When people think of seriously scary movies, the earliest they tend to span is usually the '70s and '80s. The images of Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees, and Leatherface tend to come to mind. But just because something is older or well-used, that doesn't mean it has no merit. People were just as horror hungry in the early days of the genre.
There are plenty of movies that make our blood run cold from before the age of modern horror, some even before the age of color. Just because the film lacks gruesome effects doesn't mean it can't be scary. Here are ten vintage horror flicks that are still scary today.
10 The Haunting (1963)
What better way to get things rolling than a classic haunted house flick? The Haunting, brought to us by horror legend Robert Wise, is a chilling adaptation of Shirley Jackson's Haunting of Hill House, but the scares are more subtle than guys in ghoulish costumes. It's more about what remains unseen than right in front of you.
The film depicts the interactions of a group of people in a supposedly haunted house, but unlike most haunted house flicks, the ghosts are all atmospheric and the presence of the poltergeists is debatable. It's still a spine-tingling film nevertheless.
9 House on Haunted Hill (1959)
We take you from one breed of haunted house flick to another with the Vincent Price-led House on Haunted Hill. One part supernatural horror flick, one part murder-mystery, the film is one of the best made by famed horror director, William Castle, and is equal parts kitschy as well as creepy.
With jump scares, fiendish traps, an eerie setting to tie the whole thing together, and a marvelous performance by the master of horror, Vincent Price, House on Haunted Hill has more than enough to satisfy the hungriest of horror hounds among us. Come for the party, stay for the ghosts.
8 Eyes Without a Face (1960)
This freaky French fright-fest makes our toes curl just talking about it. In Eyes Without a Face, a series of murders takes place just outside Paris. The victims are all women who have had their faces removed, sparing the eyes. The murders are the work of a mad scientist trying to transplant women's faces onto that of his deformed daughter.
Though it was made in 1960, the black and white film still has a touch of gore to go that extra mile for its bodily horror. To say the film is disturbing is an understatement. If you don't mind subtitles, give this one a try.
7 The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
We know what you're thinking, how come we haven't mentioned other Universal Monsters on this list? While Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula, and the Wolf Man are all iconic creatures of the night, they all have some element of humanity about them. The Gill-Man, on the other hand, is a pure predator.
One of the few classic monster flicks that actually has a handful of scares, The Creature from the Black Lagoon lurks the waters of the Amazon river and strikes with little warning. Even when the guy gets caught by the party of explorers, you know its just a waiting game until he escapes. Definitely a creepy creature feature.
6 The Thing From Another World (1951)
Before John Carpenter got his hooks into this sci-fi classic, it was one of the most frightening creatures ever to fall to earth. Sci-fi flicks were still evolving at this time and The Thing from Another World was the first film to get people to follow that famous sage advice, "watch the skies."
Though the titular "Thing" isn't exactly what we'd call scary, the film itself is highly suspenseful. The film also represents the present fear of nuclear war that was a heavy influence on sci-fi/horror at that time. With the idea of missiles and bombs from overseas hitting your backyard at any time, it was impossible not to watch the skies.
5 Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Yet another sci-fi masterpiece that got under people's skin in the '50s, Invasion of the Body Snatchers filled audiences with fear and paranoia long before the '70s remake did. When a race of pod-people begins replacing human victims with alien doppelgangers, it spells trouble for the people of earth.
Paranoia and panic ensue as the population doesn't know who to trust. Just as The Thing from Another World represented the world's fear of the nuclear bomb, so did Invasion of the Body Snatchers represent the fear of a communist takeover. Amazing how art imitates life, isn't it?
4 Masque of the Red Death (1964)
Blood is its avatar and its seal. Roger Corman made psychedelic films before psychedelic officially took over, and there are few greater examples than Masque of the Red Death. One of Corman's many Edgar Allan Poe pictures, Masque of the Red Death is definitely one of the scariest in both the series and Vincent Price's career.
A bloodier tale than Poe's original, this interpretation mixes in Satanic rituals, human sacrifice, a blood plague, and even a gruesome murder inspired by Poe's Hop-Frog. For 1964, this was a film that definitely had viewers shocked with awe and terror.
3 M (1931)
Though not a horror movie in the conventional definition, Fritz Lang's M helped shape the modern thriller by incorporating sounds, music, and shadows to create a sinister and suspenseful film. As well as being horror actor Peter Lorre's first starring role, it definitely made the skin of many viewers crawl.
M puts the viewer in the mind of a child-murdering psychopath on the run from a citywide manhunt. With intense uses of paranoia, mob justice, and psychological dilemmas, it's a chiller that grabs you by the throat and shows how vicious and brutal justice can be.
2 Psycho (1960)
How do you make millions of audience members afraid of taking a shower? Use a knife, a screeching violin, and a bottle of Hershey syrup. Alfred Hitchcock's terrifying masterpiece, Psycho, was the film that sparked the slasher genre. Next to The Birds, it is arguably Hitchcock's greatest film.
The tale of Norman Bates is as chilling as your early horror villains get. Is he insane, possessed, or something in between? Maybe he's just a victim of some psychological torment, or maybe "Mother" is still the one pulling the strings. It scared audiences in the '60s, and it still gives us the creeps today.
1 Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922)
Contrary to what we said regarding M, you don't need sound to create an outrageously scary film. Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages is a silent, black-and-white nightmare that will keep you up even though it's nearly a century old. There are many ways we can describe this film, but they wouldn't be 100% correct.
At its core, Haxan is a series of sequences involving the concepts of witchcraft, hell, demonic activity, and deals with the devil. Scenes of medieval science, demonic bacchanals hosted by Satan, and various practices of witchcraft ensue. It's hard to pinpoint an exact plot, but it still haunts our dreams.