Although a lot of people tend to live in the now when it comes to entertainment, horror fans are constantly visiting the past through movies. They will look to the 1990s for sci-fi adjacent frights, or to the 1980s for films rich in practical effects. And anyone keen on slashers knows that the subgenre's golden age began in the late 1970s.
But prior to all of that is a period of cinema that is a blind spot for many horror fiends. We're talking about the grayscale pictures of yesteryears that don't get the attention they deserve. So, let's shed some light on ten of the best black-and-white movies in horror history.
10 Eyes Without a Face (1960)
When Dr. Génessier accidentally disfigures his daughter's face, he goes to extremes to help her. By that, he abducts women so he can graft their faces onto his daughter's.
Eyes Without a Face is a French-Italian production based on the novel of the same name by Jean Redon. It is considered a pioneer at the time as not many other French filmmakers were attempting to make horror movies. It was no critical darling during its original release, but in retrospective reviews, people are unequivocally drawn to this poetic body horror.
9 The Innocents (1961)
Miss Giddens is hired as the governess in a Victorian home in spite of her lack of experience. The owner, an uncle raising two children, puts her in charge because he would rather travel and party than care for his niece and nephew. After their parents died, Miles and Flora were left in their uncle's care. Now, Miss Giddens tends to Miles and Flora, ignorant of a supernatural force that has possibly possessed the children.
This adaptation of Henry James' novel The Turn of the Screw is arguably more psychological than paranormal, but it's not so finite that you can't interpret it as supernatural.
8 Dead of Night (1945)
In this anthology of horror tales, a man's case of severe déjà vu leads to everyone sharing the frightening dreams they have had. These dreams include a man having a deadly premonition, a ghost appearing at a Christmas party, someone coming upon a haunted antique mirror, a golfer becoming possessed by a ghost, and a ventriloquist believing his dummy is alive.
Dead of Night is seminal when it comes to anthologies as well as British horror. In fact, it was produced at a time when very few horror movies were being made in Britain.
7 Carnival of Souls (1962)
A woman named Mary survives a major car crash. After, she moves away and begins working in a church as a way to start over. Her new life, however, is interrupted by visions of an ominous man who leads her to an empty carnival on the town's outskirts. This same man has a clue as to why Mary hasn't felt right since the accident.
Carnival of Souls is important to horror as it's responsible for that one twist ending that doesn't feel so twisty anymore. Back then, though, the way this spook tale ended was quite chilling to audiences.
6 Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Scientists uncover the remains of an unknown animal in a remote jungle in South America. As they investigate in this perilous land, they are attacked by a horrifying monster that haunts the watery depths.
Creature from the Black Lagoon still influences creature features old and new. And this Universal Monsters flick is one of the best despite it providing a now overused template for other films. Something else notable about the movie is the Gill-Man, which was chiefly designed by Milicent Patrick. For years upon years, her role as the head designer was downplayed.
5 The Night of the Hunter (1955)
When a serial killer — who is serving time for car theft — learns his cellmate has hidden money somewhere, he looks for the stash upon his own release. He marries his cellmate's widow and stalks his kids, who know the whereabouts of the money.
The Night of the Hunter is often referred to as a proto-slasher, which is a film that shaped the tropes later intrinsic to slasher movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th. For instance, the villain here spends a whole chunk of the film pursuing the young protagonists. Today, the film is deemed significant for cultural and thematic reasons.
4 Taste of Fear (1961)
A paraplegic woman named Penny returns home to visit her estranged father after years of being away. Having since remarried, he has now requested to see his daughter. Yet on her arrival, Penny is surprised to find her father has left on a trip. So, she is kept busy by her stepmother and the servants. In the meantime, though, she starts to see her father's corpse in various places around the property. Of course, no one believes Penny as the body conveniently disappears after every encounter.
This hidden gem was made by Hammer Films Production, a British studio known for Gothic horror. However, there are no vampires or ghouls in this gaslit mystery. It's one thriller that gets a tad over-the-top towards the end, but only in the best way possible. In the U.S., the movie was renamed Scream of Fear.
3 Cat People (1942)
An American man marries a fashion designer who was born in Serbia. After getting married, the husband becomes worried when his new wife states she is cursed to become a cat-like creature whenever in the throes of passion.
The first Cat People is a surprisingly taut and atmospheric horror movie that may be the originator of the jump scare. In one renowned scene, a character is walking through a park to escape something the audience cannot see. She — as well as the viewers — is then taken surprise by a random bus.
2 The Haunting (1963)
A scientist with an interest in the paranormal specifically invites two women — who each have ties to the supernatural in their own ways — to a reportedly haunted mansion. There, the proctor and his guests are then subjected to a series of bizarre phenomena that cannot be readily explained.
The first film adaptation of Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House is a formative entry in ghost horror. Though the film's frights do fare well by today's standards, the movie never relies on excessive, cheap scares. It instead strikes terror using other simple yet effective ways.
1 Psycho (1960)
A secretary is unhappy because she cannot marry her boyfriend, who is in debt. This urges her to steal her boss' money and run away with it. Along the way, she stops to rest at the Bates Motel. Unfortunately for her, she won't be checking out anytime soon.
The horror genre would not be what it is without Alfred Hitchcock's iconic suspense movie Psycho. It boasts a number of celebrated scenes that just cannot be duplicated or matched. If one has never seen a Hitchcock film before, then they need to start with Psycho.