (the female version of the Wolf Man) if her passionate sexual feelings are aroused.

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Poster for the movie "I Walked With A Zombie"

© − All right reserved.

I Walked With A Zombie (1943),

Jacques Tourneur’s (and producer Val Lewton’s) atmospheric, intelligent and spooky B-film masterpiece which is a West Indies derivation of Charlotte Bronte’s classic dark romance Jane Eyre. The movie’s most atmospheric scene was the dream-like nocturnal walk through the sugar-cane plantation fields to a native voodoo ceremony with the sound of drums, and the startling appearance of giant, bug-eyed zombie guard Carre-Four (Darby Jones).

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Poster for the movie "The Picture of Dorian Gray"

© 1945 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) − All right reserved.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) 

Writer-director Albert Lewin’s black and white occult-horror fantasy drama was based upon Oscar Wilde’s 1891 story about a man’s soul and its evil destiny. It told about the fate of healthy, handsome, and young 19th century Victorian Englishman Dorian Gray (Hurd Hatfield), an aristocrat who had his portrait painted by his friend Basil Hallward (Lowell Gilmore). Gray was distressed when reminded by cynical and witty old acquaintance Lord Henry Wotton (George Sanders) that he would not be handsome and youthful forever. He jealously spoke to the painting in the presence of a statue of the ancient Egyptian goddess Bast, that he would “sell my very soul” if he could stay young forever and never grow old. The wish appeared to come true, as the painting aged (locked away in an attic room), while Gray remained youthful. In addition to remaining good-looking, he had become hedonistic, narcissistic, ruthless, heartless, and mean in his heart, and the painting reflected his soul. He fell in love with singer Sibyl Vane (Angela Lansbury) whom he met at the Two Turtles Pub, but then rejected his fiancee, causing her to commit suicide by poison. Years later, Dorian also seized Basil’s niece Gladys Hallward (Donna Reed) away from her noble suitor David Stone (Peter Lawford), but then decided at age 38 that he would leave her – he claimed it would be wicked to marry her, although she wanted to marry him. When Basil demanded to see the painting – corrupted by his secret sins – Dorian was afraid Basil would tell Gladys, and he stabbed Basil to death. The film ended with Dorian viewing his own painting – curious to see what the effects of his behavior had been upon it. There was a sudden and shocking final view of the hideously-aged painted portrait of Gray (occasionally shown in Technicolor) showing the ravages of sin and withered aging (while he remained young, vain and handsome). Dorian attempted to stab the heart of his image in the picture to release his awful visage, but he actually was stabbing his own heart. He collapsed to the floor and took on the hideous and deformed characteristics of the painting – as the painting reverted back to its original (while a swinging lamp cast ominous shadows).

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Poster for the movie "House on Haunted Hill"

© 1959 William Castle Productions − All right reserved.

House on Haunted Hill (1958),

Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) has invited five strangers to a party of a lifetime. He is offering each of them $10,000 if they can stay the night in a house. But the house is no ordinary house. This house has a reputation for murder. Frederick offers them each a gun for protection. They all arrived in a hearse and will either leave in it $10,000 richer or leave in it dead!

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Bad Seed, The

The Bad Seed (1956)

Young Rhoda Penmark is sweet, smart … and inherently evil! After a school chum dies during a picnic, no one suspects Rhoda, except the janitor of her apartment building. But when Rhoda’s mother finds out that her own mother was a cold-blooded killer, she begins to suspect Rhoda might be the victim of some faulty genetics.

This movie has the best, most surprising ending of ANY movie.

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Poster for the movie "Psycho"

© 1960 Shamley Productions − All right reserved.

Psycho (1960)

Pure archetypal horror was now to be found in the dark shadows of the human soul itself – in a psychopathic, cross-dressing Bates Motel operator and taxidermist (Anthony Perkins). The low-budget, television-influenced, B & W Psycho (1960) could be considered the ‘Citizen Kane‘ of horror films, with its complex Oedipal themes and schizophrenia. Its most famous scene was the classic shower murder in which the heroine (Janet Leigh) was savagely stabbed, with Bernard Herrmann’s violin-tinged memorable score. The scene still invokes sheer terror, and the film itself would come to influence all subsequent Hollywood horror films – especially the ‘slasher’ horror film subgenre.

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Poster for the movie "Village of the Damned"

© 1960 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) − All right reserved.

Village of the Damned (1960, UK)

In a small English village everyone suddenly falls unconscious. When they awake every woman of child bearing age is pregnant. The resulting children have the same strange blond hair, eyes and a strong connection to each other.

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Poster for the movie "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

© 1962 Seven Arts Productions − All right reserved.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962).

Director Robert Aldrich’s modern gothic thriller.  Two aging film actresses live as virtual recluses in an old Hollywood mansion. Jane Hudson, a successful child star, cares for her crippled sister Blanche, whose career in later years eclipsed that of Jane. Now the two live together, their relationship affected by simmering subconscious thoughts of mutual envy, hate and revenge.

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What is your favorite horror movie?